Vietnam was the first country I ever visited in Asia. After a long-haul economy class flight you might think I would have been looking forward to leaving that aircraft but it wasn’t so. For the last couple of hours I decided that it was not a bad idea to take some sleeping pills combined with some wine. Side effect: I wasn’t able to disembark. While my travel companions where thrilled about the new unknown Ho Chi Minh were he had landed, I only managed to get into my room and crash the bed.
It’s been two days since I first touched down in Ho Chi Minh City and I’m floored at how different the atmosphere is here. This is what every traveler dreams of! I’ve arrived in a destination where the locals are welcoming, the drinks are free flowing, the meals are satisfying, the culture is unpretentious, and best of all, everything is dirt cheap! A bowl of pho on average has cost us €1-2. You can get an hour-long massage for €5 and that’s in the touristy districts. Even a draft of fancy craft beer at a higher-end establishment will only set you back a mere €3. Here, I feel like I can actually afford to have fun, which is a huge relief on my part. It also has left a great first impression on me. Here’s what I’ve learned about Vietnam so far:
- 1. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT PHO
- Pho is the national dish. I crave it all the time and I cannot get enough of how cheap it is here and how filling it is! But pho is not the only noodle dish on the menu. You can get Hủ tiếu, cambodian-style noodle soup served with beef broth, Mì Quảng, which are thick cuts of noodles served with meat and fresh vegetables, and Bún bò Huế, rice vermicelli noodles served with beef and lemongrass (definitely not the best one out there). All soups can also be ordered ‘dry’,without the broth. I’ve heard that noodle soups are traditionally eaten for breakfast but these canteens we’ve seen serve them up all day long. Also fun fact: the bowls of lime they give you are not only to squeeze into the soup — they’re also meant to clean your chopsticks before you use them to ensure cleanliness!
- 2. IT’S THE MOTORBIKE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
- Ho Chi Minh City is a city of eight million people and it seems as if each and every single one of them is on a motorbike. Motorbikes are the transportation of choice here because they’re affordable to upkeep and inner-city public transportation is known to be unreliable. Despite being a devoted pedestrian, nothing gives me more anxiety than crossing the street in big cities. Ho Chi Minh City has upped the challenge to the extreme making the simple act of walking across the street a death-defying stunt. In streets flooded with millions of motorbikes and seemingly invisible traffic lights, it seems like a mission impossible to get from one side of the street to the next.
- 3. THE COFFEE IS SENSATIONAL
- I have never been a fan of coffee. But I find my hard-pressed attitude on coffee softening as I tried my first taste of Vietnamese style iced coffee. In Vietnamese, cà phê sữa đá (ca phe sua da) translates to ‘coffee with milk’. But the milk they add is actually condensed milk so when paired with the rich, roasted flavor of their filtered coffee, you get a concoction that is so creamy and refreshing. Each glass tastes like a pool of melted coffee gelato. It’s really, really strong too so do not go on coffee dates in the evening unless you want to be up all night! You can get coffee to-go at the convenience stores for 9,000 VND (roughly 50 cents), chill at an open-air cafe like the one below and get a glass for 20,000 VND (less than €1), or go to the franchise of choice here, Phúc Long, and grab a cup for 40,000 (less than €2). It’s insanely good and so far, I have yet to come across a sub-par glass.