I arrived in Saigon early afternoon. As I stepped off the plane and into the airport, I looked out and saw lush greenery, I inhaled floral scents (jasmine? orchid) and looked around at the very modern airport. Hmm... doesn't LOOK communist. After going through immigration and customs, I stepped out and hopped into a cab.
My first impression of Saigon/Vietnam: It reminds of New Orleans! Albeit with a massive amount of motorbikes. Y'all, this be crazy. I have never in my 26 years seen anything this frenetic. Think of a river choking with salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Hopefully you get the point. And if you still don't watch this video:
So after arriving at my hotel, Nhat Tien, I decided to venture out into the city and explore. My first stop was the Ben Thanh market, an assault of the senses. There were vibrant flowers, glitzy necklaces and bracelets, nose clogging scents, basically sensory overdrive. I wandered through the stalls looking at the knick-knacks and souvenirs made in China. I walked through the food stalls and tried to figure out what was what.
Done with wandering, I tried to make my way over to the "backpacker district" but had absolutely no luck finding it. I was starving and really wanted to find a good pho restaurant (apparently there are a ton beside the market) but came short. Now, for those familiar with Vietnam/HCMC I know what you're thinking, "you can find a bowl of pho ANYWHERE." Yes, there are hundreds of stools outside of buildings with an old lady sitting over a stove on every street. These street stall getups are probably the best place to have a steaming bowl of pho. But remember, kind readers, this is my first solo sojourn and I still need a smidgen of modern comfort.
Turning up short on pho, I walked over to a restaurant that had a big neon pho bowl on its side and walked in. Unfortunately, I did not see anything resembling pho on the menu. FORTUNATELY, I DID choose a dish that was delectably right! It was like a Vietnamese version of pad thai. Vermicelli noodles, pork, shrimp, egg, bean sprouts, onion, peppers, carrots. Deliciousness when I needed it the most. Plus a refreshing Lipton iced tea loaded with lime and sugar! I was indeed satiated and quite pleased with this discovery.
This gave me the energy to brave the steamy Saigon evening. As I walked along a park, watching the procession of motorbikes, it hit me that tonight is Christmas Eve. Despite the twinkling lights, and the little kids all dressed up like Santa, it did not feel like Christmas. Who eats ice cream on Christmas Eve? I did! I spotted Fanny's (a joint I read up on in the Lonely Planet book) and thought a chili chocolate ice cream with candied oranges might put me in a holiday mood. It didn't, but it was still an interesting taste. I did manage to play peek a boo with a little Vietnamese Santa Claus. He was a cutie.
Jet lagged and stuffed with good eats, I went back to my hotel where I promptly had the best sleep I've had in a very long time. I woke up the next day refreshed and revitalized. Yes, Saigon was doing good for me and my bones....