Three days in Saigon

8 Aug

I have spent my three days in saygon trying to buy two things: a winter jacket and banh kong, a fryed batter cup cake topped with shrimps, typical from can tho.

The touristy streets in district 1 have been the environment for my first pursuit. They are packed with restaurants, shops and street vendors, girls pubs and hotels on top of tourist offices; all of them trying to glow its neon sign more than its neighbors. The streets are narrow, noisy and dirty, and the hotels cheap and tattered, in case you were already thinking in las vegas.

I don’t mind spending a lot of money and time for good food, but shopping, and specifically, clothes, are just not my thing. I bought my black quechua and two layers jacket seven years ago. I have used it dayly when riding my bike to university. It has protected me from summer rains in mexico and cold winter days in sweden. It has covered my unglamorous t-shirts when passing through bodygards in barcelona discos. It has been ripped in a couple of places, and resuscitated by grandma. It hasn’t died yet, but I can see its near end. This is why I haven’t walked away when seeing the cheap and good looking north face jackets in saigon. But, if one of these had to replace my old beloved one, I had to be sure it was good value. After visting all the shops for the best price and reading many blogs I buy the best model for thirty euros.
They are, indeed, fake. The easiest way to recognise them is by the stitches between the logo letters. One clerk even tells me the factory and company adresses, and that he has customers that buy him bulk quantities to export them to their countries. The materials seem to be good, the imitations almost perfect.

My other quest has ended in total failure, but it has made me visit a good part of the real city. After googling “bánh kóng in saigon” and making the receptionist translate the pages for me I get a map with three hot spots to find my favorite vietnamese food. I don’t succeed in any of the three in any of the times I go, but people keep trying to help and showing me new possible places, which also end in disappointment. It has been three days like this. Riding motorbikes in this mad eight-million people city is not a pleasant way of being transported, so I really have walked a lot. In one of the walks a couple of women have accompanied me for a few blocks, encouraging me to try many other things (as for example the delicious fryed banana with coconut milk, which I hadn’t tryed yet). In my third day I got very close to my final destination, degustating the bánh tôm, similar to bánh kóng but flat, with bigger shrimps and not so much fritter.

Apart from these two adventures I have also visited the war museum and the cu chi tunnels. Everyone knows what this country has had to suffer because of others. As for the cu chi tunnels I expected them to be only a means of moving around for the viet cong in the vietnamese war. They are in fact a city underground. There are three levels, the first one with rooms and kitchens that let the smoke come out slowly and unnoticably. There are about two hundred km of tunnels only in the cu chi district, with many traps and entrances, some below the saigon river! They are quite amazing.

Flying from saigon to bangkok is already pretty sad. I am already missing vietnam and thinking about vietnamese restaurants in my city, though I know that food street stalls cannot be replaced. Food and people make a place. I love their food and, either I have had some traveling karma with the vietnamese people I have met, or they are outstandingly nice.

Maybe both?

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