Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam: Saigon

During my winter vacation away from school, I went to Vietnam for about 10 days in January. I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along with my friends Diane and Amanda after they had done the bulk of trip planning. I was concerned about spending the money, but it was either go to Vietnam, or sit at home, cold and alone in Korea. Vietnam won by simple virtue of having copious amounts of cheap pho. Vietnam pho the win! (Yeah, I went there!)

We first landed in Ho Chi Minh city, aka Saigon. The weather was a welcome change from Korea. It was warm and humid, but nowhere near as miserable as Daegu in the summer. Aside from feeling a little sticky, it was amazing. Our room for rent was located on "backpacker's street". I think it was only $8 a night per person for our private room and bathroom. Very cheap, and a very busy area. Even with the windows closed there was a constant roar of people talking and motor bikes driving down the road. I liked it a lot. It was crowded and noisy but also vibrant and energetic.
Backpacker's Street

At night all the little shops put out rows of plastic chairs facing the street and sell beer for you to drink while you people watch. As more people come, the chairs get placed further and further out into the street. It almost resembles stadium seating. The two sides of the street get to watch each other as well as anybody who passes in between.

Most of the buildings in Vietnam were narrow and multilevel. This leaves very little street side real estate, and makes for very territorial shop owners. While sitting on your tiny plastic stool be sure to stay within the line of your building or someone will come and correct you. With no room to expand left or right, most places take over a good portion of the street at night, turning a two way road into a crowded one-way street.

Daytime stalker pic! You can see Amanda and Diane relaxing below during the relatively calm afternoon hours.
I'm sure our guesthouse made far more money selling beer at night than it did from renting out rooms.
We spent our days walking around to see local sights, as well as taking frequent "sit somewhere and eat/have a drink" breaks. We also had many iced coffee stops so we could use a nice cafe bathroom without feeling guilty.

It should be noted that all of these motor bikes are in motion.
Cute kids practicing for some kind of show in the park.
Vietnamese parking lots

Some local student's laughing at me while I chased down a butterfly.
Our afternoon drinking buddy.


We soaked up some local history by visiting the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, as well as taking a day trip out to see the Cu Chi tunnels where the Vietnamese had lived and hidden themselves underground to combat the US forces.

Our bus broke down on the way to the tunnels for about 30 minutes.
Killed some time by taking photos, clearly I was not alone in my thinking.

Secret entrance into the tunnel system.
You could pay to fire an AK47.
Demonstration on how the Vietnamese would make sandals out of old tires. They could be worn facing either forwards or backwards, making it very difficult to track.
Made it through 100 meters underground through the tunnels!
My favorite part of Saigon was the food. Particularly the street food. Never have I eaten so well for so cheap. My plan of attack was to eat everything, and hopefully the foods would cancel each other out. I even ate whole chicken feet. Not silly small feet either. We're talking a fully grown chicken foot, bone split down the middle, grilled until crispy, and consumed bone and all. It was pretty good once you got used to the crunching down on bone and cartilage part. I had to have two because I forgot to record myself eating the first one. I was the only one in our group to eat the chicken feet, and also the only person to not have tummy troubles. Coincidence? I think not. 

This lady sold us sandwiches for breakfast every morning. She only stayed open until about 10am when she had sold out of food. At that point she would put away her stand for the day.
Overly friendly coconut man will help you cross the street, offer to pose for a picture, and then try to sell you coconuts.

Stuff on a stick!

Probably my favorite dish in Vietnam, and was served right off the street.
Fruit lady! It was so good to have cheap fresh fruit everywhere!
Sadly the chicken feet were not photographed, but I do have video evidence.

Vietnamese pancake goodness.
I still don't know what this man was selling, but that didn't stop me from running after him to buy a cup.

Next up will be the second leg of our journey in Hoi An.

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