Hello Saigon Series: Streets and Favorite Tastes

6:46 PM

Two things I love to do when in an unfamiliar place: eat and walk around. Since we were in Vietnam for an event we organized, I couldn’t do a lot of walking around until after the event. And even during that we had a day of touring and two days of just shopping and visiting the sites.

Roundabouts and crossroads
The streets of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, at first sight appear just like Manila. However, Manila streets are not filled with millions of motorbikes going around in almost all directions.  The typical “rotonda”  or circle to Filipinos is dubbed as roundabouts in Saigon. And it’s like playing patintero at its worst when trying to cross the roundabout. I would usually stop at some points of the road just to avoid being hit by a motorbike. They don’t stop to let anybody cross. It’s every man for himself.]

This photo doesnt justify the number of motorbikes on the street

At one point I was crossing a four-lane street to get to a restaurant but it still seemed like a great task. I was standing beside an old Vietnamese woman. She looked at me then suddenly held my arm and helped me cross the street. How embarrassing was it to be helped by an old woman rather than the other way around. Maybe I looked like a kid who doesn’t know how to cross the street. She uttered no word. She just looked at me and grabbed my arm to make me move forward. After crossing she just left still without a word.

During the first days I would always scream a little when crossing. Intersections, locally dubbed as crossroads, are also not easy to cross. District 1 had stoplights to help you. I had to deal with roads with no stoplights since we stayed at Hotel Equatorial at District 5. After some time I got the hang of it although it’s still a challenge. You have to be careful with every step you unless you want bruises made by motorbikes.
Since this is my first trip outside Philippines, I learned that you should always have a hotel card with you. Most taxis in Saigon doesn’t speak English and it takes forever if you try to explain where you want to go. Also the addresses have their English and Vietnamese version. So to get back to the hotel, we always showed the card to the taxi driver.

Rolls, Caffeine and Brisket
I enjoyed eating and drinking during my stay in Saigon.  Their Vietnamese coffee is really something. It’s black coffee served with condensed milk. Their coffee is definitely stronger than what I usually drink. Even stronger than the black coffee we made using Amadeo (Cavite) coffee beans. I’m just not sure how it compares to kapeng barako. You can have your coffee served in two ways – ready-made and the with their drip filter called “cà phê phin”. I tried the iced coffee version in Pho 24 and the hot version from Windows Café near the Reunification Palace. However, due to the strength of the coffee’s taste, I had to ask for a glass of ice from the waiter at the café and pour my hot drink due to making it milder. Nevertheless it’s definitely a treat and worth the try.

hot Vietnamese coffee with drip filter

Eating was always one of my favorite things to do so I wasn’t going to pass the chance to try Vietnamese food. We had different meals although my two favorite would be pho noodles and spring rolls. I had my first taste of the pho and spring rolls at Pho 24 near Ben Thanh Market. Their serving was definitely bigger than the Pho 24 we tried at Diamond Plaza. I had Pho Bo Chin (well done brisket). It tastes better when you squeeze some lime and add some basil. 

pho bo chin from Pho 24

Aside from Pho 24, we also got to try the spring rolls of Wrap N Roll of Diamond Plaza and Bun Boe Hue, a restaurant we just happen to see when we were looking for bread in District 5. Perhaps my love for lumpiang shanghai is the reason why I loved Vietnamese spring rolls. It's tasty and the rolls are really stuffed with filling.

spring rolls from Wrap N Roll

I think I’ll be looking for a good place here in the Philippines for some pho.


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