During my next couple days in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to explore the city both as a tourist and to see the city night life through local eyes.
Most of the time when I travel, I pick out a few of my “must see” attractions. I put on some music and meander along the streets to get there, checking Google Maps to make sure I’m not in the middle of somewhere I’m not supposed to be, and so I can take in as many unplanned sights as possible. The great thing about travelling solo is the ability to take your time and wait for some great moments. Travelling in larger groups, it’s sometimes difficult to do so, because we all have our own travel agendas that we need to fulfill. HCMC is centered around a town square, so by wandering, I actually hit a lot of the tourist destinations that day that I previously missed, including the Ben Thanh Market and the Saigon Opera House. Score. It took me a few hours to reach my destination for the day, the Bitexco Financial Centre, the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s interesting how quickly you can connect with others as a traveller. While enjoying a cappuccino at the top of Bitexco, deep in thought and taking in the view, I heard “Hey could you take a picture of us?”
That’s how I met Huy from the States, who was surprised to find another “American-accented” person in the middle of the work week at the top of Bitexco (surprisingly there were a lack of tourists here). Huy, as a Vietnamese-American traveller suggested he’d show me some local spots to eat and drink later and show what the locals do. Sounded like a plan to me.
I left Bitexco, wandered some more, and capped off the late afternoon with a stiff drink at the Park Hyatt Saigon.
That evening Huy showed me one of his frequent food joints in District 10, definitely a place I would have never been able to find by myself. In fact, it was a bit uneasy at first because a couple heard us speaking English, and Huy told them I was Korean. When I asked why, he said, “Oh, some people hate Chinese people here. It’s better if you just say you’re Korean.” Uhhh… okay.
It was great to have a meal I couldn’t even pronounce off the menu to feel more like a local in the city. We went for more drinks at 5Ku Station, chatting about what it was like growing up in the States and Canada being Asian, work and how life and the situation was for most locals in Vietnam. It was interesting to hear how similar our backgrounds were; we both grew up in atypical “Asian” immigrant cities and had to really fend for ourselves growing up. Our lives sounded a lot like Eddie Huang’s did in his book, Fresh Off The Boat.
It was also interesting to hear his thoughts on Vietnam, how there’s still an underlying tension with North and South Vietnam, how the infrastructure of society in Vietnam could use much improvement, how the influence of Korea, Japan and to a lesser (more negative) extent, China, is changing the country in many ways and how growth is creating uncrossable chasms of wealthy and poor in Vietnam. These are the same problems you hear about all the time in Hong Kong. The conversation sounds serious now written out, but was actually a lot of fun to rant about after many beers. I realized that most of us will probably share many of the same experiences at one point or another – just the characters in our stories are probably different.
It was good times and great to meet a new friend.
The next day, I took a trip to the War Remnants Museum, which was incredibly heavy. They let it all hang out, the pictures as graphic as possible, the anger and hatred up on the walls for all to see. Reading, listening and seeing was enough to transport you back to the war and fill you with vitriol. Why did this war need to happen? What the fuck was going on? How did humans, government and society become so disgusting? There were some sections of the museum I couldn’t stay in for more than a 10 minutes at a time, due to the sad, disturbing and graphic nature of the room’s contents. I’m glad the museum is there to remind us why wars should always be a last resort, never justified or glorified. It left me a bit sick and doubtful of humanity… well, just for a moment.
After taking a walk to clear my head from the museum and snapping some more shots, I closed the day off at a famous banh mi shop, which did not disappoint. If there was only one reason to go back to HCMC and Vietnam and one reason alone (but luckily there are many) it would be for the incredible food.