Day 1 - Getting to know Ho Chi Minh City from the rear seat of a motorbike
Beware: this is going to be a long post. We also had a million pictures we wanted to share and quite some trouble blogging because we didn't take a laptop with us - but here's what we came up with.
Before we left Germany, we looked for a guide to HCMC via Couchsurfing, so we wouldn't be too lost in this big city and foreign culture. We got in contact with Cuong, who agreed to show us the city and (very important to me!) introduce us to the local food. We could definitely not have found a better guide. We were picked up at our hotel by Cuong and his wife on their motorbikes (I guess I would call them Scooters, if I was in Germany, but here it’s used for both) and then had a glorious day exploring HCMC.
First stop was a Pho Restaurant. Pho Bo is a beef soup made with cooked meat, noodles and many delicious herbs. It is kind of Vietnams National Food, it’s definitely the one that is talked about most in all Vietnam Guidebooks. We had quite a fight witih the chopsticks, trying to get the noodles out of the bowl and into our mouths while not looking too stupid. I guess we did anyways, but it was fun and tasted very good.
Afterwards we got onto the bikes again and took a ride to the town center where the most famous sights are located. We also had our first impression off how the Vietnamese traffic works. It seems easy when you sit on the back of a bike: there are only very few rules, and it works best to just go with the flow, never mind the traffic signs. Or traffic lights. Even though at first it felt weird to us, we then realized that people here probably just pay better attention than most germans do when they're driving, and it seems like everyone has a little more respect for each other. So traffic works surprisingly smooth, despite looking completely chaotic.
The first thing we looked at was the Notre Dame Catheral, where we also took an obligatory selfie with our tour guides.
Since the church was currently not open for visitors, we then went to take a look at the old post office. After we came out of that building, Tim started drawing attention from Vietnamese students that had assignments to take pictures with foreigners, so he had a bit of selfie time with them. They also tried to teach him some Vietnamese words that supposedly meant “I love Ho Chi Minh, I love huetech”, and took a video of him saying it. If it surfaces anywhere and really means something else, we won’t feel responsible.
Next up: having a coffee like the locals do! You basically go to the little park area by the cathedral. There you’ll get a newspaper to lay on the ground and sit on, then order a coffee. That easy. Cuong also ordered some spiced mango (they add some salt and chili and shake it well) - but it was too hot for me. It tasted good, but my mouth isn’t used to chili I guess.
After the coffee we walked over to the independence palace and explored that.
Next up we went to Ben Thanh Market, the most famous market in town. It was pretty colofurl and vibrant and a bit crowded. Tim and I don’t usually buy many souvenirs, we mostly take home only our photographs, so we just walked and enjoyed the views and smells of the different areas. You can buy pretty much everything there, from fabric over clothes to food and kitschy souvenirs. I personally liked the food stalls best.
So we went to a little restaurant afterwards to have Lunch. We learned that many restaurants have a parking service - someone to watch your bike while you eat. In many cases the bikes are parked on the sidewalks, but sometimes inside a courtyard or even inside the building.
Cuong ordered spring rolls (Germans call this kind of spring rolls "summer rolls" - how did that happen?), Vietnamese pankcakes and corn cakes for us to try. It all tasted really really good, but I personally liked the little corn cakes best. I guess because they’re just one bite and I was already so full :D He also tried to teach me the names in Vietnamese, but it’s kind of useless - I have a real hard time pronouncing it right, and then I just forget it again after a few minutes ;) And somehow we didn't take any photos of our food, but why?
Afterwards we got back on the motorbikes and took a ride around Chinatown. We also visited a Pagoda, a Chinese style temple. That was really beautiful, it had many many carved figures all over it that I wish I could have seen better and taken pictures of. It must have been a few hundred. Inside the pagoda it smelled really interesting with all the burning incense, which is either used in form of sticks or hung up in huge spirals.
Next up we took a longer trip on the bikes all around the city. Cuong took us out of the center and into the suburbs. This really helped to get a feeling for how big Ho Chi Minh City really is, and gave us a good idea of the diversity of the city.
After this pretty long ride our last stop was a street food market in a place called “Rubiks” - they had all sorts of food and I had a really hard time to decide what I actually wanted to eat. Partly because I wasn’t really hungry yet because of all the delicious things we had eaten earlier and partly because almost everything looked (and especially smelled!) very good. I decided on a pizza-like dish that was prepared over open fire. It was a kind of rice-bread on which they added different vegetables, an egg and some things that I have no idea what they were. It looked yummy though, and it was! We had a big mug full of freshly made iced tea to go with that, which was really good especially because we were sweating like crazy in the 30 degree weather with about 100% humidity.
Afterwards Cuong and his wife brought us back to our hotel and we said our good byes. I really hope I get to see them again some day - they told us they were saving up to travel the world, so maybe some time we’ll get to guide them around Darmstadt in return.
In the evening Tim and I took another stroll through town, and ended up going to a rooftop bar to have a nice view over Ho Chi Minh City before we have to leave again tomorrow. Not sure if it was really worth it though, the drinks were really expensive and the view was a bit obstructed by a dotted foil the put over the big windows.