Ho Chi Minh City
Up and raring to go to begin our second full day. Well, as raring as I am in the morning….
Had the alarm set on my phone to ensure we were up in time, but really, it wasn’t necessary.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how full, or how empty, your glass is, our awakening time coincided with some locals either making their way home, or waking up and getting on with their day a little bit before we planned to.
Finally ready to go and we collect DP and Annette on our way downstairs.
DP is not quite ready, but that’s OK, we’ll chat with Annette while he gets himself organised.
Not sure what he was doing; suspect he was busy chastising someone on TA who had questioned the legitimacy of the whole VOA system….
Chastising done, we were off. First port of call; breakfast.
Out the door, turn right, and turn right again. Down the little alley towards ‘my’ street.
But wait, we then turn down another little alley. And then turn again. Hmmm, where are we going, I think.
It’s also at this point that I think a pocket full of rice might have come in handy.
The intrepid explorer, was no doubt, thinking much worse….
All of a sudden, we’re out on ‘my’ street.
Ah, DP, you tricker, you….
We then turn down another narrow street where there are several street food stalls set up. We choose one, well, DP chooses one, and we sit on our usual plastic chairs.
This is one of the things I love about this country.
Even though my knees are far closer to my head than is ideal, it’s the simplicity of the whole arrangement. Small plastic tables, smaller plastic chairs, a couple of condiments on the table, along with ‘sticks’ to eat with, as well as small bits of paper (which really are next to useless, but that’s ok) to clean yourself up with once you’re finished.
So simple, so basic, so quintessentially Vietnam.
I love it.
On the menu is pork and egg with rice.
It ain’t a bowl of Special K, or a really healthy muesli, but it’s good.
It not being a healthy cereal, probably makes it even better….
Breakfast done, DP suggests it’s coffee time.
I liked the guy before, I like him even more now.
We walk off to find one of his usual coffee haunts. It’s gone!
Never fear, we’ll find another.
Bit more of a walk, taking in the sights, and we end up around the corner from the hotel.
Down, you guessed it, a fairly narrow street.
You getting it now? That’s right. Get off the big streets, and go down the little ones. Much more there, and much more fun.
Three caphe sua da’s, and a hot chocolate for the bearded sweet tooth.
We sit outside in the shade of a large tree. Which is fortunate, as we’d just remarked how hot it already was….
Apart from the tree, the other thing that is nice is the chairs we’re sitting on. They’re different to the usual hard plastic ones. These are more like sun chairs, or deck chairs. They’re actually soft.
It’s unusual, but ohhhh, it’s nice.
Drinks arrive, and it’s not only caphe sua da’s, but caphe sua da’s with phin. Now we’re talking!
For the non-coffee drinkers, Vietnam virgins and cruise ship visitors, a quick description of what is in front of me.
A tall glass filled with ice and a long spoon.
Another, smaller glass with a small amount of condensed milk in the bottom.
On top of this glass, a Vietnamese coffee filter called a ‘phin’ (Google can be your friend, if required).
In the phin is ground coffee and boiling water.
Now we wait for the water to make its way through the filter while extracting all the goodness from the coffee.
It can be an agonising wait, but it is worth it.
That done, the coffee and condensed milk is stirred together.
It’s now time for the caphe sua nam (hot coffee) to become caphe sua da, by meeting the glass of ice.
The water from the melting ice is tipped out and the coffee poured over the remaining ice and given a good stir.
Now the good bit. Start drinking it.
Note – if you’re not as manly as me, you can leave the water in the glass before you pour the coffee in. This will result in a weaker coffee that may be more palatable for people like my intrepid explorer….
Geez, even my short descriptions are long….
Anyway, there we were. Sitting on, quite possibly, the most comfortable chairs in all of Vietnam, sipping and savouring caphe sua da’s, under a shade giving tree.
Great location, great company, great coffee.
Yeah…. Life is good.
