I’ve heard that there’s around 6 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, and after being in town for only a few minutes, that number didn’t really surprise me. There are motorbikes *everywhere*. On any given street, there are hundreds of them streaming in either direction. Trying to cross the street is quite a daunting task. The key apparently, is to just walk across at a slow and steady pace; if you make no sudden moves, the motorbikes will just avoid you… but if you run back, or try to dodge them, you’ll be in trouble. No fear is the key. After a while, we definitely got used to it, but in the beginning it was pretty nerve-wracking, especially since most of the people on the roads don’t really follow many rules… some of the mopeds just go and drive on the sidewalks as well… yikes!
We started off our morning (after dodging many many mopeds) by having Pho. If you don’t know, pho is noodle soup, most often made w/ beef, and is the most popular dish in Vietnam. Here people eat it all the time, even for breakfast. It’s usually served w/ a bunch of accompaniments: hoisin sauce, chili paste, fish sauce, lime, vinegar, sprouts, onions, and basil. Each person can add as much of those things as they like, so in the end, every person’s pho will be unique and different from the next guy’s. our first bowl of pho (and pretty much all the pho we’ve had since then) was absolutely delicious. I just cant get enough of the stuff!
Following a walking tour from lonely planet, we soon ended up in Ben Thanh market, we were instantly accosted from all sides by women trying to sell us tshirts, hand bags, and all sorts of other souvenirs. They would literally grab onto us and pull on our arms to keep us from walking by, but we somehow got through. Like most asian markets, this one full of so many different things ranging from clothes to cookware to fruits to knick knacks. You could probably buy everything you needed from just this one market. One of the most interesting sections for me was the food section where they sold lots of crazy exotic fruits, mountains of dried shrimp that smelled so bad it almost hurt, and even really weird things like grubs.
After the market, we spent some time just wandering around town and taking it all in. Saigon is a pretty crazy town. On one hand, it is the largest city in Vietnam and is super modern with large fancy stores, big restaurants, etc but on the other hand a lot of the people still definitely live in the old style here. Men drive cyclos (a bicycle with a bench thing in front of it to cart people around in) around town, people cook in the streets, a lot of people still wear the old-school Vietnam conical hats, and old women hobble around the streets carrying yokes with fruit etc for sale. These old women are pretty hardcore… they’ll often be hauling *huge* loads of fruit, or sometimes a bunch of pots and pans so they can cool meals for people right on the street…. I really don’t know how they manage to carry that heavy stuff around all day.
Later on, we checked out the ho chi minh city museum to learn a bit about the history of the town. By then, we were beat, so we headed back to the hotel to nap. There’s this park on pham ngu lao street that we always passed by when going to our hotel. it’s funny cause we would always see huge groups of people doing calisthenics in the park… I guess if you don’t have 24 hour fitness in town, you gotta exercise somewhere! This is also the park where young Vietnamese couples go to hang out and we’d always see them clinging to each other and sitting or reclining on their scooters… I guess driving isn’t the only use for a scooter! The other crazy thing about this park was that people would get manicures right there in the park on benches.
That night, we went out to this restaurant where the specialty was grilling marinated meat at your table. The food was hella good, and cheap. did I mention that pretty much all the food here is dirt cheap? We’ve had meals where we paid like $2 for both of us and that’s including drinks! Anyways, checking out the menu at this place really gave us an idea of how wide a range of things Vietnamese people eat. Some of the things on the menu: minced snake, fried cricket, grilled turtle-dove, roast pigeon, grilled field rat, and scorpion. It was only our first day here, so it was a bit early to get too crazy.. but one of these days we’ll have to try some of this stuff.