HCMC moves like a gasoline generated river, ceaseless and smelly. Honking, belching black smoke, weaving between pedestrians and buses, the motorbikes live according to individual rules. There isn’t enough public transit, bikes are cheap and small and everybody needs to get somewhere. There’s a certain amount of city romance to the congestion. You can depend on the traffic, on the smell, on the horns.
They were talking very animatedly and trying to get noticed. They posed with “V” signs instantly. I asked him if his shirt was the Led Zeppelin logo, he took off his backpack and showed me the Charmed logo. He was into the old WB vampress show I guess.
Perhaps because of the heavy influence of American troops from the war, perhaps because of the massive amount of transient backpackers funneling in on night buses, perhaps because the locals are interested in Western Cuisine, or perhaps because all the best Vietnamese food is elsewhere, HCMC is a destination for world cuisine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to eat all the places that looked interesting, instead, I went the comfort food route. After all, it had been a month of focusing on Vietnamese food, I was ready for cheese!
At La Cantina (175 Pham Ngo Lau), they had a decent offering of Mexican, but also an extensive Vietnamese section. Enchiladas were fine and hit the spot for which cheese was missing.
Chucks Burgers (27 Tran Nhat Nuat) is hard to find and easy to eat. A guy from California, Charlie, moved back to his heritage homeland and brought his American food with him. This place was REAL good. They do BBQ’s every other Sunday. Take a taxi here, too difficult to find walking.
You can never escape noodles and rice. This was my roadside lunch on the way to Cu Chi tunnels. It was very salty.
Sticking with rice/noodles, these are rice flour dumplings, and a pork stick from Nha Hang Ngon (160 Pasteur). It was okay, but not as good as its Hanoi counterpart. The food and service wasn’t as good as Quan An Ngon in Hanoi.
Pizza by the slice at ESPY Pizza (154 Cong Quynh) was amazing. This picture doesn’t do justice, we ordered a whole pie before, but ate it before I remembered my camera. It’s perfect Jersey Shore boardwalk, suburban Northeast pizzeria style. Recommended.
Allez Boo, on the main corner of Pham Ngo Lau street, has a tropical decor and friendly staff. This chocolate shake tasted like a Wendy’s Frosty. We mixed ketchup and orange spicy sauce for dipping the potato skins. They also offer hookah service with comfy charis, a perfect place to chill and people watch through their giant doors.
At Le Lay, somewhere on Bui Ven street, they had an enormous menu with one woman in a tiny kitchen seemingly performing miracles upon each order. This eggs, bacon, bread and fries plate was about 40,000 dong (2$).
At Schneider’s Bakery (27 Han Thuyen) they have a nice selection of home made breads and pastries.
A small Greek diner near my hostel provided some nice flavors of the Mediterranean with a lime spritzer, kebab, moussaka, spinach lasagna and dolmas.
Wandering in Saigon, I came across a magnificent Pepto-Bismol colored church. It had a lovely flower garden complete with statues of all the Stations of the Cross. They were pretty brutal, as anyone who is familiar with the Easter rites of Good Friday well knows. Here’s a few samples: try to find the Roman soldier spearing Jesus, or the bald man flaying Jesus, or Jesus falling for the first time.
North of Ho Chi Minh City lies the extraordinarily extensive Vietcong tunnel system. It is the longest hand dug tunnel in the world, at over 250km of connecting labyrinthine clay tubes. They used these tunnels for their guerilla fight against the French and Americans. They planted hidden explosives and spiked trap doors among the fallen foliage. They used the discarded foreigner’s trash to mask the scent of their ventilation tubes. The walked with their shoes on backwards to confuse trackers. They successfully practiced the “hit and run” style of warfare. Our tour guide, Billy, said the war was like an extended episode of Tom and Jerry. Vietcong (Jerry), smaller and quicker, with a small, impenetrable hole in which to hide; and America (Tom) bigger and increasingly desperate. Vietnamese would sneak into USA camps at night and steal supplies (probably also cheese, just like Jerry would). The tunnels were tight, crawling room only in places. We could only do about 120 m. I would have explored more if they let us, but that’s only because I know they were unoccupied. I can’t imagine the dread of living there, constantly aware of possible attacks from above, or the immeasurable fear of looking for enemies hunched over in the dark inside their tunnel. It was an impressive exhibit, concluded with the chance to fire (35,000 dong per bullet) any of the seven major rifles used in the war. Our tour guide fought for the ARVN, and after 1975, being a lieutenant, spent 6 years in a prison “re-education” camp. It’s history, and rarely is it possible to so tangibly feel the experience first hand.
You can see how low the man in front of me is crouched.
There was a good bit of apprehension masked behind that excited smile.
The VC traps were home made in appearance but viciously effective. There were about eight different varieties, all involving spikes in sensitive areas of the body.
Roadside lunch in a fly full environment.
We also visited a temple that is dedicated to three different deities. It’s hard to understand from broken English information, but the meditation ceremony involved instruments, incense and incantations. The adherents were mostly older and seemed accustomed to tourists walking around during their quiet time. It was much grander inside than I was expecting.
