The Ho Chi Minh airport greets us with a great heat and humidity. The weird appearance of the first palm trees in my sight surprises me just as much as the diligence and compliance to the COVID-19 safety measures.
During two bus rides that take us to our hotel we mainly notice the peculiar ways the traffic functions here and the unbelievable amount of the motorbikes. After getting out of the second bus, we face the first “problem” - how the hell can we cross the street?! There are literally hundreds of motorbikes driving in a continuous flow, honking and carrying loads that are exceeding any rational limits of dimensions; some trucks and even fewer cars. Finally, sticking right next to some locals mazing among moving vehicles, we manage to cross the street. My heart is pounding and I’m thinking: “Never again!!!”
Little do I know that in a week I will be almost fine with it, not to mention walking on the car lane most of the time as the pavement is used by vendors or as motorbike parking - that will become the norm, whereas a pavement free of obstacles - a luxury.
The street on which our hotel is located (less than 4 EUR per person per night for a private double room!) is bustling with life - people sell all kinds of food, cooking it right there on the pavement and putting it in take-away plastic bags or on plastic dishes; there are beautiful songbirds in cages offered for sale as well as various services. The only problem is, I am scared the whole time while walking to the hotel - it seems that anyone can and will drive over any moment as the sidewalk is not meant for walking - it’s for everything else.
As we have the whole evening in front of us, we decide to meet my friend Tu Hoang in the centre of the city. We leave the hotel and decide to take a walk - after all, it takes just below one hour according to the Google maps. After a bit of stressing out and struggling with the aforementioned sidewalk situation, we decide to wait for a bus. A great moment to try out the camera in the beautiful evening light just before the night sets in.
The centre of the city seems loud, lit up and vibrant of smells, colours, sounds and motion. We order some beer in the craft beer bar “Heart of Darkness” while waiting for Tu Hoang to arrive (Andon can tell you more about the beers we chose). The bar is really hard to find - this will turn out to be a common issue as many bars and cafes do not have proper signboards and are often located in weirdest hidden places and upper floors of the buildings that are typically narrow yet stretch deep into the street block and sometimes are exceptionally high.
Once we meet Tu, he brings us to wonderful, well hidden rooftop restaurant “Secret Garden” for dinner and afterwards takes us around the most central area of the city. Right next to the tall building famous for its many small shops stacked one above the other (see the photo with many lit-up shop signs), Tu orders us bubble tea - a creamy, starchy drink with tapioka starch balls at the bottom of the glass and burnt caramel on top, just like creme brulee. With the drinks in our hands, we find a spot to sit down on the street and observe the people taking selfies and strolling along the city’s main pedestrian avenue. Everyone’s tired, a bit overeaten and sleepy so we make a plan to spend a weekend together with Tu in Da Lat and part our ways to get to sleep.