First Impressions of Vietnam
Science has proposed that it takes the mind three days to properly adjust to a new situation. On the road, I’ve been testing the theory out and in most instances, its proved true. But I really think Vietnam is the exception.
It’s been three days since I first touched down in Ho Chi Minh City and I’m floored at how different the atmosphere is here compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has been the most raved about country in our encounters with fellow backpackers and now I can see why. This is what every traveler dreams of! I’ve arrived in a destination where the locals are welcoming, the drinks are free flowing, the meals are satisfying, the culture is unpretentious, and best of all, everything is dirt cheap! A bowl of pho on average has cost us $1-2. You can get an hour-long massage for $5 and that’s in the touristy districts. Even a draft of fancy craft beer at a higher-end establishment will only set you back a mere $3. Since I’ve been traveling for the past six months, nothing is more tiresome than counting pennies. Here, I feel like I can actually afford to have fun, which is a huugeeeeee relief on my part. It also has left a great first impression on me. If I’ve gained anything in three days time, its the absolute confidence that moving to Vietnam was the right choice. Moving to a new country is never easy but I have faith that things are going to pan out really well for me here. Here’s what I’ve learned about Vietnam in the past few days:
1. IT’S THE MOTORBIKE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Ho Chi Minh City is a city of eight million people and it seems as if each and every single one of them is on a motorbike. Motorbikes are the transportation of choice here because they’re affordable to upkeep and inner-city public transportation is known to be unreliable. Despite being a devoted pedestrian, nothing gives me more anxiety than crossing the street in big cities. Ho Chi Minh City has upped the challenge to the extreme making the simple act of walking across the street a death-defying stunt. In streets flooded with millions of motorbikes and seemingly invisible traffic lights, it seems like a mission impossible to get from one side of the street to the next. Its a real-life game of Frogger except there are no replays — get hit and its GAME OVER. Womp wompppp.
2. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT PHO
Pho is my favorite food in the entire world. I crave it all the damn time and I cannot get enough of how cheap it is here and how filling it is! But pho is not the only noodle dish on the menu. You can get Hủ tiếu, cambodian-style noodle soup served with beef broth, Mì Quảng, which are thick cuts of noodles served with meat and fresh vegetables, and Bún bò Huế, rice vermicelli noodles served with beef and lemongrass (definitely not the best one out there). All soups can also be ordered ‘dry’,without the broth. I’ve heard that noodle soups are traditionally eaten for breakfast but these canteens we’ve seen serve them up all day long. Also fun fact: the bowls of lime they give you are not only to squeeze into the soup — they’re also meant to clean your chopsticks before you use them to ensure cleanliness!
3. THE COFFEE IS SENSATIONAL
I have never been a fan of coffee. Even living in Italy where coffee is a way of life, I remained a die hard tea loyalist. But I find my hard-pressed attitude on coffee softening as I tried my first taste of Vietnamese style iced coffee. In Vietnamese, cà phê sữa đá (ca phe sua da) translates to ‘coffee with milk’. But the milk they add is actually condensed milk so when paired with the rich, roasted flavor of their filtered coffee, you get a concoction that is so creamy and refreshing. Each glass tastes like a pool of melted coffee gelato. It’s really, really strong too so do not go on coffee dates in the evening unless you want to be up all night! You can get coffee to-go at the convenience stores for 9,000 VND (roughly 50 cents), chill at an open-air cafe like the one below and get a glass for 20,000 VND (less than $1), or go to the franchise of choice here, Phúc Long, and grab a cup for 40,000 (less than $2). It’s insanely good and so far, I have yet to come across a sub-par glass.
4. TET IS A BIG DEAL HERE
It seems like Tim and I just can’t catch a break! In every country we’ve traveled to, we’ve had issues with trip logistics because of arriving at the wrong time. Getting around Nepal with a fuel crisis during their biggest holiday, Doshain was a headache-and-a-half. In India, we had train troubles due to Diwali. In the States, we were overfed and burnt out as a result of the holiday trifecta of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s Eve. Now here in Vietnam, we have arrived at the most inopportune time: Tet. Tet is the Vietnamese take on Lunar New Year and its really important. So important that businesses are closed for the entire week celebrating! It starts tomorrow on the 7th and runs until the 13th. During this time, there are next-to-no teaching positions being advertised and no house listings available which is awesome when your job/apartment hunting. But all the festivities put me in high spirits and everyone has comforted us by saying there’s going to be a huge surge of opportunities available right after Tet. So maybe I’ll embrace the fortuitous nature of our arrival that I get to have two weeks to recuperate from being on the road for six months prior to starting work again.