When I came back from Siem Reap I realize I wanted to go to Vietnam. It was the kind of want that you become aware of suddenly, without any special reasons or triggers. I just wanted to go to Vietnam before I move across the country to start college in about two weeks; a last trip before confinement to campus life and its trivialities. I didn’t have much time, but I was glad to be able to fly to Ho Chi Minh city last Friday with my mother.
Ho Chi Minh is a lot to take in at first sight. Once I was out of the taxi, the city instantly overwhelmed me with its quirky irregular buildings, masses of overhead cables, locals selling sunglasses, corn, kebabs, old women sitting very close to the ground beside their stalls of street snacks, salon girls handing out flyers, backpackers trudging down the streets, honks of the occasional seven-seater taxi and noisy engines as motorcycles zipped past, weaving expertly between flesh and metal. We did however, stay in the backpackers’ district of Pham Ngu Lao; the narrow alleyways intensified the concentration of life happening within my line of sight.
The first day of traveling is always the worst. Standing in front of the hotel in the middle of what seemed like chaos to me at that time, I felt like I couldn’t take everything in at once. My senses overloading, I wondered if I’d picked the wrong location to stay in for the next four nights. Malaysia Airlines screwed up our luggage and so we had no spare clothes to change into, or any supplies to freshen up with, after six hours spent in the airport or inside an airplane. I suddenly felt very tired but the promise of food lured us to Vietnam House in Dong Khoi street where I had shrimp curry, the kind of curry I said I would hold a party for. And it was revitalizing, like a spa product, but for the stomach. And like most Vietnamese dishes, it was served with a baguette.
Later we went to the Bến Thành market where we met a lot of Malaysians. The Ringgit was widely accepted here, and the shopkeepers made very fluid arithmetic leaps between all three currencies: the Vietnamese Dong, our Ringgit and the US dollar. There was a street which seemed almost Malaysian: Halal signs were everywhere, there was even a Warung 1 Malaysia, kebayas and baju kurungs were behind window displays. Even the vendors could speak Malaysian, so it was rather interesting to note the assimilation of our culture into the Vietnamese tourism sector.
When we rode back to our hotel, the backpackers’ district was alive with sounds and lights. The travelers had quite literally spilled onto the road. As our vehicle passed them, I noticed that if I rolled down the windows, I could reach out and touch them without too much effort on my part.