But, all good things must come to an end and we were soon on our way back to the hotel to freshen up.
The shade from the tree had been nice, but it was still hot.
Interestingly, we’d only just remarked how hot it already was….
Air con on, time for a bit of a rest. Well, for one of us….
While Lisa Facebooked, or diary updated, or whatever, in the now ‘cool’ of the hotel room, I had jobs to do. Yes, I am quite the trouper.
Back downstairs and back round through the market. Down the end of the street and past the phone / sim card / nose picking shop. Run the gauntlet of the traffic and cross the road (yes, well and truly a seasoned professional now) to the gold shop from yesterday.
Checking my phone as I walk in, making sure they know what I’m looking at.
Damn it, rate has dropped a little since yesterday…..
“Rate for Australian dollars?”, I ask confidently.
The lady behind the counter turns to the guy behind the computer.
Computer guy comes over with his calculator and shows me a rate.
Hmmm, not a bad rate again.
Watch computer guy carefully as he counts out the notes. We both smile and nod in agreement, and I hand over my two bits of plastic and he hands me lots of bits of plastic. My wallet has never been under this much strain….
I thank him and turn to original lady, to thank her as well.
She then says something to me.
I both smile and look confused at the same time. Yes, I have a talent….
She says it again, but this time coaxing and teaching me to say what she has just said.
I make an attempt. Not a good one, but an attempt, nonetheless.
I smile….., nervously……
I have no idea what I’ve just said. For all I know, I may have just asked her to marry me.
A meek sounding “cam on” and I’m off; happy, satisfied and confused.
Back across the road; next job; find beer.
Oooooh, a sugar cane juice place. Attention span has always been an issue….
I’d noticed this place yesterday. Not because it was a sugar cane juice place, but because of the number of people queued up in front of it. They must be doing something right, I had thought at the time.
Well, let’s find out!
I point, she hands over drink, I pay. Simple!
And it’s good! Always thought it would be sickly sweet, but it’s refreshing. Especially with a little lemon juice to balance it out.
Back down market street, wallet full of cash, ice cold drink in my hand, smiling at, and receiving smiles from, the locals. Yep, happy with the world.
Find a little shop (someone’s house) that sells beer. Amongst other things. But I’m not interested in other things at the moment.
I see Heineken. No
I see Tiger. No
Damn it, I’m in Vietnam. I want to drink beer from Vietnam!
Ahhh, Ba Ba Ba beer! That’s 333 beer for you non-beer drinkers, Vietnam virgins and cruise ship visitors….
“How much?”, I ask. Always, always ask first….
“12 000”, the little old lady replies, with a smile.
“Five please”, I say.
Why five? Because I know five twelves is a nice even number. It’s just easier and it means you won’t get any paper notes back.
Paper notes are handy, but I don’t need to go to the toilet at the moment.
(Non toilet type people, Vietnam virgins and cruise ship visitors won’t get that….)
Beer purchased, I’m done. Feeling very pleased with myself I begin to head back to the hotel.
Aaargh……., forgot to buy water!
That attention span thing…..
Walk further up the street and there’s another little shop set up in the front of someone’s home. And it has bottled water on display.
I walk in. The little old lady is very surprised to see me. Well, not me as such, but someone that looks like me.
I smile and point to the water, “How much?”, I ask. Always, always ask first.
Again, it’s a good price. As it usually is, as we are not in District One.
I say I’ll have two, and hand over the money, which I rounded up by a couple of thousand Dong.
She has a great big smile on her face. I think I’ve made her day.
She doesn’t know it, but she’s just made mine.
My errands are now finally done. Happy and satisfied, I head back to the hotel.
I kinda feel like a local.
After relaxing and cooling down for a bit, it was time to head back outside and get hot again.
It’s a never ending cycle….
The plan was to meet DP and Annette downstairs outside the building. No prizes for guessing who was there, and who wasn’t…..
