Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City: Saying a sad goodbye to Vietnam after 2+ weeks

All too soon, my latest trip to Vietnam came to a close.  My train from Lao Cai arrived in Hanoi's central railway station very early in the morning.  If I were smarter, I would have booked a car to meet me and take me to the airport, as I was flying directly on to HCMC.  Instead, I used a metered taxi from the train station, which I later discovered was much more expensive than prearranging a car.

I spent a couple of final days "relaxing" in HCMC before moving on to Phnom Penh.  This backtracking was not efficient.  In an ideal world, I would have simply flown directly out of Hanoi, but the vagaries of booking an around-the-world ticket limit open jaws.  Not that I minded that much; I welcomed the excuse to spend a bit more time in Saigon.

I spent most of these two days just catching up on email and work related issues, and revisiting some of my favorite places I described in my earlier April post.  I did manage to eat well, including getting some more yummy porkchops and different kinds of noodle soups.

One of my favorite dishes is Bahn Cuon, which has shrimp and pork wrapped in a flat and thick rice noodle.  It resembles the Chinese dim sum classic Cheong Fun, except that it is a bit bigger and served with a side of fresh green vegetables and bean sprouts.  One adds a bit of chili to the fish sauce to make a perfect dipping sauce for the veggie-and-noodle mouthful.  I always go to District 3's Hai Nam for this stuff, where batches and batches are made-to-order.  The best part is that this plate costs only $1.50!

Speaking of District 3, I stumbled across this somewhat famous Vietnamese dessert place, Hien Khahn.  It's apparently been around forever, and they have an eclectic mix of traditional Vietnamese desserts.  I asked the waitress for some recommendations, and she served me two different plates.  The first had seaweed and other vegetables.  The second had some bean that resembled chick peas served in a clear sweet liquid. While I consider myself to be an open minded eater, neither of these dishes really did it for me.

During the day, I went to a couple of Saigon's city parks,  While not particularly pretty, they did provide a shady respite from the heat.

It was at dusk that the parks became more interesting.  Locals would come out to exercise, or sit out on the grass or benches to chat with neighbors, or take dance lessons of all things.  On the particular night, there were several competing salsa, rumba, and ballroom classes going on.  I must say they were generally pretty good.

As I left Vietnam, I reflected on this trip.  Unquestionably, visiting Sapa was the highlight of my 2+ weeks here.  Still, I also enjoyed immensely rediscovering Hanoi, as well as my side trips to Halong Bay and Mui Ne.  And of course, Saigon remains the heart and soul of this marvelous country.  

Last year's trip to Danang, Nha Trang, Hue and Hoi An was equally wonderful.  After the fourth visit to Vietnam in the last couple years, I feel that I have finally scratched below the surface with a much deeper appreciation for this country and its people.  I have yet to explore the Mekong Delta's villages, and so I still have another excuse to come back.  I hope to do so soon.

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