Saigon and Big Bowls of Pho

I wake up feeling so over heated. Tamara has the fan side of the bed and while I’m getting a bit of air flow, it’s not enough. I’m dyin’. I get up and try to take a cold shower but there’s no water. Perfect.

I hope that by going outside I’ll get a bit of fresh air and maybe, if I’m lucky, some wind to cool me down. It’s better…but I’m still boiling. Tamara and I pack up our backpacks and get breakfast before the bus is due to pick us up at 8am. I order an omelette and to my surprise it comes packed with veggies, bacon and even cheese, with some hash browns and toast on the side. This never happens. Usually ordering an omelette means some onions and maybe a few tomatoes if you’re lucky. This is luxury.

We get on a big bus that somehow isn’t over crowded with people. No one has to sit in the aisle! They even have functioning wifi!! Besides the shower not working this morning, my day is off to a pretty good start.
We’re due to arrive in Saigon around 1pm, though we’ve planned for later. Even with my good fortune today, I can’t imagine we’ll actually arrive on time.

One of my roommates in Melbourne, Nhut, was Vietnamese and she has moved back to Saigon. We’ve made plans to go for dinner and catch up tonight.
It’s a good thing we planned for dinner and not lunch, because at 2pm we still have yet to arrive.

We get to Saigon around 3pm and the bus drops us off right in district one, where most of the hostels are supposed to be. Tamara and I find one called “Budget Hostel” where dorm beds only cost 95,000 dong ($4.75) and include breakfast. Done. We’ll take two please! This must be a hostel finding record! It’s the biggest dorm I’ve ever seen. There are 6 triple decker beds. That’s 18 beds in one room. The most I’ve stayed in is 12, and I’ve never seen three layers! The bunks are relatively spacious and private though. It’s pretty nice for $4.75!

We meet Nhut downstairs at 6pm and she leads us on a ten minute walk through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City until we reach our destination: one of the best local Pho restaurants. It’s a relatively large restaurants with many tables, but only a very small compact kitchen out front.

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Nhut says all the best Pho is hiding in the tiny side street restaurants, and is always better than the fancy expensive kind you would pay for. This is one of her favourites. We order three huge bowls, that arrive at our table faster than our drinks do!

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It is indeed, the best Pho I’ve had so far. Though slightly more expensive than most I’ve eaten. One bowl costs 60,000 dong ($3), but I’ve seen it consistently for 40,000 ($2) and sometimes even 25,000 ($1.25)!
60,000 is still pretty great for a huge portion of delicious soup.

The three of us set out to the busy “tourist street”, as Nhut calls it. It’s like a small-scale wannabe Khosan Road, but I say this with respect. Western style bars promoting buckets of booze, two for one cocktail specials, and import beer (we see a special promotion for 60,000 dong Budweiser) congregate at one end of the street, while a little further down local fresh bia hoi can be purchased for a simple 8,000 dong ($0.35). The bia hoi spots offer no tables or chairs, but guests are welcome to sit on the side walk and curb just out front. We settle down here where we won’t go broke on drinks. Slowly the night begins to come alive, and the streets fill with backpackers and tourists alike.

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Some local women walk around trying to sell fruit, nuts, dried squid, illegally copied English books, bracelets and much more. Sitting on the street corner makes us a target, and we have to refuse vendor after vendor as they approach us with their goods.

A young child, who can’t be more than 8 years old, starts playing with fire. Literally. He lights two flaming sticks and begins putting out the flames with his tongue. It’s slightly terrifying. It gets worse when his even younger show-partner reveals a live, long green snake, puts it up his nose and somehow pulls it out of his mouth. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Their performance ends and they then walk around to the tourists with an open hat begging for change. It breaks my heart. Some parent has sent their children out here with a snake and some fire to bring home some income. Of course I want to give them all the money I’ve got so they can stop putting snakes in their noses and go to school, but I know even 1,000,000 dong ($50) won’t change their lives.
Besides, I don’t even have 1,000,000 dong.

After a few beers and too many rounds of watching these children do their show, we call it a night and head home. I thank Nhut for showing us around Saigon; it was so cool to see her again!

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