Sunday, August 4, 2013

Last Stop: Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

I had every expectation of hating Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Everyone we talked to was pretty meh about it, "just a big crowded city," "not very nice," "one day there is enough," they said. But of all the big cities I've seen on this trip (Kathmandu, Bangkok, Vientiane, Hanoi), Saigon is my favorite by far! The food is amazing, the touristy district is fun but not Disneyland-ish, there are tons of big trees and green space, the streets are wide and have sidewalks, and I could actually imagine living here.

On the roof of the Presidential Palace.

We spent two days in Saigon (it's officially HCMC, but everyone still calls it Saigon), doing our usual new-city thing of walking 500 million miles looking at everything (remember this tumblr? Could be my life.).

Traffic circle in Saigon -- I am so good at walking into the middle of speeding traffic!

We sat at a late-night street bar/restaurant (i.e. tiny plastic stool on the side of the road), people-watching hundreds of locals and other travelers hanging out late-nigh style (beer and dried squid anyone?), and also saw a guy breathing fire! So random but so cool!

Just a cool tree in Saigon.

On our first day I insisted we spend some serious time at the War Remnants Museum, which, though depressing, is definitely a must-see.

We checked out some pretty cool aircraft and tanks from the Vietnam War, saw lots and lots of pictures, learned about prisons and torture and agent orange (ugh bad stuff), and saw before-and-after photos of Vietnam's post-war reconstruction.

After the museum we cheered ourselves up with a traditional Vietnamese lunch of fried tofu, pork, cucumber, rice noodle cakes, and herbs. You eat this all together, kind of like sushi, dipped in soy sauce and/or hot sauce.

And then we had coffee -- so much coffee! Vietnam is known for its coffee, and Saigon is known as Vietnam's biggest coffee city. Like Dalat, there are coffee shops all over the place and the coffee is all delicious: super-dark and rich and chocolately and not acidic at all.

I could drink it all the time...and that is exactly what we did in Saigon. It's served in tiny cups, always accompanied by a glass of iced green or jasmine tea. Since the coffee is so dark, you're supposed to water it down with the tea until it's drinkable.

Our second day in Saigon (my last day in Southeast Asia!!!), we toured the Presidential Palace, which is pretty much frozen in time from when the North Vietnamese tanks rolled in in April 1975, ending the war. The basement is a series of war rooms with radios and various coding and communications devices and maps on the walls. Pretty cool!

My final Vietnam to-dos included a back alleyway haircut (shockingly not bad!), one last massage, buying coffee beans, and a final fantastic dinner. The restaurant served Hue-style food, which is a lot of small plates and seafood dishes. We had a tiny clam salad (the clams were tiny, not the size of the salad) served with warm rice crackers, tiny clam spring rolls, and a cold noodle salad with beef and pork and many many herbs. It was all so good and only $8. I am going to miss this so much!

Tiny Clam Salad.