Posted by Kaspar from Bangkok, Thailand covering Sept. 7th-Sept. 11th.
During our time in Indonesia Ali had been reading a lot about how "the Dutch were assholes" in Indonesia. From my memory of high school world history (it was an International Baccalaureate program after all) the French until the Geneva Accords of 1954 and then subsequently the U.S. of A. were big assholes in Vietnam. This is not meant to be a political statement, every country has things in its history that it is not proud of and there are some lasting aspects of colonialism that have clearly been embraced by Vietnam, but overwhelmingly the negative impacts of the Vietnam War cannot be overstated. As an American you find yourself feeling guilty and often rightfully so. If you really want to feel it you can visit the War Remnants Museum to see explanations of "Tiger Boxes" and see the consequences of defoliant usage on civilian populations as was done with agent orange. The propaganda will range depending on who you talk to, but beneath the rhetoric is a beautiful country with extremely hospitable people.
We had booked a home stay in the 4th district, which is described as the smallest district in HCMC (sandwiched between the first and seventh). It has a reputation as a rough neighborhood and when you mention it to people they usually make a reference to the mafia, but it is changing rapidly with an explosion of places to eat, night markets and night life. Our hosts Minh and Hung did warn us about thieves, but we didn't have any problems while we were there. Our room was on the 3rd floor above the Phuoc Coffee cafe. Hung would invite us to coffee every morning and no one can resist iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.
Fueled on caffeine we walked up into the first district to the central post office, which was built between 1886-1891. It is a beautiful building that is still in use as a post office. We were all excited to send a package home of things we had bought in Indonesia, but we were unceremoniously sent around the corner to a monolithic looking box of a building to have an expert pack our box for the long boat ride to the U.S. As you can see above right, after building a custom box, the entire thing got sealed in a layer of packing tape and we paid $38 to get it to Nevada on a boat...fingers still crossed.
On our way to eat at the much hyped "46A" Banh Xeo we took in this iconic pink church. The Banh Xeo was a bit pricey by Vietnamese standards, but it was not too crowded during the day and the sizzling charcoal cooked rice pancakes were delicious. We continued on our walk down to the backpacker district where I made the mistake of having and overpriced and way over-hyped Banh Mi based on a bad recommendation. Ultimately we came across this night market that had more food than you could try in a week and I just had to find more room in my belly. Food has a special place in Vietnamese culture, the same way an Uber driver will offer you water in the U.S. a Vietnamese driver will often offer a little nut confection, biscuit or candy (you can see Ali eating such a treat in the grid below).
We did visit the famous Ben Thanh market, but our favorite view was this one from above. I had read in a blog about how to find a secret shrine on the second floor, but once we got up there I was struck by the beauty of the roof structure. Below are some additional architectural shots we liked. It is a great mixture of ramshackle, modern sky scrapers, converted garages and European colonial all thrown in the mix.
We went to the Mekong Delta mostly I think because I have seen the movie Apocalypse Now more times than is healthy in one lifetime. A recommendation from a friend of a friend of a friend. Chau from Countryside Adventures, you should click on the link just to hear the amazing Queen song "I wanna ride my bicycle" that plays on their website. Chau left the Mekong when he was 14 and now gives mainly bike tours, but today we were in kayaks. The nice thing about this tour is that it is generally not a place where tourists go, you could tell by the genuine surprise on peoples faces to see us there. You also get the real view of people working on the delta and all the trash that is left behind. The water is traveling over 4,000kms and can fluctuate as much as 4ft in height, so everything that starts up river ends up here whether it be an old boat carcass or a styrafoam foam fruit wrapper. The region we were in is known as the Cuu Long (Nine Dragons).
The river is a source of life, a place to live, a place to swim, a place to farm and for some they have all there worldly possessions on a boat, so there is no need to go to dry land. As Chau put it, "your boat is your house, your business and your entire world." We headed back to the world of concrete for another night in HCMC to prepare for our train ride the next day up to Thap Cham. At this point we had decided to see Vietnam by train, stopping in Thap Cham, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi. More posts to follow.