Waking up to Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnamese motorbikes here aren’t normally loud, but several of them ripping through the streets in evenly-paced intervals, can equivocate a handful of Harleys. A motor stampede.
I awoke from my sleep because my cavernous room echoed thunderous vibrations. That’s what you get from a room with a front row seat of the main street. Otherwise, the view is pretty interesting. I spent almost an hour just watching how the streets of Ho Chi Minh wake up in the morning.
My scary hotel room? I’ve gotten used to it. Periodically during the night, I awoke with an itch, which sent me to my spritzer of Solumel to douse the sheets under my liner. Call me paranoid, but I’m not bringing home bed bugs.
Second perfume? Lemongrass. Mosquitoes avoid lemongrass, even mountain people swear by it.
Vietnamese Street Salons
I left my hotel and wandered around the back alleys of the Old Quarter, where lots of local homes, guesthouses and restaurants hide.
Passing by tour agency shops (there are lots), a breakfast cafe and a bookseller carrying a stack of used (and probably counterfeit) tourist guidebooks to sell on the streets to customers, I decided to dip into Zen Restaurant. It’s listed in Lonely Planet and looked inviting but in fact, it was a hot day. There was no air conditioning and they were undergoing a power outtage from construction nearby. I ordered one of the few items they could make on their little cooker.
Spring rolls and eggplant and tofu soup. Mmmm? Not really– the eggplant tasted like dirt. Zen is known for has “vegetarian” options (but never mind, vegetarians have options in Vietnam in general). Today however, was a bad day. It was hot, the power was out due to construction next door, there was no AC and the menu was downsized to what could be cooked without electricity.
My back alley tour of the Old Quarter
Every now and then, I hit a wall of … what to do next?
If digging through a guidebook is unappealing, I hit explorer mode and wander.
The Old Quarter of Ho Chi Minh is the typical backpackers ghetto, where most things expose tourist guesthouse and a dogged local life. If you go deeper, it gets more local. Streets are paved brick and dirt. Walking down the smaller alleys and streets as they wind, can take you past open doorways into the grit of local leisure, make-shift work styles and generally, a chaotic (yet practiced) lower income family lifestyle.
My guide? I decided to follow a little old Vietnamese food seller, making neighborhood rounds.
Following her deeper into the city streets was an opportunity to seeing neighbors chat between open doorways on their motorbikes, families eating on their living room floor or laying sprawled on the cool concrete floors, watching TV.
Here’s some of my excursion…
Meet the tour guide…
Vietnam, you remind me of Korea… not really, but sorta.
Six months in Korea exhausted every expat teacher I knew. When vacation hit many of us needed to jailbreak from our Korean lifestyles. This was our first travel break away from Kimchi-land.
I met up with fellow EPIKer, Veronica for a couple of days in HCMC felt surreal. The Korean-to-Vietnamese exchange and lifestyle jump felt weird to us.
“Woo hoo, we’re no longer in Korea!” we kept saying; yet, every Vietnamese transaction tempted a Kamsahamnida…Annyonghasaeyo or an exchange of money with two hands.
It took restraint. I wanted to speak and “act” more Korean than I do on a daily basis in Korea! What’s up with that?! It was as if I missed Korea or it was now a special part of me and another foreign country was threatening my belonging. My ears thirsted to hear Korean. If there was an Asian tourist within a 20 foot radius, my ears were strained to listen for familiarity!
In six months, thinking in kimchi had become second nature.
We walked around Ho Chi Minh until our feet fell off, recognizing the Vietnamese have a special bond with their motorbikes. The lifestyle revolves around a motorbike way of life, which will blow you away if you’re from a car culture!
Markets at Ben Thanh Marketplace
By day, it’s an indoor marketplace similar to Bangkok’s Chatachuk Market (although much smaller) with stalls of food, clothes, Vietnamese souvenirs, herbs, etc…
After 6pm, the marketplace it turns into a night bazaar filled with outdoor food stalls and vendors selling anything from clothes, souvenirs and Asian face masks to wear to avoid pollution.
Workers getting ready for their shift at the night market. The setup of the night market happens very quickly.
If you double-blink your eye, you might miss it (ok, maybe they’re not that quick but still…). Years of practice has gotten the setup perfectly choreographed.
(pic below) Men quickly roll out the night market tents
the night market outside of the Ben Thanh Market
And now, we eat!