Thank you for the amazing 8 years here at A Baked Creation, we can't thank you enough for the memories! But we've decided to move over to a new site - Sincerely, Syl. Please join us there for future posts on all the things you loved here!


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City 2016

When we were planning our big three-weeks trip to Asia, I knew we had to make a stop in Vietnam. My dad happened to be taking a holiday there and the timing was perfect. When else would I get to see my dad's country of birth with him? Just like Hong Kong, I managed to squeeze in four days into our itinerary. Granted, the first and last days are mostly devoted to travel, we still got to see a bit.
Flying from Hong Kong to Vietnam, we had to take a bus to the Vietnam Airline plane on the tarmac. I don't know why, but I felt like I was in the movie, Speed. You know that scene when they're at the airport? Minus the stress of course. There we were all holding on to the rails and our carry-on items as the bus drove, and we got off to walk up the stairs to the plane. The airline hostesses all wore turquoise áo dài and to my surprise, we were also served dinner, I'm starting to feel spoiled by the airlines here compared to the ones in North America!
However, the airport in Ho Chi Minh City is crazy busy. Our plane circled for hours before it was finally given the go ahead to land. We also departed via bus to go to the terminal. But we found going through all the checkpoints very smooth. Tip, make sure you have all the right documentations! You need a visa to enter Vietnam and we saw lots of travelers waiting at the Visa office, stuck and not granted access to the country.
Since it was also days before New Years, lots of people were coming home. When we walked out of the baggage claim, the noise, heat, and crowd that hit us was insane! There were so many people waiting outside, I felt a little panic that I wouldn't be able to spot my dad because our flight was delayed, but we had pre-arranged to meet at a numbered column. The drive out of the airport and into the city was fascinating. There were so many people out and about. It feels like everyone is always on the go in the city. There were scooters everywhere, bikes, cars. We were quickly surrounded by scooters on the road and crawled in traffic to my uncle's home. Not to give it a scary description, but it felt like those zombie movies where you can get engulfed by the sheer number of people on the roads. We saw lots of disregards for traffic lights and road signs. We heard horns go off every minute. But hey, you never have to really stop, so you are on the go all the time! We got used to it after and when we left, it felt regular driving was so slow.
After settling in a bit, my dad and his brother took us out for dinner. We requested pho even though it was 30°C outside and most restaurants are outdoors. Well, we sweated through that first meal and I was so excited to be eating food in Vietnam! My dad ordered us all coconut water - mainly because there isn't much of a cost difference from ordering plain water and coconut water is cleaner/safer. The tap water here isn't drinkable like back in Canada. The coconut water came in the coconut! It was so cute and refreshing. The accompanying dish that comes with pho here are generous with limes, greens, sprouts, and pepper - something that Vietnamese restaurants are quite stingy about here in Canada.
Some of my favourite pho meals were ones we had on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City. Prepared right in front of me, they are quick, efficient, and filling meals. My favourite one was a Northern style broth that packed a bit of heat in it. We would clean our cutlery with lime wedges or wipes that we had bought and packed. Bringing your own sanitary wipes and napkins and toilet paper is probably the best tip one can give you when going to Asia. Always be prepared! And don't forget to stay hydrated with coconut water or juices, it is hot and humid even in February.
Since it was close to New Years Eve, a lot of parks, boardwalks, and streets are transformed into gardens and markets. At night, we would walk around to admire all the flowers and plants, basically a garden show where you can purchase things from exotic orchids to large lucky trees. I'm was pretty baffled as to how people carried these heavy potted plants back home - especially when more people own scooters than cars or trucks. Although, we did see someone carry a refrigerator on the back of their scooter. I went to my first night market ever and you can pretty much buy anything from food to home decor.
But the sights are beautiful. Twinkling fairy lights and flowers make for a wonderful holiday. They go all in here with the decorations. Everything looks so pretty and dreamy. Thanks to the climate, it is truly patio weather here and their restaurant and bar patios are amazing. I think that sales of string lights must be very strong here!
The city itself is growing. There's not a lot of skyscrapers here, so the tallest one offers the tourist attraction of going up to see the view. Most of the buildings are low, close together and sometimes narrow (which reminded me of photos of Holland). This is a high density city where any bit of space is used. We saw families eating dinner right outside their homes on the street. Scooters are parked everywhere and hop right onto the sidewalk before going up a small plank going inside the house.

My dad took Howard and I on a tour to the countryside where we got to see the more rural lifestyle. The rest stops by the roads consisted of small refreshment shops and rows and rows of hammocks. The temples here are large and full of blooming flowers and gigantic statues of Buddhas. We took a boat on the Mekong River. Saw lots of livestock running around. Tasted some coconut taffy, harvested honey, and fresh fruits. Howard even held a python!!!
In terms of other tourist spots, my dad also took us to see the Saigon central post office where he used to have to travel to just to make an international call. Those phone booths now house ATM machines. We saw the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and did a quick in-and-out of the Ben Thanh Market which was stifling hot. We toured the Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum which made me feel sick after reading the history and looking at the photographs. I felt this sadness and anger at how terrible humans can be towards each other. I ended up with a headache and didn't feel up to visiting the other rooms in the museum.

Okay, I also need to talk about the fruit here. Basically, it's amazing! I never had fruit that fresh, juicy, and delicious before. First of all, I love pomelos, but now that I had the ones in Vietnam, I can't believe how much better they are than the ones we get in Toronto. There's a vibrancy to it and I wanted to keep eating them, plus they can actually quench your thirst. The mangoes were incredibly sweet. I could go on and on. The jackfruit, starfruits, pineapples, passionfruit, and even apples. I really miss the fruit and food here, why oh why can't these make it to North America? I don't know anything about the import or export business, but there are surely farmers at home want to grow things for taste.
Everywhere in the city, you see the people hustling. There's a corner on the sidewalk? Someone is there making snacks or meals to go so when traffic is slow they might get some hungry scooter drivers coming by. There's a flower market happening? The sidewalks are filled with people with something as simple as a cloth with trinkets on top to sell. A burner and basket of ingredients becomes a place to buy street food. I'm not going to talk about my trip without mentioning how poor people here can be. The currency here is completely off-kilter. Fifty Canadian dollars is roughly eighty-five thousand Vietnamese Dong. We were carrying around a million Vietnamese Dong for our four days and couldn't even spend it all. We had delicious meals that included a beverage for the three of us that cost about $5 Canadian. A taxi from the city to my uncle's home was $7 Canadian - unheard of if I were to take the taxi from downtown Toronto to the suburbs. Our full-day tour to the countryside cost less than $10 each and it included the bus ride, the boat rides, a served lunch, and the tour guide. I was trying to figure out how the cost broke down so that everyone got a decent piece. I couldn't. Wouldn't gas alone take a huge chunk of that? My dad would try to help compensate by handing out large tips, but still we had to be weary to not draw attention to ourselves. We are by no means well-off in Canada, but coming here puts things in perspectives. We would walk around and see shop signs selling things that were in the multi-millions. It was an alarming and unsettling things to see.
Now that we've been home for a couple of months, I can truly say that visiting Vietnam was my favourite and most memorable. Hong Kong and Taiwan were also eye-opening, but not as different from the busy cities in North America. I am grateful I had the chance to be there with my dad, who became a handy translator and tour guide!

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