The Backpackers’ District
Sleepy Saigon woke up at 5:00 a.m., giving us the cue to start looking for a place to stay. A rather expensive airport taxi—we paid 10USD each, but hey, we’re millionaires remember?—dropped us at the backpackers’ district (District 1) at Pham Ngu Lao Street. So much for online bookings, hotel hunting was a walk in the park. In just a few minutes, we found our haven right among the row of hostels in a narrow alley that teemed with backpackers in all shapes, sizes, colors, and fashion sense. It was just a few minutes past six, but the alley was a sight to behold.
We observed that there are four types of backpackers:
1. The Groupies: They go roaming around like a flock of lost sheep being led by their ever-proactive shepherd (a.k.a. tour guide).
2. The Lovey-doveys: They walk together, eat together, sleep together, get lost together.
3. The Indie Travelers: They are either looking for their lost souls or their better halves.
4. The Wannabes: Need we say more?
Shall We Dance?
Right put forward, then the left, lean back, then forward, right foot backward, two steps to the side and one and two and three, and glide, glide and hop!
That’s the Vietnamese version of the cha-cha. A skill all foreigners need to perfect if they are to survive the streets of Saigon that breathe out motorcycles like a dragon exhales fire. While we were busy trying to fend off a nervous breakdown while plying the treacherous zebra crossings, the moto drivers just went about their business of organized chaos. As if the motorcycles were not enough to give us a heart attack, blind people and old men leisurely crossed the streets, unmindful of an impending brush with death. I wonder what the road accident statistics look like in this city.
Ah, ah, ah! And who says food won’t take you to heaven? For the certified gluttons (like me), Saigon is the ultimate culinary purgatory.
Okay, so our first meal were actually a quarter of a pomelo and a packet of Vietnam Airlines brownies given to us by an uber-friendly Vietnamese woman in the airport. We devoured the goodies with gusto at the park while we were waiting for our hostel room.
The first real meal consisted of an herbal soup with bits of chicken, shrimps sautéed with veggies, and chicken in some sweet, sour, herbal sauce, plus all the rice you can stuff into your mouth. I’m really sorry I forgot the names of these meal wonders, because they are enigmatic sounding, and well, they’re just too good they make you forget about the world.
Then there was pho, a very yummy and filling soup made of rice noodles served with beef or chicken and may be eaten with lime, bean sprouts, pepper, and some leafy stuff I have no idea about. It’s something I can consume copious amounts of and still clamor for more. In fact, Pinky had to drag me out of Pho 24 (a Vietnamese noodle restaurant chain).
And let’s not forget, the famous Vietnamese spring rolls—the best in the world! I am not a reliable food critic but if my mouth waters before I even see the dish, then that is something. If I were to fall in love with food, the object of my affection would undoubtedly be my sweet darling Vietnamese spring rolls dipped in spiced vinegar. Ohhhh!
And then, there’s the coconut rice. Not so tasty as I expected, but good all the same. The thing I like about Vietnamese food is that they fill you, but then you still feel light afterwards, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, come to Saigon. Enough said.
Does this count? I swear, it’s the best corn I’ve ever had . . . or maybe I was just really hungry.