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First Days: Becoming Attuned

VIETNAM | Thursday, 28 February 2013 | Views [575]

Fluffy snow flakes drift past my face. The cool weather chilling my toes. I'm not dressed for this New England winter weather. Wearing a black Blink-182 hoodie, tan tech pants and flip flops, perhaps some boots or a puffy winter coat would have been more appropriate, but not this time. We're planning on treking through Southeast Asia for three-plus months, where a heat index of around 95 degrees F will be the norm. Fast forward 9 hours on a bus from New England to New York and 22 hours flight time from JFK to Narita to HCMC---we have arrived.

A scooter coming to life echoes down our street. Our guesthouse, located down a narrow alleyway about 50 meters from the main backpacker drag off Pham Ngu Lao, in District 1, is perfectly placed. With the city proper so compressed into a small area, yet the metropolitan area stretching from the South China Sea to the Cambodian boarder, it is wonderfully atmospheric spot. Narrow alleyways dot the map leading to wonderful outdoor eateries, family apartments and old French Colonial-styled homes. The chatter of children, men talking over iced coffee or bia hoi and women selling their wares fill the streets. Scooters are everywhere. Driving all and any ways possible, legal or not. This city is alive. Morning markets are a hot bed of wonderful fresh smells. Fruits of all kinds, a cornucopia of colors and shapes. Meats, fish, vegetables and more can all be found here. But what interests us most are the food stalls. Serving up their specialties, these truely artisinal shops serve up unique, yet culturally relevant foods. Sitting on children's plastic lawn chairs and small foldout tables, locals and tourists alike chowdosn on bowls and plates of steaming goodness. Herbs, spices and condiments aplenty, the wonders of Vietnam eateries come to life in one's mouth as you slurp down fresh noodles or tender pieces of meat.

Our first day began at the Thai Bihn Market, a small, but well equipped market (more so than any of the New York Chinatown markets, or more trendy farmer's markets) brimming with life. Ladies sit with baskets and tables full of fresh fruit and vegetables. Butchers chop up lovely cuts of meat---from pig's head to chicken feet---they have it all. Fishmongers sell fish of all kinds, live and recently fileted. And of course, let us not forget the food stalls. Oh wonderful, tasty food stalls. All kinds of noodles, meat on a stick, rice a plenty, so good. Yum. We decided on some bowls of pho and iced coffee. Let me quickly say, "Best coffee ever". Blue Bottle Coffee 'aint got nothin on these guys. After eating, we decided to charter out and explore the city.

Up and down the boulevards, parks and alleyways, what we saw reminded me of Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii. Large banyan and locust trees line the parks and boulevards while old French colonial era buildings fill in the sides.

We also took a stroll to the American War Museum, a war dedicated to the attrocities and reconciliation as concerns what we know as the Vietnam War. Very sad, but important memorial to the terrible things Americans have done, and hopefully never again.

- Geoffrey Sewake, 02/28/13

Tags: first day, food stall, hcmc, morning market


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