After a short detour through Danang (a highly functional city where the local delicacy consisting of cold boiled bacon wrapped in aromatic herbs and lettuce left us both mystified and hungry) we arrived in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh in the early evening, and promptly got stuck in traffic.
In hindsight, after reading Andrew Pham’s Catfish and Mandala, any attempt to describe Ho Chi Minh’s traffic would be futile or artless, so here’s what he has to say about it: “There are no lane markings, no shoulders, … just one big long river of asphalt boiling with Brownian motion. The engines roar, the animals bleat, the horns, the curses and the screams all boil into a fantastic cacophony.” Catfish and Mandala, by the way, is a phenomenal travel book that i would highly recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Southeast Asia or any sort of personal “roots” trip. As he’s a denizen of the Bay Area and the Golden Gate bridge was his launchpad, too, we related and really enjoyed his book. Which is not to say that it’s a light summer reading – this ain’t no “Shopaholic Meets Uncle Ho” novelette – read at your own peril! We realized soon enough that we were not quite ready to join the Asphalt Jungle, which seemed even more hectic than Hanoi, with fevered Christmas preparations everywhere and hordes of locals decked in their wintery best, raindeer horns included, lining up for interminable, highly directed photo sessions with the Christmas ornaments in front of Barney’s – so we skipped town after three days, having accomplished the following:
- Eat jackfruit for the very first time (that would be me, as Ed is well-versed in everything that smacks of exotic in the fruit isle)
- Eat one extremely bad tiramisu
- Get lost several times on the same street (…)
- Visit the Reunification Palace
- Eat vegetarian almost the entire time (again me, and with the caveat that something I took for very dark tofu with funky texture in my rice soup could have just as easily been a very large piece of near-raw liver)
- And possibly the least expected adventure of all – discover a Harry Potter-esque Three Brooms Town, an institution that sprawled on three+ floors and boasted a bakery, a theater, a performance stage, a pirate bar and several workshops where, by appointment, you could learn how to sew little pillows and make autumnal-looking decorations that would be at home on Halloween on any street in Connecticut.
We made the above list and checked it twice (by this time Christmas songs have fully permeated our bubble of season denial) and then we were off to the Mekong Delta. As an aside, let it be said that after – weeks AFTER – we completed our tour, the New York Times came out with the 52 Top Places to visit in 2014 and the Mekong Delta ranked 35th. Since words don’t really do it justice, here are some pics. Enjoy!
After three weeks in Vietnam, we crossed the border into Cambodia on a speedboat. We were excited to move on to our next destination, but also nostalgic at the same time. Vietnam was a ride and a half and a baptism by fire for us South East Asia first-timers. Tam Biet! A la prochaine!