Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 5)

Night 3 – Oct. 6
So there I was, cruising at 60kph on a motorcycle over Phu My Bridge, gazing at District 1 on the horizon, while straining my eyes to find our way to District 7.

District 7 is an urban district of Ho Chi Minh City being marketed as a high-end, financial and commercial area. It’s kinda similar to Bonifacio Global City, though it looks much bigger. District 7 is connected to District 2 via the Phu My Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge over the Saigon River.

Our next stop for the day was District 7’s shopping complex. It turned out that Kim had brought her motorcycle, and she invited me to try driving it down the highway and into the district.
I ride a motorcycle everyday to work, but driving one in a foreign land seems so surreal. Not to mention that the bike I’m using is so light despite having someone riding behind me (Kim). Somehow, I felt really at home, though. Well, when in Vietnam, drive as the Vietnamese do.

District 7 is so wonderful up close. Condominiums and office buildings are everywhere. Boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery shops lined up the streets. It’s really a luxurious district where you can definitely live it up, so to speak.

We stopped by a park near Crescent Mall, overlooking a lagoon. This, I believe, is part of what they called the “Crescent Promenade”. It’s a Saturday night, so a lot of people have come to stroll and hang out.

The whole place is breathtaking. The streets are lined up with trees. From afar, you can see the mall, lively and brightly lit along with the establishments near it. Nearby is a bridge lined up with blue lights, giving one the impression of walking among the stars. Such a beautiful night scene is a sight to behold, so lonely yet romantic.

This, by the way, is Cham Charm Gallery Cuisine, a buffet restaurant that also houses a miniature museum of artifacts and sculptural works from Southeast Asia’s culturally rich “Champa” period (2nd to 12th century). For some reason, I hear varying reviews about it, aside from the food being very expensive. Someday…

Finally, it was time to go to Crescent Mall. Yay, shopping.

Crescent Mall is a simple but huge shopping center, newly built as a highlight of District 7’s claim as a high-end district. Aquariums and bubbly pillars have been built in some corners of the mall. Several high-end stores are open. It also has a lot of restaurants, a food court, cinema, and an arcade.
It’s pretty much a typical mall, except it’s what some here would call a real, high-class mall, not like the shopping centers in District 1 (Diamond Plaza would like to have a word with you).
By this time, Kim’s kids have been brought home, so it’s MC, Kim, and I who have been walking around the mall. MC went shopping at what I thought to be a surplus store, and it looked like he got a great bargain. He was able to buy several long-sleeved shirts at an equivalent to P800 or so each. Me? Nothing.
We also stopped for a snack (again) of mochi. They’re a bit expensive, but quite popular in Crescent Mall. (We bought so much, MC and I even got to take some home back to Manila.)

It was already nine in the evening (plus it had started to rain) when we got back to District 1. We have one last stop before saying goodbye to Vietnam: Ben Thanh Market. Now I wanted to walk around Ben Thanh Market, to try out every bit of Vietnam’s street food in sight, just like Anthony Bourdain. I guess I can not do that at this hour, or in this lifetime. But I was in for a better treat.

I don’t remember seeing a streetside restaurant the first time we visited Ben Thanh Market. I should have known there was one outside. This turned out to be a treasure house of seafood and other Vietnamese delicacies.
First on the table was “tom hap nuoc dua,” prawns steamed in young coconut, but this time the waiter threw the prawns in to the coconut water and set the bottom of the coconut shell on fire. This way, they’re basically simmering inside the shell, letting the juices mix with the water.
Those giant prawns made an appearance again on our table, but this time they were grilled. They were fragrant and appetizing, and went very well with the all-too-familiar dips and herbs served on the side.
Another dish we tried was “banh xeo”, a type of crepe made out of rice flour with turmeric, shrimps, pork, sliced onions, and mushrooms. This is eaten with lettuce and various local herbs and dipped in peanut butter sauce.
Finally, there’s hot vit lon, that familiar fertilized duck egg that has sent chills to foodies all over the world. MC said the diners at the other tables were looking at us as we each took our share of this horrifying dish.

The Vietnamese eat this with style: The top of the egg is broken with a spoon, and then the contents are scooped out, dipped into one’s sauce of choice, and then eaten.

Some consider hot vit lon to be gourmet food in Vietnam, although I guess it could actually be eaten anytime here. In the Philippines, the best time to eat it is at night, (wink, wink).

MC and I gave Kim a bottle of perfume as a token of gratitude for all the time she spent with us. (Seriously, I can’t remember what brand it was, but it looks like shops in Vietnam didn’t have that brand.)

We also promised to visit Vietnam again someday, and invited her to come to the Philippines as well for a vacation.
The rain poured on as we took our final steps in Vietnamese soil, to our plane and back to warm, sunny Manila.
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