Today is the kind of day I like - slow, lazy, cool, devoid of traffic, a holiday in the middle of the week! Being the concluding 10th day of the Dasara festival, Vijayadashami has kept most Bangaloreans at home. So Faz and I have started the day with breakfast at India Coffee House, scrambled eggs on toast, mutton cutlets, fresh lime juice and ICH signature dosas, before he heads off to work and I stay back to nurse my book and one leisurely cup of coffee after the other...completely my kind of day!
Looking out the picture window in the front, at the world going by, I realize I haven't gotten around to writing about my recent trip to Vietnam, though I have been waxing eloquent about it to everyone I meet. So here goes!
While it was fairly short (3 & a half days only) and confined to the city, my visit left me wanting more. Contrary to my perceptions, that a war-ravaged country in the middle of the Pacific couldn't have resolved to much semblance of normalcy, Ho Chi Minh City was a surprise. For one, the weather was quite comfortable, barely balmy and often cool, at the height of what was supposed to be the worst season. For my heat-averse self, this was a complete boon! The city itself, laid out in old French lines, with what looked like Bangalore and San Francisco's China Town mixed in, was clean and extremely orderly.
Wide roads and boulevards, well-regulated traffic, clean streets and sidewalks. And a mass of bike traffic....bikes, bikes everywhere...small ones, fast ones, old ones, new ones...every Vietnamese seemed to be zipping along on a bike, wearing signature capri pants and a jockey helmet. The few other vehicles seen were either extremely high-end, newer model cars or cyclos (trishaws - these are like the old cycle-rickshaws, only with the cycle part at the back, and single seating at the front). The rich-poor divide seemed very clear cut, at least on the roads. Public transportation meant either a cab, a bike-taxi or the cyclo. The latter two being the most common.
I preferred to walk, though. The best way, in my opinion, to see any city, to experience it, is to foot soldier!
So, walk I did, from the hotel to the local markets, to the Pho joints where I downed bowls of Pho Gà (rice noodles in clear soup with chicken, served with chopped red peppers, sprouts, onions, chilly sauce and bean sauce), to the saloon where I head-banged to some amazing Rock music belted out by a surprisingly talented Filipino band with an out-of-this-world sound. Walk I did, except when I took a cyclo on a short tour of the city, before heading out to dinner with the team.
Oh right, I was in Ho Chi Minh on work, and all my jaunts about the city were interspersed with conferences and meetings. None of which stopped me from taking these side trips. And enjoying some of the best fruit I have ever tasted...watermelons, tangerines, oranges, dragonfruit....nectar on my tongue! When I got tired of fruit and Pho Gà, which I indulged in for every alternate meal, I went hunting and discovered a little restaurant called 'Spice' that served up some of the best Thai food outside of Thailand. Better than some of the best Thai food in Thailand, in fact!
Of course, my picks, overall on this trip, were limited since I am allergic to anything that swims (Lord help me if chickens ever start hanging by the pool!), and I don't eat anything that oinks. And the Vietnamese lace their food with prodigious amounts of fish sauce and pork products, apart from a host of other things I tried not to recognize. Asking for unadulterated Chicken, however, normally afforded me a good meal. That and tucking into delicacies like beef satay, slow-braised veal in tamarind sauce served with with green peppercorn, spring onions with herbs and vinegar, and lamb chops. All this followed by desserts like sticky mango rice or almond banana cake with hazelnut ice cream and nougat or fresh cut fruits served on ice. My palate was tickled no end!
For a short trip, I walked my legs off, tried almost every kind of food available (except from the things with mandibles or tentacles!), and satisfied the bargain shopper in me (clothes, lacquer ware, coffee, nuts, rice paper paintings...!). I would love to make another trip back, sometime soon, and spend a few days both tramping through the cities and exploring the surrounding countryside. Saigon, here I come!