We finally got smart about all this travel (which I feel like I’ve said a hundred times)…we flew from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City for less than the cost of a bus. Yes, we missed most of the beaches and highlands of Southern Vietnam (but we want to go back, so really we saved them). We stayed in the backpacker haven at a small guesthouse in an alley. Joshua had two criteria: cheap price and internet connectivity for a Skype interview. Lucky for us, located on the corner was the best smoothie lady in the world. She must add a lot of MSG because her smoothies were so flavorful and all we topped with gorgeous pieces of fruit. The line was always super long, and we stood in it willingly–three times a day.
We spent most of our trip to Ho Chi Minh City at the dentist. I know, weird. But, both Joshua and I cracked teeth on the trip (mine was a year ago). Actually, Joshua only cracked a crown, but was so concerned (he is crazy about dental hygiene) that it became an “emergency.” He actually went to a dentist in Hanoi, but ended up walking out when he saw the tools they were planning to use on him. We found a reputable international dentist in HCMC that was able to fix our teeth and give us our first cleaning since leaving the States for way less than it would have been upon returning home (and having no insurance). Because we made last minute appointments, they had to fit us in when they could…which meant we had to get repeatedly numbed. Boo.
But just outside the dentist was the best, BEST bun thit nuong shop which is my all time favorite Vietnamese dish. It quickly became the lunch and dinner for the one who didn’t have dental work done that day. Joshua had seconds.
In between dental appointments, we had the opportunity to visit some of the city’s monuments. The war museum was full of photos that told a horrific and vivid story–a different story than we get most of the time. It was moving and heartbreaking. It is not a place I would recommend visiting after lunch.
The Reunification Palace was like a time machine. Nothing from the building has changed since the day the tanks pushed through the gated fence. The carpets are the same, the furniture and even the old rotary phones in the “war room.”
And then there are the French influences in “Saigon” like the Notre Dame copy that sits just outside the fanciest shopping district where you can find a real Cartier store next to a shop that sells knock-off Nikes. We picked up a few souvenirs at the market nearby…never again will we have access to so much for so little.
One thing that stands out among the French buildings and historic memorials is something that is uniquely Vietnamese: the number and speed and density of the motos. Everywhere you look. And even the drive-thrus (little ladies sitting on the curb) are built for bikes. The trick is to continue walking, slowly, even though it feels counter-intuitive. They’ll figure out how to dodge you!
After so much walking during the day, we always made it back to Bui Vien Street at night which was crowded with tourists sipping cold beer and sitting on mini-chairs…even when we left for the airport at 5am…they were still there, sipping and sitting.