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Monday, 23 June 2014

Pho-fillment / Ho Chi Minh City

A little more than a month ago, I decided that I wanted to take a short trip to somewhere nearby by myself and went through the pre-trip ritual of comparing flight prices and destinations and attractions. So I decided on Saigon because firstly it was very very cheap and secondly, because Di kindly offered to house me on my trip. Senja ended up coming with me I guess because of the lure of $140 return ticket and free accommodation.

I usually plan my itinerary down to the hour and google how to get from place to place by public transport but this time was a little different because Di said she'd bring me around and I really did not want to give myself a headache by navigating all these Vietnamese websites so I threw caution to the wind, my hands in the air and said meh, que sera sera. Old habits die hard though, so the night before the flight I did a quick scan of tripadvisor and plot the places of attraction on google maps to bring with me (and thank goodness I did, too).

Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Central Post Office (tourist trap)
City Hall

I've never felt so pampered on a trip without my parents before. Di's family was incredibly hospitable; her mum made us breakfast and dinner almost every day, and took care to let us try a plethora of authentic Vietnamese food. It was also a great blessing that her mum was a fabulous cook. There was never a night when Senja and I weren't stuffed to the brim and rolling around on the bedroom floor in sheer satisfaction. This trip also marked the first time I sat pillion on a scooter – it was both exhilarating and terrifying to be carrying your luggage and holding on for dear life while being navigated through the congested road.

The only drawback was that the weather was unrelenting, oscillating between being extremely hot and torrential downpour. The good thing about visiting Saigon during this period is that it is the season for tropical fruits and omg, let me just say that the fruits are heavenly. By the grace and generosity of Di's family, Senja and I managed to try a grand total of 19 fruits: banana (grown in Di's backyard), jackfruit, dragonfruit, custard apple, pineapple, pomelo, lychee, longan, watermelon, burmese grape, durian, rambutan, papaya, guava, mango, mangosteen, coconut, plum and some water chestnut-like fruit, some of which I had never come across until then. 

Ben Thanh Market
Antique Street
Cao Dai Temple
Cu Chi Tunnel

Even though so much was taken care of for us, we still had to navigate by ourselves occasionally. Most notably when we were trying to get to Saigon Square 1 from Saigon Square 2 and were too cheap to pay for the taxi fare there even though it was just a couple of dollars. It culminated in us using a good old printed map because google maps was being of little help to us and taking 45 minutes to walk there, against the advice of many. It was a blessing in disguise too, because we saw other cute shops on the way there.
Mekong Delta

We did the usual touristy things, travelling out to Mekong Delta and Cu Chi tunnels, shopping to our hearts content at Saigon Square (1 AND 2!), ate uncountable bowls of Pho, enjoying iced Vietnamese coffee while the sun beat relentlessly on our back, visited some poorly curated museums, buying lots of souvenirs (food!), being shouted at by locals on the street, being terrified to cross the roads and not being able to communicate properly with anyone. But we've also managed to see how locals live by being taken around on scooter and being fed homemade Vietnamese cuisine. I've not felt so touched and pampered by the grace of others in a long time and I'm so so thankful that this trip happened and Senja was there to enjoy it with me!

I've been back for two weeks or so already, but looking at the photos I took and the things I wrote in my travel journal make me hungry for more travel. May I never lose this sense of adventure and curiosity of the world.

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