Friday, April 14, 2017

A Tourist in Saigon

I've been navigating HCMC on foot--Saigon, I should say. Everybody refers to it as Saigon, even locals, which I didn't realize before I came. Anyway, I've been walking everywhere, which is generally how I prefer to do things. Much easier to get to know a city if you walk around, see everything at a slower pace, get to know the streets and the shortcuts. I've only been walking about 5-6 miles per day, but it takes a lot longer here, since negotiating the crowded sidewalks and crossing the busy streets is such a complex endeavor.

My legs hurt a little, and my chub rub is at peak ouch (sorry for the TMI, friends), so I'm taking it easy today. I'll probably make a run to the supermarket--my hostel has a huge kitchen, cannot recommend The Common Room Project enough--and maybe chill at a cafe, or go out for dinner, but for the most part I'm going to relax. Besides, I have to plan the next step of my travels!

War Remnants Museum SaigonOne reason I've been walking so far is that my hostel is in District 5, and the majority of the big tourist attractions are in District 1. The first day that I was fully awake I went to the War Remnants Museum, which was horrific. The exhibits largely consisted of photographs. Graphic photographs. I'm not sure what was harder to look at: the bomb-mangled bodies or the tragic Agent Orange victims, many of whom were born as late as the 1990's and early 2000's. It puts the Vietnam War in sobering perspective and makes Trump's current military efforts even more terrifying. Outside in the yard they had loads of tanks and airplanes and helicopters. Good for pictures, I suppose, now that they're no longer being used to kill.

I tried to visit the old French Cathedral yesterday, but it was closed for Holy Week. Which is a good thing, in my opinion! Religious places should be closed when people are trying to pray. I can always go another day. Instead I visited the French Colonial post office, which is still a working post office. I admired the European architecture while sending off a few postcards, all under Ho Chi Minh's watchful eye. That guy is everywhere.

On the nearby Nguyễn Huệ walking street, I explored this old apartment complex that has been converted into a bunch of tiny shops and cafes. It was a lot of fun climbing the dusty, concrete stairwell and ducking into various doorways to see what I would find. I enjoyed a tea at a cafe on the 6th floor called The Letter, sitting on their balcony with a view of the city. Afterwards I went to Pasteur Street Brewing Company for a Jasmine IPA and some conversation with fellow travelers, and then I meandered back and forth trying desperately to find Banh Mi 37, which serves--you guessed it--banh mi. It's known for making the sandwiches with these little pork patties and a different kind of sauce instead of the typical mayo. I finally found the small cart tucked into an alley and, after waiting in line, walked away with the first banh mi of my trip. Delicious.

All the food I've had here so far is delicious, actually. The other evening my hostel had a family dinner night. Sarah, a vegan from Slovenia, gave us all tasks, and we cooked up roasted squash, beetroot hummus, baba ganoush, vegan mayo, and more. I ate way too much, of course.

As I mentioned, I'm trying to figure out where to go next. I was going to head to Cambodia from here, but now I've heard that I should skip Cambodia and go to Myanmar instead? Decisions, decisions. I was talking this morning with another guy from Chicago who's been traveling around Asia for two years. (Coincidentally, I feel like the first American I meet abroad is almost always from Chicago.) Our conversation:

Him: "You're going back to the States after this?"

Me: "Yeah, in two months."

Him: "Why?"

Why indeed.

(Just kidding--I love you guys.) 

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