Before jetting off for old Blighty*, I had one more stop to make on this Asian leg of my trip, Saigon. Two days after arriving, I've realized I did not put aside enough time for Vietnam, with the result that this country is now at the top of my list of reasons to go back.
Actually, if I think about that list of "reasons" just a little (I'll get back to Saigon in a moment), I fall down the rabbit hole of never-ending travel. I see why you meet people who have set off on trips for just a few months and end up still on the road a year later. Travel is the ultimate of life's Pandora's boxes, once opened it unleashes all the good and the bad that makes life interesting. I've been tired on this trip, irritable, frustrated with local customs (lines people! Orderly lines! And why can't we disembark in a calm and, again, orderly way. Try it, it's a lovely way to live), unsure, lost and sometimes a bit lonely in all these new places. But at each stop, by the time it came to leave, I wanted to see more, eat more, talk more, stay longer, engage more with the culture, and in most places I daydreamed of finding a flat and staying (Bangkok especially). My trip had to come to an end though, nothing like an expensive and uncancelable plane ticket to motivate you to get at least half way back to the beginning.
Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, or both as the locals say, was a treat to end my trip on. I found the place young, fast, beautiful, colonial, new, definitely original, and rather unbelievable considering that 40 odd years ago it was bombed to hell and back. It's a rare country where I don't get a pass with at least one of my nationalities. Example, in Brazil, I need a visa on my US passport, but not my French one (again, score). In Myanmar, being American is a big plus ('merica!), English, mmm up for debate. In Vietnam I was stuck, and after a visit to the War Remnants Museum, felt pretty damn terrible. This museum is a powerful place, and worth a visit. Every where you turn you see well documented proof of the atrocities committed by the French and the Americans (and in my mind at least, the complicity of the Brits for not having done anything to stop their allies). The museum isn't, shall I say, very critical of the north Vietnamese regime for rather obvious reasons. But that's the thing about war, the winner gets to be the one who writes the history books (and in this case, curate the museum). Yet, the Vietnamese, in what I suspect is a very unique example, have moved rather rapidly and definitely beyond the past and accepted America and the ex-colonial powers as new global BFFs. At no point did I feel any animosity, rather the opposite, and this was confirmed by others who have spent much more time in Vietnam than I have.
What did I enjoy the most? Well the food obviously. It's a close race between Thailand and Vietnam. The two have a surprisingly large divergence in flavours, ingredients, and palates considering their close proximity. I haven't decided a winner, and it may just have to involve a trip back for a full proper match up, but what the Vietnamese do with spring rolls is pretty close to divine. Fried or fresh, with noddles or dipped in sauce, they should be a unique food group on that USDA food pyramid. Unlikely, but a girl can wish.
I had the luck of staying with friends which always helps to make a city make sense faster. On their recommendation, on my last night, I signed up for a Saigon after Dark by Vespa tour. I highly recommend it. This is not a city you get by walking around it, or even being driven around, it's a city defined by its immense scooter-riding humanity and insane traffic. At night, on the back of a Vespa its exhilarating.
Enjoy & see you next in Europe.