With narrow alleyways packed full of hotels and restaurants, swarms of motorbikes in the streets, and sidewalks full of tiny plastic chair cafes and street food vendors, Saigon is a full-on assault of the senses in every way. We loved every minute of it.John dubbed the city “street food heaven” because of the endless stalls and carts selling delicious smelling food. I’m not usually as into street food as John is (since it’s usually roasted meat), but in Vietnam there are vegetarian-ish options everywhere. The Vietnamese sandwich I had for breakfast on our first day in Saigon may have been the best thing ever, and I’m certain that pho eaten on a plastic stool in an alleyway has more personality than any you’d get in a regular restaurant.After riding around on a motorbike in rural Bali, I was amazed by the sheer masses of motorbikes on the city streets. Similar to Bali, it’s not uncommon to see full families of four people or more riding around on one motorbike. Unlike Bali, the helmets here look flimsy and small, like a baseball cap with a thin plastic shell covering it.
People here are very conscious of having their photos taken. Rather than being upset, however, they like to wave and smile at the camera. While I kinda dig it in the photo below, I took to shooting from the hip around town to avoid this phenomenon.I really had a thing for photographing the motorbikes – they’re just everywhere!
Of course if you’re not into riding a motor bike, you can always catch a different sort of ride…
This woman is the equivalent of an alleyway barista. She’s making coffee on a tiny coal stove on the ground, which she pours through the filters (you can see them hanging on the wall) before serving hot or over ice with sweetened condensed milk. We watched her pouring the thick, high octane coffee and remembered the many reminders we’ve gotten about Vietnamese coffee. Not surprisingly, it’s easy to get over caffeinated on this stuff. I’ve been trying to sample it sparingly.A patron enjoying the streetside coffee. So much more interesting than your standard Starbucks, and even easier to find in Vietnam.In addition to wandering the streets in Saigon, we also visited the War Remnants Museum, dedicated to the Vietnam War, or what they call the US War of Aggression. While I had read that this museum had a lot of anti-US propaganda, I actually found it to be pretty accurate to what I know of how the US behaved during the war. There are several photos on display that show some of the horrible things done to Vietnamese people, but I’ve honestly seen many worse photographs from the war elsewhere. (You can listen to this NPR podcast if you want to hear about some of the atrocities toward civilians.) What I hadn’t realized was how long-lasting the effects of agent orange were in this country. Pretty horrific. It wasn’t a feel-good museum by any standards, but definitely one worth visiting.A variation on the streetside cafe. At places like this I’ve spotted groups of guys playing cards, drinking strong coffee or tea, checking email on their phones, and socializing. These cafes are a huge part of Vietnamese culture.At night, the plastic chairs overflow into the streets brimming with young backpackers drinking $0.25 beer. Every corner boasts street carts and alleyway restaurants where you can fill up on a variety of cheap meals.It’s an endless stream of restaurants and food carts, with bumping tunes blaring through the street from the many bars and tourist restaurants. Saigon at night is one big party.
After two quick days, we boarded an overnight train from Saigon on our way to our next stop. More from amazing Vietnam in a few days.