Into a taxi and back into……. I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea anymore. You’d think that I’d be getting better the longer I’d been there. I’m not, I’m actually getting worse. My sense of direction is completely shot.
Anyway, we end up at a street food place on the side of a road. Hmmm, a street food place on the side of a street. Who would have thought….
Pork done three ways, fish and rice for four people. Beautiful food. Too much food. Couldn’t eat it all.
112 000 Dong. Total.
Ridiculous. Almost embarrassing.
Suitably full, and wallet only slightly lighter, we’re back in a taxi.
Apparently, it’s beer time.
That ‘man crush’ thing, reappears…..
The beer hall that DP took Scotsman to.
I like him even more now, than a minute ago.
The taxi pulls up and we walk across to what would be best described as a rundown, dirty looking, uninviting, probably should be condemned, building.
I’m even more excited!
In we go, slightly nervously; the intrepid explorer no doubt quivering; and the interior is much like the exterior.
Seriously, there is no way in a million years I would have walked into this place on my own. But that just goes to show how much we miss out on, when that comfort zone thing kicks in, and makes you do ‘safe’ things.
A quick scan of the place and there are only four westerners there. Us.
I wasn’t surprised. And I wasn’t unhappy.
DP orders 2 litres of bia hoi, which is quickly delivered to the table, along with some glasses and a bowl of ice which has been freshly chiseled off a very large slab of ice sitting in the corner.
Ooooh, unsafe ice! It’s getting better!
Over the next hour or so, we sit, chat and enjoy the beer. While watching the occasional gecko walking across the wall.
It really was a great experience. And it was an experience I never would have had without the knowledge of a ‘local’.
Back in another taxi, along more unknown roads in unknown directions, and we’re finally back at the hotel.
Rest / cool down / dry off / recuperate time.
Once refreshed, we head out to undo it again. This time, just the two of us, just for a walk, no plans.
Actually, we did have one plan. We would walk until it was caphe sua da time.
Three minute walk done; ahhh, just joking, was a little longer than that; and we find ourselves back at the café we’d been to earlier in the day.
Just us, a couple of locals, under the tree, on the most comfortable chairs in Vietnam, drinking caphe sua da.
Happy as a pig in the proverbial…..
I’ve never sipped a drink so slowly in my life. I just didn’t want it to end. But eventually, end it did and we headed back to the hotel.
Lisa decides that it’s ‘Facebook time’ or ‘diary writing time’, or whatever it is when she decides she doesn’t want to talk to me anymore. As luck would have it, this coincides with ‘beer o’clock’. Wonderful timing.
Back outside to find where this can happen. There’s plenty of restaurant type places along the street, but nothing that really stands out as a bar. Eventually I try my luck at one, only to be told that they are a restaurant place only. A little perplexed, I move on.
Place two seems a little happier to see me. Unfortunately, they only have Heineken and Tiger, but I’m struggling a little here, so I decide to break my own rule on this occasion.
Part way through my first, of what I think will be two or three, and they have a few more customers. You know that feeling you get when you feel like you’re not really wanted? That one where all of a sudden you feel like you’re in the way?
Well, I got that feeling. Damn it, this thing just isn’t working out….
Finish my beer, stupid Tiger beer anyway……, and head back to the hotel. I’ll drink my own beer there while Lisa doesn’t talk to me.
Actually ends up working out quite well. While Lisa sits in the room, I stand on the balcony, beer in hand, watching what’s going on below me.
The non la wearing old lady sorting through the rubbish for aluminium cans and plastic bottles, beer delivery guy on motorbike, delivering……. beer, of course, the 957 Vinasun taxis driving over the bridge on the canal, the steadily increasing traffic jam of bikes and cars on the road under the aforementioned bridge, and everything else that goes on in this fascinating country.
Never gets boring.
But all good things must come to an end. Lisa has Facebooked the kids and I’m expected to come in and talk to them. I’d actually forgotten that we had kids, and wasn’t overly unhappy about that.
