Monday, September 21, 2009

Saigon kick -2

Due to the brilliant response of the first part, I have decided to post part two. You people are very kind.


The day after we went to Cu chi, we woke up early and made our way for another tour - to the Mekong delta, which is also a two hour ride from the city. I wasn't very sleep deprived, so I decided to listen to Romeo who was nearly bleeding with songs and information about the superstitions about birth and death in Vietnam. For instance - farmers would ask to be buried in the farmland to prevent the wayward sons from selling the farmland.

On the way, we visited a temple of the Cao Dai (Pronounced: cow dye) religion. Primarily monotheistic, they have symbols from all religions placed inside the sanctum. God is symbolized by the left eye as it's supposedly closer to the heart.

From there, it took us about twenty minutes to get to the Mekong Delta. "The waters in the delta are not dirty, but red because of all the alluvium in the soil", Romeo informed me, reminding me of the word "alluvium" which I hadn't heard for many years. Needless to say, the area is very fertile, and has a lot of rice fields. Vietnam is (was?) third after Thailand and India in rice export (of course, that could be related to the consumption, but still..).

The delta tour itself can be not very high energy and exciting, save for the ride in a canoe, through a canal, where you wear those hats, and the arms of strong women render your years of gym useless.. Oh yes, we did visit a couple of "staged" villages - you know the kind where everything is how a village is in our imagination, where we were served snacks, and fruit and tea and chewy coconut candy, which got stuck to my teeth and prevented me from speaking for a full 15 minutes.

For me, the best part of the trip was identifying different fruit trees. I, for one, had never seen a grapefruit or a dragonfruit tree. (Yes, many of you haven't seen a dragon fruit, but it's alright.)

I slept through the two hour return trip finally finding comfort in the singsong voice, while A indulged in a conversation about Mooncakes and ricefields and the city.

We made our way to the Ben Thanh market in the evening assuming it would be a handicraft af-fair with loads of local made stuff, but it turned out to be a night market with the original duplicate (read:Chinatown type) stuff, which I wasn't too keen on looking at, because I had no patience to bargain. Bargaining needs not heart, not liver but powered up lungs. I gave up and decided to get fleeced by one of the tourist shops instead. Vietnamese lacquerware paintings are unique but almost all the shops sell identical stuff, and are affordable.

Then someone recommended us to see the water puppet show, and trust me, it turned out to be more enjoyable than I could've ever imagined. Mostly depicting life of farmers in Vietnam, the deft hands of the puppeteers standing in chest deep water tell folk tales and mythology. They are accompanied by musicians with banter in their voices. The puppets are language by itself. A and I still laugh about some of the jokes moving our hands about and jumping around.

The city is best seen on foot. One is better off staying in District 1, and then walking around and getting lost on the map. It is the best way to get by and to spot the life as it passes by. You see a swarm of 80cc motorbikes coming at you as you cross the road. You see the mess of overhead cables as they mark the corner of the streets. You see scared lady drivers swinging their handlebars left-right left-right to dodge you till you make up your mind and stay still. You see old ladies with the traditional baskets on a pole doing the hop-walk. You see the joy on people's faces as they dig their teeth into scrumptious street food. Walking is the only way to enjoy the vibe.

Which brings us to the food. One of us couldn't stop drinking coffee (Ha, gotcha, wasn't me!). It smells of coconut and tastes like Vanilla and does random things to your tastebuds, giving a weird caffeine kick. I, on the other hand, was addicted to the food. I have always been a huge fan of fresh rice paper rolls (Summer rolls) and prawn on sugarcane but now I am willing to cheat on my love for any other cuisine and start a torrid affair with Vietnamese food.

Banh Mi is this sandwich type thing, which is made of baguettes, and has meat and a gooey vietnamese style sauce making it delisshhus.

Pho, or noodle soup has beef pieces, soft noodles and broth. I don't eat beef, so carefully picked the beef pieces out, and drank the broth anyway.

Vietnamese are of the habit of putting fresh herbs in their food as opposed to cooking and cooking with a whole lot of unidentified powders and pastes like we Indians are used to, and hence leads to flavours where every note is identifiable and hence comforting. I am told there are a lot more vegetarian options in Vietnam, because of the strong Buddhist roots, but I would be wary since though there are more than enough Vegetables in the food, the fish sauce and condiments may contain some stuff they don't want to admit.

Food is religion, I have converted.

Beer, umm, there is 333 (Ba ba ba) and Sai Gon, both palatable, drinkable, and muuuuuch better than Fosters (which is my rock bottom for beer and gives me the rash). I have a rule of drinking only the local beer when in any new town. Rice wine is worth a try I guess, I didn't try any, since beer is cheaper, and closer to my belly. Many pubs and clubs with live bands use random number generators to price their beer, so it's better to be cautious.

There is this atrocious drink called snake wine, where you see rice wine bottles with snakes and scorpions and weird things. Booze is already poisonous, why adulterate it with more? Plus, I read that the venom is denatured by ethanol, so what's the point anyway. And with that I end my carefully crafted justification of chickening out.


PS: Apologize for the delay in posting. I have another trip to write about now.


Purely Narcotic said...

Alright, Apologies then. Sigh. Blogs these days!

Mo said...

What apologize? Thanks for commenting.
Since the advent of feed readers, people have forgotten good old fashioned comments.

Purely Narcotic said...

I was just nitpicking(the last line of the post). Eeps. :)

Kartik said...


Mo said...

Kartik - *itch, learn how to write an encouraging word or two.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

saigon 333 kick. also people read your blogs, so you really should stop being a drama queen about it. hmpf

Ashwin said...

The favorite part of my Vietnam trip was the food too. I ate like I have never eaten, the food with all those herbs tasted so goddamn *fresh*!!! Makes my mouth water even now. Viet stuff in SG does not match.

Mo said...

Cyn - I am an attention seeker.

Ashwin - oh food, glorious food. I would kill for a bowl of noodle soup now.