I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ho Chi Minh City in Half a Day, Monday 24 March 2008

My coworkers S and J had arrived the previous night so we arranged to meet in the lobby at 9 for breakfast. I woke at 6 and couldn't go back to sleep. I did some yoga. Obvs, I was desperate. It helped me relax, but I still couldn't sleep.

I got up and ate the fruit that had been left in my room as a welcome. There were some tiny bananas and tiny tangerines. Both were delish. I dressed and met S and J in the lobby. They wanted to do the hotel breakfast, which is so not my style ($20!!!). I told them there were plenty of Western style coffee shops on the Dong Khoi right outside our hotel (Starbucks, Gloria Jean's) but they didn't seem interested. Oh well. I knew it would be a substantial breakfast, at least. I had an omelet, baked beans, hash browns, and some unusual fruit that was white fleshed with little black seeds that looked like kiwi seeds except for evenly dispersed. It seemed a little like a melon. (I later realized I'd had my first dragonfruit, which was my favorite new fruit of the trip.) I also had some orange fruit that I thought would be mango but I think it was passionfruit.

We headed out for sightseeing and hit the Opera house first and then on to the People's Committee Building, which is the city hall of HCMC. It is a very elaborate wedding cake style and the small grounds are quite lovely and well-manicured. I guess something is always blooming at the equator, but it sure looked like Spring here. I was missing the cherry blossoms in DC, so I had to enjoy all the flowers I could!

Next we went to the Mariamman Hindu Temple. Even from the outside it is fantastic--bright and colorful like children's blocks. My savvy traveler ego was again wounded when I had incense shoved in one hand and a flower bracelet placed on the other. Normally I am so good at Tourist Defensive Maneuvers, but Asia is getting the better of me. The key, I later realized, is to have both hands full--map in one, camera in the other. Then there are no hands in which to shove unwanted souvenirs. The goddess honored by the temple offers fertility and love, so I waved the incense around, hoping for both. It actually took a little work to get accosted by whomever had shoved the incense in my hand but I gave her 25,000 VND or whatever and moved on.

We walked over in the direction of the post office and the Catholic cathedral and stopped for some cold drinks. It was a hot day. I was drinking my bottled water when I spotted an HSBC bank across the street. I tried my ATM card there, and thank goodness it worked! Every time I got cash I had to try two ATMs. A lot of the banks are not on the international network. So if your card doesn't work don't panic! Just find another ATM.

The Notre Dame Cathedral closed its doors just as we got there (I can't believe this was merely coincidence!). It's quite large and looming, but somehow its placement on a busy traffic circle seems not quite right, especially since you have to cross the traffic circle to get to the statue of Mary and the little gardens.

The Post Office has great tropical colonial architecture, with a high arched ceiling that makes it look like a train station. But I felt very Western-centric for liking it and being impressed. It's a very Western building and I was there to appreciate Eastern traditions and sensibilities. Well, really I was there to work, but you know what I mean.

It was time to go back to the hotel where we needed to check out. We regrouped for lunch. S wanted to go to a restaurant with air conditioning, but all of the "nice" Vietnamese restaurants were quite expensive. We went to Gilray across from the Opera, a diner-type restaurant with a mish-mash menue. I got the only vegetarian item on the menu, the Spaghetti Napoletana, which was surprisingly quite good. The noodles were perfectly al dente and topped with a tangy tomato sauce, bell peppers, and possibly zucchini. With a bottle of water it was about 100,000 VND ($6). The pastries looked delicious, but as I had just eaten a whole plate of simple carbs I figured I should pass.

Back at the hotel we had about an hour before we would be met by our hosts and head to the conference site so I made a beeline for the rooftop pool. I didn't bring my camera, which was a shame, because it is just lovely. The pool area is very nice and it has an amazing view of the city. The chairs were quite comfy and I had no trouble finding shade to protect my pale self from the sun. I recommend this hotel if only for the pool!

Down in the lobby I met everyone from our host agency. The introductions were flying fast and furious and it was all names that are not familiar to me. I knew I would never remember everyone...or anyone. I am bad with names to begin with! Included in the party was J, who works for a sister agency and is living abroad for two years under the aegis of the Commercial Foreign Service (I never knew there was such a thing). She would be presenting on a topic in which the Vietnamese had great interest and which my agency doesn't cover, so it was very nice that we could get her. And plus, that way I didn't feel so outnumbered (S and J are both men).

You can see all photos of HCMC, and all photos from this trip if you'd like.

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