Spent the weekend in Ho Chi Minh City recently. You can pay a lot, but you don’t have to try that hard to pay a little. If you accept simple accommodations and street food, you can find clean, quirky and well located housing and nourishment easily.
One highlight involved signing onto culinary motorbike tour of the city. One student, Henry, started a business as college student who wanted to practice his English and show off some of his favourite eating spots. His gig became so popular that he’s deputized 15 or 20 of his classmates.
For a price, you get a helmet, the back of a motorbike and a culinary tour of 3 or 4 of their favorite places to eat. Crab pho, Vietnamese rolls, crepe-type snacks, and cool fruity and coconutty ices. Capped with a ride out to the riverside and a quiet view of the rising star that is becoming the modern Ho Chi Minh City.
Along the way is conversation, your past, their future, our present. Some guessing games. Somewhere along the motorway, you realize that there is a low likelihood that they have good insurance, but then that thought is banished and we motor on unscathed.
It was on this tour that we ran into a Vietnam vet who was also on the tour. He’d returned for the first time since leaving back in the 70’s. He spoke of his time in the North where he returned to villages he fought over or through. He spoke of meeting North Vietnamese veterans who ran and put on their old uniforms and embraced him and broke out rice wine. Drinking to progress and the future. It must have been quite healing.
We sat there on low stools spanning three generations. A baby boomer Vet, a vintage Gen-Xer and a Vietnamese Millennial? And we tried to talk of things in common around the war. But it was hard. I realized that I was born at the dawn of the war, at a time when the news appeared for 20 minutes at 6 PM and we never watched. At a time, when newspapers for me was boring. And though I was just 90 miles from “4 Dead in Oh-Hi-Oh”, I had so little idea about it what it all meant.
Our guides told us that basically, their grandparents talked about the war a litte, but not a whole lot. It doesn’t seem to get talked about much.
The following day we went to the War Remnants Museum. This does give the Vietnamese account of the “American War”, but perhaps more importantly documents (as if we need to be reminded again) of the horrors of war and man’s ability to be cruel. It is a moving display. But, one that leaves you needing a stiff drink.
And rather than drinking to forget, why not drink, like the North Vietnamese Vets, to progress.
And progress is definitely the word of the day. With new skyscrapers dwarfing the French Colonial buildings. Internet and telecom are bounding forward. The world is returning to a source of cheap labor and young markets.
7 million motorcycle riders ply the Parisian style boulevards. When all these young people want cars, they’re going to have problems, but for now, they study, they sit and caffeinate, and they wait their turn.
I would recommend getting there quick. It’s cheap-ish, it’s vibrant and it’s going to change quickly.