Adventures of an American Seoul-Sister

Adventures and Observations of an American Seoul-Sister

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Being Michael Caine

Arriving back in Saigon from the Mekong Delta in the late afternoon left little to do after booking an evening sleeper bus out of town.  So, I decided to make a bee-line for the one and only thing I have ever wanted to do in Saigon, and that is to have coffee at the Hotel Continental just like the ever-sexy Michael Caine in The Quiet American.  If you haven't seen this movie, check it out.

The Hotel Continental is in the ritziest part of town.  Previous bus routes through other parts of the city assured me that it held much the same manic and be-trodden atmosphere as Hanoi, and what I really needed was a nice dose of Western-style luxury.  The Hotel Continental was no disappointment in this area (particularly its lavishly cool air-conditioning when entering from the 100+ temperature and 99% humidity outside).  As I entered the pristine first floor dining room, I was greeted by several crisp members of the waitstaff and escorted through the crystal-chandeliered dining room to an equal spiffy table with a view of the Opera House and Louis Vuitton.  I ordered an overpriced coffee and sat back to relax in Michael-Caine-style to watch a group of drivers polish their cyclos (aka: rickshaws) outside.

Under-dressed for the Hotel Continental, I arrived in an old gray tank top, sweat-withered linen pants, and smelly flip-flops, but that's okay because I'm American, so they assumed I'm rich, and I was content to let them believe it.  

Opera House

Not yet totally content with the level of luxury, I think to myself, "What would Michael Caine do?"  So, I swung by Chanel's to get a glimpse of the current window display.  Ahhh!  Now, that's satisfaction!

Okay, so maybe Michael Caine doesn't give a hoot about Chanel, but as a knighted Englishman, he must certainly appreciated roses.  Luckily for Michael, Chanel is next door to a lovely garden where I took some time to sit back and smell the roses (literally).  The garden fronts Uncle Ho's beautiful Communist House.

Finally satiated, I wondered back to my part of town (known as the backpackers district) and have time to see a few more things, including a flea market selling touristy knick-knacks, clothes (definitely not of Vuitton or Chanel quality), and street food.  There was also a lovely park with views of some of the larger buildings in the area.

The park near the bus stop.

Communism + Engrish = funny park rules.

This building had a cascading light display that changed colors.

Kris snapped this pic of one of the tallest and coolest-looking buildings in Saigon, veiled in the smoke of a passing motorbike.

On my next blog, I begin my exploration of Vietnam's eastern coastline along the China Sea.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fruits Basket: Day 2 in the Mekong Delta

I couldn't resist naming this post after the Japanese anime because Day Two of my Mekong Delta tour was all about fruit, and of course, one of the best things about Vietnam is sampling all the fresh and exotic fruits. 

My day started with a tour of the world's largest floating fruit market.  Centered in the middle of a wide river, the market is the best place to find the freshest selections of fruit at the sweetest prices.  The merchants advertise their offerings by dangling them atop long bamboo poles.  The fruit boats also serve as the merchants' homes, and other homes can be seen long the delta's edge.  Smaller venders cruise by in smaller boats, selling fruits, soda, and other snacks.  Generally, these smaller venders employ children who are learning the tricks of the family trade.

Dragon fruit and watermelon


This lady rows a floating sandwich shop.  

Jack fruit--so delicious!

The typical way to eat pineapple in Vietnam--peeled and ready to eat.

Giant mangoes

The ripest and most delicious mango I have ever eaten in my life.

After touring the market, I got to visit a small fruit farm.

Lotus caps carry edible seeds.

Dragon Fruit
Adjacent to the farm was a small factory that made rice spring roll wrappers.

My little buddy Kang, Vietnam's cutest tour guide, investigates a rice noodle.

First the rice is sorted and cleaned.

The rice is cooked for so long the it turns to a milky broth.

The rice broth is put on a hot skillet and made in almost the same fashion as a crepe.  

The rice papers are moved to bamboo boards to dry.  

Thanks for reading.  Next blog: Saigon (aka: Ho Chi Minh City)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Almost Eating a Unicorn in the Mekong Delta

I reentered Vietnam from Cambodia via a semi-comfortable and not-too-cigarette-smelling night bus, arriving in Saigon early enough to book a two-day tour of the MeKong Delta for the same morning.  So, I had just enough time to enjoy breakfast before boarding the tour bus.  Despite the tour guide being a totally prick, the tour was great.  After checking into a hotel, I walked two blocks to the water's edge to board the tour boat.

The tour boat
After an hour or so cruising through the delta, the boat stopped at a small island where I got to sample honey tea, wine, and treats and cuddle a surprisingly pliable snake.  The tea was a specialty of Vietnam--some sort of fermented banana rice wine.  Heat up and drink a shot of soy sauce while draping yourself in the uncooked dough of an especially long french baguette, and you'll have pretty much the same experience.

Just moments before thinking, "What the fuck!?! Is this soy sauce?"

Tea and treats

I think the snake was named Michael Jackson.

On the next island, I got to see a coconut candy factory and taste the candy while it was still warm. Quite delicious! 

Ladies wrapping coconut candy.

I then boarded a small boat, which floated through narrow, palm-covered riverlets to another island. 

A house on the river

 I believe this island was called Unicorn Island, or maybe Dragon Island.  Unfortunately, there were neither unicorns nor dragons on the island, but if there were, I'm sure they would have all been eaten long before my arrival.  The menu at the "cafe" resembled a zoo's information pamphlet.  I'm pretty sure the Vietnamese translates to "Fried. Fried." and "Fried."

After lunch, I took a quick bike ride around the island on a rickety old bike with flat tires.  But, I felt a little bad about having taken the best bike. 

From there, pockets full of candy and belly full of parasites (kidding), I reboarded the tour boat and headed back to the hotel to rest for the next day's tour.

Next post: Day Two of the Mekong Delta Tour.