My friend Kolajo’s mission directive was clear:
Locate and ingest the Pho at the famous Vietnamese chain, Pho 24, thus confirming or refuting that it deserves its title as Best Place to Eat Pho in the World (according to the recently published Guardian article).
I set out at noon, zinging with the thrill of Ho Chi Minh’s energy, refusing cyclo ride hawkers every three steps, and being absolutely, positively terrified of the traffic of Saigon.
Basically, there are a gabillion motorcycles here. People ride them with cocky, entitled pizzaz, zooming through unregulated intersections in packs of fifty, weaving around cars, narrowly missing pedestrians, and generally acting like rock stars on holiday.
These are not the sad, raggedy motos of Cambodia, but are, rather, glistening beasts of metal, galloping through every nook and alleyway of Saigon.
Wanna cross a road? There is never a break in the rushing flow. To cross, you must slowly yet determinedly inch across, trying whenever humanly possible to cling with those mystifyingly confident crossing locals. To pause or turn back is to bring peril.
Push onward, and the cyclos will and must weave around you. You must have faith! (I still have none.)
Somewhere past “Pho For the President” and the place where a giant office building squats upon a park, and sometime after the first drops of rain blooped down, a branch of Pho 24 came in sight.
Inside was sleek, modern, and clean. I ordered a juice of Sapodilla fruit… still not quite sure what it is, but it was tasty.
Now, please note the photo, left, of the paper placemat; according to Pho 24, Pho contains a compound that cures and/or prevents Swine Flu! How useful!
I sort of panicked upon seeing that condiment plate and ended up dumping the entire thing into my Pho (not quite sure this is the hip way to do it, but I dislike waste and tend to overdo things in general).
(Post condiment-dump photo, right.)
The thin white noodles glistened on the chopsticks and were tender and happy-making.
Yum! Thanks, Kolajo! (Anyone else with a culinary or other exciting quest, bring it on!)
I wandered Saigon for the rest of the day, ogling the floppy dried jellyfish with chili sauce stand, the teeming markets, the sexy clothing stores, and the happy mix of Vietnamese locals and tourists.
Come evening, I met 215 Australian military sailors, who are on their last day of a four month deployment around Southeast Asia. (Battleship pictured, right.)
I then met up with friends from Thailand and had a massive argument about complex misunderstandings. Drama happens. It’s okay, though… nothing can be as dramatic as six years teaching adolescents!
I now have one more day to wander Saigon (and avoid racing cyclos), then I begin my slow journey north along the coast of Vietnam.
Slow is the operative word here, as central and northern Vietnam are now underwater from a massive typhoon, and the longer I take to get there, the drier it will hopefully be.
Recently, several people have referred to my year abroad as a “vacation”, which is somewhat inaccurate given that, 1) I am hustling my little passionate tail off to make a career of this travel writing thang, and 2) Long-term travel planning takes more brainpower and muscle than sacking out on a beach!
By golly, I DO praise heaven, earth, stars, and moon for every SECOND of this journey (there is nothing I’d rather be doing!!), but it’s only natural after about two months to get a little sleepy and drama-filled.