Last month, I went on a week-long trip to Indochina with Ralph and Fritz, my friends from college. Still fresh out of university, we booked this trip on a whim, when we were still working on our first jobs.
Like any relationship built on desire rather than love, our first well-paying, cubicle jobs didn’t work out.
And so, unemployed clueless millennials that we were, our excitement for the trip, which we hastily and recklessly booked, was mingled with panic, and other times, despair.
But of course, the excitement (three countries! no parents! milking the essence of our youth!) overwhelmed the panic/despair. Eventually, we found ourselves jobbed and hopeful once more.
We arrived at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on September 13, Saturday, and spent the following day exploring the city.
The previous summer, I already went to Vietnam with my parents, to Saigon and nearby Binh Duong province.
We did all sorts of tourist-y things: visited the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification palace, haggled at Ben Thahn Market, dined in a floating restaurant at the Saigon River, went to the night market, shopped at the local grocery, ordered iced coffees, walked around Suoi Tien Park, posed next to imposing busts of Ho Chi Minh, and of course, took hundreds of photos while we were at it.
During our stay, we were welcomed by the generous Ngoc family. Their daughter Han and her friend, both of them my mother’s students, even attempted to teach me basic Vietnamese. Tôi tên là Karmela. Cảm ơn! Tạm biệt!
I admit I was not very excited for the first leg of our trip. But then, on my first visit, I had fallen in love with Ho Chi Minh City, the so-called Paris of Asia.
As cheesy and as cliche as it sounds, the city’s sidewalk eateries, French colonial buildings, parade of motorbikes, and warm people have taken a special place in my heart.
The second time around, Saigon still lured me with its charms.
Around noon, we went to the Saigon Central Post Office so Fritz could write and send some postcards. That was where we unexpectedly met my other college friend Kim, accompanied by her good friend Jan.
We all had lunch at the Anthony Bourdain-recommended eatery called “The Lunch Lady.” The Lunch Lady, Nguyen Thi Thanh, only serves one kind of pho—pho bo or beef pho.
The Lunch Lady’s pho tastes incredible. Let’s just say I could dive into that bowl, swim in the broth, wrap myself in the noodles, and never resurface.
Late afternoon, before heading to the Saigon Fine Arts Museum, the three of us explored Pho Duc Chinh, a quiet street selling crafts, antiques, vintage knickknacks, and war memorabilia.
After purchasing bus tickets to our next destination, it suddenly rained. We went to the nearest 7-Eleven, outside of which we met Kim and Jan again (unexpectedly!).
We had dinner at a restaurant called The Five Oysters on Bui Vien street, where Kim and Jan’s hostel was located.
To cap off the night, we grabbed beers at The Cheeky Monkey Bar, where we witnessed a Filipino cover band performing for a not-so-cheery crowd. The Caucasian owner was urging people to sing with the band, to participate, to maybe climb up the tables and dance, but to no avail. He left the bar looking a little flustered, if not dismayed.
Moral of the story: do not hit the bars on a Sunday.
While the band played a medley of of obscure 80’s songs, the street outside remained quiet. A light rain was falling. We sipped our warm beers as the night slowly slipped away, all of us tired yet restless and happy and young and kinetic and thinking anything is possible.