The GoGlobal Blog

Exploring Saigon

Exploring Saigon

Well, hello there!! I’m currently sitting in an adorable little coffee shop in the heart of District 1 of Saigon, sipping some sweet, tropical tea. I think it’s mango-flavored, but I couldn’t be sure. I don’t speak much Vietnamese and most people here don’t speak English, so I’m not quite sure what I ordered–a day spent exploring the city is always a hilarious adventure. I’m usually quite exhausted come bedtime…but each mistake, each misunderstanding, each wonderful moment has me falling more in love with this absolutely insane, stunningly beautiful country.

I’ve been here for about a month now; sometimes it feels like I just walked off the plane, and other times it feels like I’ve lived here for years. Regardless, I’ve seen and done so many incredible new things since arriving here. Mostly, I’ve spent my time wandering Saigon–seeing the sites, eating plenty of delicious food, shopping at the local markets, and riding xe oms (hired motorbikes…so much FUN) around the city. We’ve hiked our way through the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, the HCMC History Museum, Ben Tanh market, and the BiTexco Tower (the tallest building in Vietnam). I’ve found my favorite cheap spa in District 1 for wonderful massages and pedicures. I’ve established some good relationships with local street vendors, who somehow understand through my frantic hand gestures that I’m a vegetarian and no, I don’t want extra pork with my rice. I even found Oreos and Pringles at Co.Op Mart, the Walmart of Saigon. Basically, I’m winning Vietnam so far.

Speaking of street vendors, let’s be real…I came here for the food. Well, and a few other things. But the food is what spiked my interest in the Loyola program. I’ve been eating Vietnamese food for as long as I can remember (I love Tank Noodle off the Argyle L stop, for instance) but I knew that the food here would be 10x better than Americanized Vietnamese food (which is already pretty amazing). After being here for a month I’ve expanded my knowledge of the local cuisine, and I’ve already figured out my favorite foods; I cannot stop eating!! Here are a few of my top picks:

Pho // Noodle soup with chicken, beef, or pork. It’s incredibly simple but so, so good. I doctor mine up with hoisin sauce, chilies, and plenty of fresh cilantro, mint, and basil.

Banh mi // Vietnamese sandwich on a french baguette (left over from the French occupation of Vietnam!) My favorite so far is a banh mi op la, or a baguette spread thick with siracha, soy sauce, pickled radishes, herbs, and a freshly cooked omelette. YUM.

Bun thit nuong // My friend discovered a street vendor that sells this, and it’s sooo good. Chewy white rice noodles, hot sliced spring rolls, freshly grilled pork, crunchy fresh herbs, and plenty of spicy fish sauce. The mixture of hot and cold with a variety of textures is simply delicious.

banh xeo // A bright yellow crunchy egg crepe, filled with sautéed bean sprouts. A HUGE plate of fresh lettuce and aromatic herbs is served on the side, and you roll little lettuce tacos with the crepe and dip the whole thing in fish sauce. I could literally eat this every day.

ca phe sua da //  This stuff will be the death of me. Thick, black pour-over coffee that’s quickly shaken with creamy condensed milk and poured over ice. It’s super sweet, ice cold, and very caffeinated … everything I ever wanted in this world.

So, so good. I picked the right place to study abroad!! Most of these delicacies I’ve discovered by hanging out with my lovely host student, miss Hannah (english name).  She’s my Open University partner, where we have all of our courses. She has gone above and beyond her basic duties as a host student, and I absolutely love her for it. She has the cutest smile and gives the best hugs; she’s caring and genuine and so much fun to hang out with. We’ve gone shopping a few times (wahoo!!) and we practice Vietnamese a lot too. She’ a really good teacher (her major is English Teaching, so obvi) so I love love love practicing with her. She also takes me everywhere on her motorbike, which is SO much fun (Have I mentioned that I love motorbikes? Hey, I love motorbikes). She spoils me rotten and I couldn’t be luckier to have her. 

We’ve also taken two little excursions so far–one to the Mekong Delta, and one to Nha Trang, a popular beach town in central Vietnam. Both were breathtakingly gorgeous…a little escape from the hustle and bustle of the city is nice every once in a while.  Our trip to the Mekong felt like vacation–a lot of breezy boat rides and napping in hammocks. We spent an afternoon biking through lush, muddy trails, racing each other past lone motorbikes…I felt like I was in a movie!! Nha Trang also felt like a vacation, but in a completely different way. I’m not a big beach person (I don’t tan, I burn), but our trip here was so relaxing and beautiful. We took a fabulous three-island boat tour, complete with snorkeling and a delicious tropical lunch. We also took a cab up to the mountains and got a mud bath–it was bizzare, but I was so weirdly comfortable!! And you know, the absolutely pristine beach wasn’t bad either. I am obsessed with this country and I’m never leaving. Sorry, Mom!

That’s about it, so far! We leave for our Cambodia excursion next week, and I couldn’t be more excited!! Stay posted!!


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