Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 2)

Day 1 – Oct. 5

I woke up at nine in the morning, GMT +7, feeling cold but surprisingly well-rested. Thankfully, the seafood meal last night did not make my foot ache.

MC had woken up earlier, and he was talking to my sister Tuesday, who was checking up on us to see how our vacation is going, on the phone.

From our room, I could see the Bitexco Financial Tower, and the Duxton Hotel Saigon’s swimming pool. It’s going to be a good day, I thought.

It felt strange to wake up in a strange room, on a strange bed, looking at an unfamiliar ceiling in an unfamiliar land. Not that I’m complaining.

We had breakfast at The Grill, Duxton’s restaurant. They serve a continental buffet, typical fare if you would describe it as such, except they had something I want: pho.

This bowl of pho was as simple as it gets: clear broth, rice noodles, chicken bits and leek, and a small amount of herbs for flavoring. It was served really hot and fresh out of the pot, a true soup lover’s dream.

MC, on the other hand, took note of the chef who worked the pho, waffle, and omelette stations by herself. Leave it to a hotelier to recognize a great worker.
We were supposed to eat light, knowing there’s a lot to do and see throughout the day, but after seeing the dimsum, meats, porridge, pastries, and whatnot at the breakfast buffet area, well… Let’s just say we overate.

It was a bright day when we went out of Duxton for a walk. It’s Friday, but from here, the city is quiet, except for the soft drum of traffic. What a peaceful morning.

There were coffee shops and pho stalls around the vicinity, some of them already filled with tourists, as well as, well, a lot of motorcycles parked everywhere.

Motorcycles are a main mode of transportation here, though I hear one costs just as much as a car in the Philippines. For a moment, I suddenly missed my motorcycle.

Iced coffee seems to be a favorite among locals, I also noticed. There are a few sidewalk stalls selling these drinks. It reminded me of the ambulant coffee vendors in the streets of Manila.

Kim fetched us at about noontime for our tour around Ho Chi Minh City. Our first stop was Ben Thanh Market, the most popular shopping complex in the city. The market felt close to home. I felt like I walked into a large ukay-ukay complex somewhere in Ortigas, except that everything’s written in Vietnamese.

Bags, dolls, and jewelry are sold in every stall. There are so many clothes and shoes to choose from. The toys and accessories were expensive, but of good quality. They also sold lacquered plates and decors, stuff I’ve never seen in large numbers at home.

MC bought a Matroshka doll to take home, while I… Well, I wanted to buy a wooden cane, but it looked expensive and awkward to carry around, much as I need it.

If there’s one thing I liked about Ben Thanh Market, it’s the food section. I now believe pho is to Vietnam what lugaw is to the Philippines – it’s sold everywhere. A lot of street delicacies are here, like spring rolls and noodles. I even saw what looks like the ingredients of halo-halo in one stall (I think it’s called “che bam au”.)

On another area, vendors sold different blends of coffee and tea leaves. Biscuits and candies are also everywhere. There’s a wet market on one corner, and stalls that sell pastries too.

I wanted to go around the food section, but I couldn’t. It’s impossible to leave my companions behind. For a while, I felt sorry for myself, not only because I couldn’t go around on my own as I wish, but because I can’t do as Anthony Bourdain did when he ventured into a market like this – eat everything in sight. I don’t have money anyway.

Our next stop was the Saigon Sky Deck. The Sky Deck is located at the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in HCMC, and one of the “Top 20 Iconic Buildings of the World,” according to CNNGO.

Visitors are greeted to a majestic, 360-degree view of HCMC from every corner of the floor. Telescopes are available at every corner for those who want to see parts of the city up close. One can learn about the city’s history, and seek out its monuments and tourism spots.
From where we were, though, I could see thick clouds and rainshowers. Whoops.
On one part of Bitexco, there is a passage that says, “The sky is the limit, the only barriers are in your mind, dream the impossible and make it a reality, you are capable of anything.” I guess this much embodies what the Vietnamese think when they see the building, and the city from the Sky Deck. It’s kinda inspiring.

We had lunch at Restaurant 13, a small restaurant several blocks near Duxton. By then, it had started to rain hard. We still had a long way to go.

First on the table were “tom hap nuoc dua,” prawns steamed in young coconut to give it a tender texture and a sweet aftertaste.

Next were “goi cuon” or summer rolls, shrimp rolls with pork and vegetable bits, wrapped in lettuce and what looked like crunchy rice paper. These were served with a tangy peanut sauce.

Also on the table was a bowl of soup with calabash (that’s “upo” for you), shrimp and vegetable salad, beef with watercress, and “ca loc kho tieu,” sweet-and-spicy fried fish in a clay pot. Again, the assorted dips make an appearance.

After lunch, we made a quick stop at another shopping center before going back to our hotel to freshen up. In a few hours, we’re going to see our father.
————————————

Up next… A reunion over platefuls of seafood.

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