A few minutes ride from the main area of Da Lat resides an avant garde hotel/tourist trap called Hang Nga Guesthouse, or The Crazy House (03 Hunyh Thuc Kang). It was designed by a woman holding a PhD in architecture, a love of Gaudi and a wild imagination. It’s fun to walk around inside the house, and feel the lack of right angles smoothing out a cluttered mind. There are plenty of photo ops and really narrow staircases.
Nearby you can find Datanla Waterfalls. They weren’t as crowded with tourists. For 50,000 dong (3$), you can ride a self-controlled bobsled down the mountain to the base. As long as you don’t get a slow-poke in front of you, you can go as fast or slow as you want because you control the brakes! It was a sustained smile the whole way down. Afterwards, explore the fragrant pine tree walkways and then pop back in your bobsled which gets tow-roped back to the top of the hill.
I noticed how calm everyone seemed beside the big, peaceful lake in the middle of this southern highland city of Vietnam. The monochrome complements the serene healing power of being near large bodies of water.
They offered me a beer, but it was only noon…and they were pretty deep already! Plus, I think they would have enjoyed the warm Saigon beer more than me anyway.
The guy on the right was quite keen on getting a good shot and asked to see the picture before I left.
Baking like a lizard on the sidewalk.
They were too comfortable to even turn around as I approached.
I like that they kept their helmets on to chill. The flowers in the tree were a pretty, deep purple.
You could just barely see her eyes between the paddie hat and the smog mask.
Its natural beauty is easy on the eyes, but as with most resort towns, tourists find a way to crowd out the beauty to be replaced by high rise hotels and trendy beach bars. The city is overwhelmed with Russian tourists due to the one way flights serviced from Moscow. Signs and menus are posted in Vietnamese, French, Russian and English. The Russians seem to be a hard bunch to impress and walk around with faces that seem to ask, “Is this all ya got?”
The party area is loaded with backpacker bars and restaurants/pectopahs. There is an amazing place called Louisiane Brewhouse (29 Tran Phu) with six house brewed beers. I ordered the sampler and wasn’t disappointed. The cheeseburger; however, was a total letdown. It was under-cooked and had the amateur hour problem of meat patty being smaller than the bun. But, wifi was fast, there is a pool, and perhaps the overpriced seafood was better.
I also went to I-resort. A short ride away over the bridge into the locals-only part of town (some of the roads aren’t even paved yet). They offer a range of services, but for 300,000 dong (15$) you can get 20 minutes in a mud bath, floating in delicate minerals that alleviate a variety of health issues, all-day access to warm mineral pools and comfortable lounge chairs. I spent the day pruning my hands in the soothing water, tanning and reading.
The food was not impressive. I stayed four days, ate two big fish (which were pretty good), a decent pizza, decent tikka masala, a terrible eel dish, and two very poor, under-cooked cheeseburgers (I-resort and Louisiane Brewhouse). I did eat a very delicious bacon cheeseburger at Booze Cruise Bar (110 Nguyen Thien Thuat). I know I shouldn’t be eating so many burgers, but there’s just something about being at the beach that makes me crave a “cheeseburger in paradise!” Below is a nice Indian food breakfast beside the beach, and a terribly bony eel dish.
This place, NT Fitness, owned by a few expat bros from England, was a huge highlight and allowed me a chance to get in a few curls, watch a Russian guy bench 200kgs and get in a nice banana protein shake. It was top notch for any city in the world, four floors of various equipment and hardwood exercise rooms.
I stayed at Mojzo Inn (120 Nguyen Thien Thuat), a cute place with irrepressibly cute staff. They were helpful, cheery and greeted me with the same, “Hey Wirl,” at all times of the day. The rooms are clean and well equipped.
I kept hearing how lots of backpackers have begun skipping this city completely due to negative word-of-mouth. Yes, it’s crowded, loud, pushy, and has mediocre food, but…I’m not sure how to finish that sentence. I didn’t hate it; I didn’t love it. You can party here, get a tan, shop for expensive goods, eat fresh seafood, ride the longest cable car over water in the world, drink beer that isn’t yellow, float in clean mud, or get a bike and ride to the distant beaches 20km north or south of the main city.
These guys were hanging out laughing and whistling at chicks. They offered me some tea, I had a buzz for the next hour from it. Not sure what kind of tea it was, but it was strong.
Getting in some chilling time before hustling the tourists.
This guy was talking so loudly, and bits of food were flying from his mouth.
Working hard or hardly working? To be fair, it was 9:15, so maybe coffee break time.
The “easy-riders” all want to take you around and show you the “real Vietnam.” This guy was very persistent.
She’s quite attractive, friendly and I like purple.
He saw me with my camera and held up this rather ordinary crab. The market stunk like sour meat, seafood and sweat.
She was not pleased with this picture. She immediately began yelling to her superior after I took this.
The kid finally waved to me as I was walking away.
They were laughing as soon as I took out my camera as if I just told a joke.
Love her expression.
Genuine smiles when I popped in their hardware shop.
Hanging with her vegetables in the shade.