Saturday, February 20, 2016

Entry 1

The Vietnam Diaries

If words could describe the humidity of Asian countries it would be something like walking into a wall of sweat. When all the water that is inside your body comes out through every single pore you own. You suddenly feel like a human sponge. In return they love their A/C in airports, hotels and cars. They must believe foreigners are used to such aggressive bursts of cold air but alternating between the two I could almost feel my sweat freezing on top of my skin.

Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC formerly known as Saigon)

The shock was not only physical, upon exiting the airport you are immediately immersed in a sea of people. With 8.224 million inhabitants (2015), it felt like half of them had shown up for our arrival. Young kids would stare at us, for some of them it would be a first time or rare occasion seeing a foreigner. There are several taxi stands with staff waving us in offering private cars or taxis. We read the most reliable and safe ones were Mai Linh and Vinasun. All aboard for what will be an interesting first ride through the dense, loud and uncoordinated traffic.

side note: Etihad Airways lost our luggage, their policy is $40 US per person per day, you can claim it upon your next check-in at the airport.

According to The Saigon Times, as of January 2014 there were 5.8 million registered motorbikes in HCMC. Three cars out of four are taxis so motorbikes are clearly the best way to make it from A to B in this town. There’s barely any stopping, even though it looks like we could be stuck in this massive mess for hours people simply change lanes and keep rolling. The immediate difference between Asia and all other western countries is their use of the horn. For them it’s simply a way of letting other vehicles know that they are changing direction or approaching slowly. 

We were dropped off on the main street where our hotel was supposed to be and the taxi driver kindly pointed toward a building across the street. After walking up and down the block a few times we couldn’t find the address and decided to test the locals ability to locate our small “boutique” hotel. One lady managed to point us to an alley which was leading off the main street. We later understood that addresses such as: 54/33 means that the second number will be in a small alley located next to 54 off the main street.


Vietnam is know as a food mecca, we purposely refused to have breakfast included with our room so that we could go out and get our mouths dirty. The catch? Vietnam has been going through an increasing industrial phase which resulted in a lot of pollution of many water ways. This being said, it is highly recommended to avoid drinking water from the tap and we would go as far as using bottled water to brush our teeth. What does that mean when eating out in a restaurant? Well this means the fresh vegetables on your plate have been in contact with tap water and the ice in your drink is also often made out of tap water.

The first few times we avoided ice at all costs and whenever we ordered drinks we asked “NO ICE, NO ICE”. After a few tries some of the restaurants’ staff began to assure us that “ICE CLEAN, GOOD ICE” or “MINERAL WATER ICE”. We realized a lot of the more touristic places knew that foreigners’ stomachs were not made to sustain the damage caused by the tap water and had switched to buying mineral water to make their drinks. Just to be clear, they put ice in nearly every drink, smoothies, fruit juices, iced coffees and even in beer!

side note: once the ice dilemma was cleared up we fell in love with the Vietnamese Iced Coffee   (Cafe Sua Da), made of 50% Arabica and 50% Robusta beans, a small amount of coffee is poured in a glass full of ice, topped with sweet condensed milk and hot water. Stir, drink!

Our first hotel in HCMC was conveniently located in the Nguyen Thai Binh district (pardon the accents, I’m not switching my keyboard to Vietnamese). The street we were on had several small quaint coffee bars and restaurants which would certainly appeal to everyone. Throughout the trip we noticed that a lot of little places like these were popping up here and there and they also get a lot of attention from the locals. What’s interesting about the furniture is how everything is so close to the floor. Miniature chairs and tables, almost child-like! We all know the stereotype of Asian being shorter but even for them it looks like a bunch of adults in a kindergarten parent-teacher meeting. Most of the restaurants and caf├ęs’ store fronts are made of one huge garage door so the A/C is substituted by fans.

side note: for a complex misunderstanding of the Vietnamese alphabet click here