We just got back home to Singapore from 8 days in Saigon and Dalat last week and figured I should post some pics before they wind up just sitting in iPhoto. The trip was truly amazing. When I moved to Singapore I had never stepped foot in Asia before. My husband jokes that Singapore is like “my first Asia” and he’s right. It’s an easy move from a Western country. Singapore is clean, safe and most everyone speaks English. Outside of visiting Malacca and Tioman Island in Malaysia (which is right next door to Singapore), Vietnam was a giant leap forward.The first thing that hits you is all the motorbikes. Thousands of them! And because there aren’t many street lights, the only way to cross the street is to hold your bags close and just jump right in. If you go slow and steady they’ll miraculously avoid you. If you stop in the middle of the street you’ll have a good chance of getting hit!
One reason to go is the delicious Vietnamese coffee. It’s super strong and sweetened with condensed milk (if you don’t already know). Towards the end of the trip I slurped up an unfortunate fly in the straw of my ice coffee. I surprisingly got over it fast, reasoning that it was the first time ever, and that I’m surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. Anyway, I didn’t swallow it at least.
Another reason is the food, which if not amazing all of the time, is 100% authentic. Take pho bo, the beef noodle soup that’s synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine. I slurped it 5 or 6 times while I was there–in pho restaurants, rustic rest stop restaurants on the side of the road, and side alley pho. For the most part these phos were just okay-the beef was kind of scrappy and tough, the broth a bit watered down, and the side plate of greens mostly lettuce leaves instead of sprouts and basil. — The side alley pho that I had in Dalat was the best-the broth was beefy and sweet, with chunks of tender brisket and a big plate of greens (mostly lettuce). I still think Boston makes a damn good pho. The broth is rich with lots of rare, tender beef, and the side plates are piled high with sprouts and basil.
We bummed around Saigon for a few days, drinking lots of 50 cent beer, accidentally finding ourselves in a sort of Vietnamese version of “Hooters” (I was drawn in by the whole baby pig on the bbq), and visiting the war remnants museum (it was interesting to see how the Vietnam war is represented in Vietnam). And I can’t forget the late night Banh Mi after drinking loads of the ridiculously cheap alcohol. The heat, humidity, and mopeds were a little draining, so we set off for the cooler temperatures of Dalat, a mountain town just north of Saigon. The 8 hour bus ride which was tortuous for me because I had a really bad cough that week, and I’m sure all the people on the bus wish I had a face mask with all my hacking. We stayed 3 days, soaking up the crisp dryish air, sipping a $2 bottle of an almost undrinkable and sherry-like Dalat wine, drinking some awesome coconut custard dessert drinks at a night sidewalk cafe, sampling street food, and taking a bike trip through the local mountain side to check out a coffee plantation, silkworm factory. The most awkward part of the bike trip was visiting a “minority village”. The people who live there are super friendly but extremely poor, and it was unclear whether we were supposed to give them money or not.
The highlight in Dalat was the night time sidewalk dessert cafe:
After getting back to Saigon, we stayed again in the terrific Diep Anh Hotel. And even after sitting on the bus for another 8 hours, I immediately booked a day trip to the Mekong Delta the very next day. Mostly bus, but part boat ride, highlights were visiting a rice paper factory and seeing the floating markets. You can tell what the boat is selling by whatever they’ve stuck to the end of a long pole.
By far the strangest thing that I saw that day were the women selling meat in an open air market in the Delta. They were either sitting right on top of the counter with the meat, or perched in a hammock directly overhead.
We’d been on a search for a great Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and finally found it on our last day in what looked like the Japanese quarter of Saigon. We can’t wait to go back to try more food!