Keeping my chances of winning ‘father of the year’, alive, I do as I’m told.
It goes as I suspected it would. The girl is really keen to hear all about our trip, and fills us in on what’s been happening at home, and the boy grunts three times, and says goodbye, once.
Yep, no surprises there…..
Parenting duties from 6500 kms away, all done, time for dinner.
DP has mentioned a wonton soup street food place around the corner. Apparently they are better than extremely good. Okaaaay, got a lot to live up to now…..
We soon find ourselves sitting in a small alley way. Okay, hit me with the wontons.
Oh my! Oh my…….
I don’t know, I’ve never spent too much time thinking about wontons. A thick, juicy barbequed steak, a large homemade hamburger with all the extras, yes; but never wontons.
But these wontons? Oh my…….!
Good? No, much, much, better than that.
Drooling and wontons finished, we were again on our way to the next ‘DP hidden gem’. This time, a Buddhist restaurant / café place in a garden setting. A bit of an oasis in the middle of a big city.
Smoothies, coffees, hot chocolates all round, it was a very relaxing place to enjoy a drink.
Second hidden gem done, time for the third.
Across the main road, down a darkened lane way or two, intrepid explorer coming around slightly, (probably partly because she’s quite content after her smoothie, and partly because of the anticipation of the promised ice cream) and out onto the road that runs alongside the canal. Woohoo!, I know where we are! I could get us back to the hotel from here. But not via the way we came….
Would have needed that ‘rice in pocket’ thing for that…..
I’d actually forgotten about this little gem until I started writing this. This is the great thing about doing these reports; it makes you remember stuff that you’d forgotten. And while I truly am sorry that they go on for so long, as well as being a little more than slightly embarrassed about it, I’ve just realised that these reports aren’t actually for your, or TA’s, benefit. They’re for mine.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to put it out there. But please don’t feel the need to actually sit down and read each of them. Whatever happens, I just can’t give you back the 5 or 10 minutes that you may, or may not, have wasted.
Anyway, the ice cream.
I can’t remember exactly what was in it. I think there may have been little confectionary type lollies mixed into the ice cream on a cold plate, then flattened out really thinly, before being scraped up into shaved like rolls. Or something like that.
I don’t know, but I remember it being nice. I was too busy just enjoying the moment and interacting with a little kid that seemed very pleased to see us. Not sure he’d seen too many of ‘us’, before.
Lisa, on the other hand, was eating ice cream.
What kid? Where’s the canal? Who are you? Nothing else mattered.
Oh well, Happy wife, Happy life….
Main course – tick
Dessert starter – tick
Dessert – tick
We begin our walk back to the hotel. Hopefully walking off some of what we’d just eaten.
Annette decides to call it a night, but DP isn’t quite done.
“There’s a place around the corner that does really good desserts”, he says.
Of course there is, I think.
‘Ok!”, says Lisa. As I knew she would.
And before I know it we’re sitting outside on the footpath at dessert number three place.
I’m desserted out.
Obviously the other two are not.
While the sweet tooths indulge……, again, I leave to find something to wash the build up of sugar from my mouth.
Back down ‘my’ street to ‘my’ beer lady. She recognises me.
This is another thing I really love. Building a ‘relationship’ with the local shop owners. The interaction. It’s nice. They appreciate you, you appreciate them.
Beer and money exchanged, a ‘cam on’, a smile, and I’m off. As I said before, I sort of feel like a local. I’ve felt really comfortable in this ‘community’. And that’s exactly what it feels like to me. It’s not there to make money from tourists. It’s not even there for tourists. It’s there for the people that live there. The community.
And it’s at this point that I realise, I’m really going to miss this place.
Drop the beer off at the hotel room, head back to pick up the dessert kings, and then make our way back to the hotel.
I finish off the night sitting on the balcony with a beer or two, taking it all in, and not really wanting to leave in the morning.
Admittedly, we’re not in District One like last time, but who would have thought…..