By Maddie Oaks
Yesterday was a dream. It really all began after a few bánh mìs and cà phê sữa đás (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) and the realization that both of us were pretty over feeling isolated in this new city. To find ourselves some friends, Jules posted in the Can Tho expat Facebook group and asked if anyone would be willing to tour us around the city for the afternoon. I kid you not within 15 minutes we had at least 15 responses, so many in fact, we had to delete the post. Everyone in the group was SO willing and eager to help us out! I love Vietnam! Fortunately for us, a boy named Phú was free for the afternoon and offered to show us around the city with two of his other friends. Since they were seasoned city goers, we knew the day had finally come that we would become part of the motorbike mayhem.
Phú and his friends, Lâm and My, could not have been nicer! They helped us pick out our helmets and jokingly eased us away from our fear of motorbikes. They took us to one of their favorite coffee shops where we sipped more delicious coffees and exchanged conversation about our interests, hobbies, and cultural life. All three of them are Bio-Tech Majors and took the initiative to meet up with us to practice their English-an act I thought was really admirable considering today was their only day off of work. I know the same cannot be said for me in my Don Carlos days lol.
As the conversation got rolling, awkwardness dropped and we were able to carry on conversation like old friends. Lâm and I of coursed bonded over our love for food, which then inspired us to ask about their favorite Vietnamese dishes. Thank goodness we did because after that they took us to lunch to try one of their favorite Vietnamese meals. The dish is called Bánh xèo and is a savory fried pancake that is uber thin and is filled with ground duck, sautéed coconut, shrimp and other goodies I couldn’t make out. The dish is also served with a plethora of garden veggies/leaves. Bánh xèo is served deconstructed and as our new friends showed us you make rolls out of the leaves by placing part of the stuffed pancake as the filling inside and roll the leaves around the pancake. The dish was also served with sweet deep fried bean balls (I don’t know how else to describe them but trust me they were divine!) that also could be used as part of the filling in the leaves. We ate at Quán Bánh xèo 7 Tới, which definitely appeared to be a locals’ spot. We traveled there by motorbike and having done so there is no way Julia and I would have found it by foot!
Following lunch, our friends asked us if we wanted to go to the largest Buddhist temple in Can Tho…um hard yes. So off we went again on their motorbikes. The drive out to Thiền Viện Trúc Lâm Phương Nam (temple name) was beyond gorgeous. We road along the river in the midst of jungle trees and coconut paradise. Pure bliss. When we reached the temple, Jules and I were both in awe. The temple is incredibly beautiful with the most amazing gardens. I loved everything about it from the colors, to the smells, and most significantly the symbolism and passion I could feel from everyone in the presence of it. I cannot wait to go back on days when I feel over come by the city with a good book and an open afternoon.
After the temple our friends helped us find a converter that we were still searching for. They took it upon themselves to find us a store and translate our need to the shop because they knew how difficult it would be for people to understand us. On top of that, Phú paid for it! I am blown away everyday by the generosity and the openness of the people here. It is amazing how a feeling of loneliness can so easily be washed away by friendly people in unexpected places. Here’s to many more days like this!
By Maddie Oaks
Wow the last five days have been a whirlwind! I am happy to report that Julia and I have made it safely to our home in Can Tho with all of our belongings, minus a pair of my sun glasses…whoops. Our trip over seemed almost too easy so I’m very thankful for that. We left Seattle Monday night at 2 am and arrived in Ho Chi Minh at 9:45 am Wednesday morning. Upon our arrival we found our hostel, dropped our bags, and hit the streets. All I have to say is motorbike pandemonium. Ho Chi Minh is crazy busy and probably the most urban place I have ever been. Every five steps there is another cafe or pho cart, each right after the other. It is a pretty incredible thing and everyone operates seamlessly into the city flow, so watch out. Jules and I were both overwhelmed with the commotion of the city so naturally we opted for some iced coffee and vermicelli noodles to ease our sheepishness. After some more exploring, we headed back to our hostel. We stayed at The Hideout, which is a great place to stay if you’re looking to be centrally located and are down to explore the city’s night life. Our first night out did not disappoint.
The next afternoon Jules and I went to The War Remnants Museum with two of our bunkmates who were from Germany. This experience was really hard and highly emotional. The museum showcased photos of war victims from the Vietnam War and also the generations of agent orange victims. The images were beyond graphic and mind-numbing. However, it was refreshing to finally see the war from the perspective of the Vietnamese and not the muted U.S. representation that focuses mostly on the peace movements back home.
That night the jet lag finally hit us and we were in bed by 8 pm. It was necessary. In the morning we began our hunt for breakfast and we had only one thing on our minds: PHO. Lucky for me Julia found a blog by a traveler who had recently done a trip in HCM. Let me tell you he knew a thing or two about where to eat. His blog (in case you want to check it out): (https://migrationology.com/vietnamese-food-guide-saigon/) Based on his recommendation, we went to Bún bò Chú Há and OH MY GOD I went to noodle heaven. Literally the best pho of my life. It’s a crazy thing how you can be sweating from head to toe and still finish a bowl of piping hot broth…and we have done so many times over. I feel like I am made of noodles at this point, but I’m okay with it. Another one of my favorite meals we had in the city was the Banh Mi found at Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai. We arrived after being caught in the rain leaving the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. It was a moment of blissful confusion, running between streets trying to find cover, and a memory I will treasure forever.
On our final day in the city we visited the Emperor Jade Pagoda and the Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Thankfully we befriended a man at the pagoda who taught Philosophy at a near by University and spoke a little English. He told us about the history of the Pagoda and the powers of the Emperor Jade. We learned that the pagoda is a place where people come to pray, especially for issues concerning fertility. He was there with his girlfriend to pray for a child.
Friday morning we were picked up at 10 am by our driver and made it to Can Tho by 12:30 pm. Our house is surprisingly big and Julia and I both have our own rooms/showers. However, I have already been acquainted with some unexpected house guests within my first 24 hrs of arrival. My favorite moment of the day has been in the shower due to the overwhelming heat, but this morning I was surprised by a crab. I know what you’re thinking and I have no idea…I think he must have crawled up through the drain. Luckily for me he seems to enjoy showers just as much as me and remained pretty chill the whole time. Hopefully I arrive home with all my toes. :/ Jules and I thankfully found a Mega Mart yesterday and got plenty of supplies to start making our home a little more homey. Once we have our house together I’ll post some pics. For now, we have two bottles of wine and a whole lot of cleaning to do. I’m excited to feel settled and start establishing a new routine in the city! I’m loving everything about this experience so far!