October 30, 2015
My first week in Saigon and I'm already impressed: the local food is fresh, cheap and intensely flavorful. Everyone is friendly. I bike to local markets, coffee shops, and street vendors. I've learned a few words in Vietnamese but between locals knowing some English and communicating by pointing at things, I get by just fine.
I'm staying with my friends Meaghan and her husband Tino who are both ex-pats living and working here. Their hospitality and familiarity with Saigon has made my transition to Asian culture quite easy.
A few days after my arrival, Tino took me to the Ben Thanh Market, which is in central Saigon and has everything from veggies, fruit, meat, spices, coffee, clothing, suits made in 24 hours, purses, souvenirs and all kinds of handmade goods.
After the market, we went to the top of the Bitexco Financial Tour to view the sprawl of the city. Incredible views! We sipped on coffee and listened to some live music as the sun went down.
Ben Thanh might be the most notable market in Saigon but smaller markets are all over the city. Just a 5 minute ride from where I’m staying is one right next to the Saigon River. Unaware it existed, I was informed by Lumen, our house maid from the Philippines, and she offered to take me there on her moped.
At the market I bought fresh fish, pork, veggies, fruit, and rice paper- all for no more than $6.
It’s hot as heck in Saigon and there are scheduled power outages to help “ration” the electricity (something to do with not enough water and too much heat). But it’s hardly a burden when I have delicious food, friendly people and plenty to explore to make up for it.
A DAY IN DISTRICT ONE
November 2, 2015
The city of Saigon is massive and is divided into 24 districts. I’m staying in District 2, but District 1 is the main hub. Earlier this week I headed into D1 to explore.
My first stop was a temple built in 1909 in honor of the Jade Emperor, a supreme Taoist god. I may have benefited from a guide, but I felt more compelled to wander through on my own in silence. The temple was small, just a few rooms filled with fierce looking Taoist and Buddhist statues stacked in altars adorned with candles and flowers. I watched as some worshippers burned sticks of incense while praying.
Before hopping in a cab to head to another part of town, I grabbed a quick snack from a street vendor: grilled sweet sticky rice stuffed with banana and wrapped in a banana leaf.
I ended up touring the Reunification Palace, the former home and workplace of South Vietnam’s President during the Vietnam War (called the American War here). Afterwards, I made my way to the Saigon Center for some shopping. I found some shorts and then a cheap rain jacket, a necessity since it’s currently rainy season here. Minutes after buying the jacket, as if on cue, it started to downpour. Despite the jacket, I felt stranded. The jacket would keep most of me dry but my backpack would get soaked (noted: I also need a rain cover for my bag). Plus I was in flip flops which are never fun in the rain. I thought about taking a cab, but the traffic looked heavy so I figured I’d just wait it out, which is what most of the locals seemed to be doing. Just watching and waiting. As I watched and waited with them, I pulled out my camera and snapped some shots of the rainy chaos.
To my delight, once the rain subsided and I walked around sporting my new jacket, the lights doubled in intensity as they reflected on to the wet pavement. I spent the majority of the evening happily walking aimlessly and then dining at an outdoor restaurant, the city glowing and buzzing all around me.