Pho-king Delicious

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on July 23rd, figured out a taxi to take us to where we were staying – an apartment in the Manor 2 with Louis’ friend from Korea (Pam)’s boyfriend Haider, snuck in around midnight, and crashed in the spare bedroom. Setting out on the first day of our adventure after a relatively long and unbroken sleep, we had no idea where to go or what to see first. We were Vietnam virgins in the purest sense, with not even a map as a guide. We left the Manor 2 in which we thought was District 7, with the sole purpose of exploration. We quickly got lost, but can one REALLY be lost if one has no specific destination, and one is never really “found” to begin with?

Our first order of business was breakfast. It was after 11AM, past Vietnamese breakfast time, but that wouldn’t stop us. The airplane and airport food of the past two days had left a lot to be desired. We kept seeing little plastic tables and little plastic stools set up all over the sidewalks with people of all ages stooped and slurping. Alright…so how does this work?? Should we just sit down and see what happens? Not speaking the language…this really was our only option.

So that’s what we did! We sat at a metal table on the sidewalk, lined on both sides with tiny plastic stools and covered in containers holding chopsticks, spoons, toilet-paper-cum-napkins, diced limes, various spices, and a number of things we couldn’t put a name to. A middle-aged woman smiled at us sweetly and got to putting together two bowls for us. How did she know what we wanted?? She didn’t. Didn’t we have some sort of menu or choice? We didn’t.
Travel Vietam Pho KT

This sweet lady brought over two bowls of Pho. Just like the pho restaurants at home, there was a plate full of fresh herbs in the middle to mix in with our noodle soup. One “herb” looked quite strange, and when I asked Louis about it he stated very matter-of-factly, “It’s not octopus”. With a shrug, I threw it all in my bowl, squirted lime like the lady was insisting, and slurped away, no more questions asked. And…it was great! Very much like the pho we have at home, but much better…assumingly because everything was the freshest of fresh, and maybe because we were starving. And also because we really couldn’t be sure what was involved in the making of the pho.

We dove head first into the food culture and were not disappointed. At a whopping 50,000VND (about $2.50CAD) for 2 meals, we’d say we got a great bang for our buck. At Pho Dau Bo in Hamilton, which is my favourite pho place back home, the same setup and meal for two people would have cost $14. All this, plus a little Vietnamese boy and his mother offered lively entertainment, wanting to take pictures and laugh with us. The boys mother informed us that the “not octopus” part was, indeed, dried squid. Whoops! Whodathunk the girl who gags at the thought of eating an olive would be munching squid on her first day in Vietnam? The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to eat, although Louis did give it a go, was something femur bone-looking, with the texture of tofu. I’m still unsure what it was, but my money is on something sausage related.

Travel Vietnam Lou

the WHY factor

Twisted Lou:

So the question on most people’s mind is why? You can probably guess how many times I’ve heard that from my parents and friends alone. But, it’s way more than that. Think about the phone company when you have to give the reason for cancelling. And the bank when you tell them there might be a few overseas transactions. And the chicken’s flown the coop once word hits Facebook. Hell, its hands-down the most asked question I’ve received when I told people “I’m moving to Vietnam.” And to be honest- I didn’t even know why at first.

At first I told myself it was to get a job. Although what kind of job I was unaware. Vietnam is rich in textiles (aka cheap labour) as well as coffee and cashews, but where do you really start? I had been an ESL teacher in South Korea from 2007-2009, and I knew that I didn’t want to go down that route again. But, all that aside… the answer still remained- Why Vietnam?

Bambini Montessori- Class of 2007

Bambini Montessori- Class of 2007

I think it had to stem from my love for Asia. I had a great dose of it over in S.K. and Vietnam sounded like it had everything Korea had to offer- but on a cheaper budget.Throw in beaches along a coast that runs 1000 miles, mountains just shy of 10,000 feet and a bowl of phó on the streets for $1- I guess Vietnam was just calling my name. It’s also a great stomping ground in S.E.A. to do a little country hopping. With Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China and the Philippines next-door, it’s almost as easy to cross the border, as it is to ask your neighbour for a bowl of phó.

I guess I knew the answer all along- it’s the adventure. The unknown. It’s about being able to walk down foreign streets with my head on a swivel in awe. It’s about meeting amazing people and being let into a slice of their life for the day. It’s about not understanding anything at all, and having it all slowly piece itself together.

It’s about being so unbelievably passionate about life that you can say good-bye to everything behind you, put on a backpack with the rain in your face and say where next. That’s why Vietnam. 

Costa Rica December 2012

Costa Rica December 2012

Twisted KT:

“Because you have to start somewhere…”
This was my clever little way of getting around the inevitable “Why Vietnam?” inquiry. The truth was that I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I wasn’t sure when or for how long, either. As I answered the who, the what, the where, and the when, I was still stuck on the why.

I always knew I would travel after finishing University. As my fellow classmates applied to post-graduate programs and started looking for “adult jobs”, I was making lists of places I wanted to visit, searching travel blogs and reading travel books. I joked that I wasn’t ready to start “real life” yet, I had other things to do. How could I commit to Hamilton when I hadn’t seen all the other places first? I love you Hamilton, but we need some time apart. I just wanted to get out, I needed something new.

Vietnam offered something that Canada didn’t – foreign food, faces, and feelings. While there is nothing specifically drawing me to Vietnam or making me obsessed with Vietnamese culture, it is a place to start. There are beaches and mountains to explore, bustling cities to get lost in, and rich history to learn about. There are religions to be inspired by, cultural customs to be baffled by, and insane traffic to master. There are neighbouring countries to navigate, a plethora of cafes to read in, and endless street-eats to experience.

Every journey needs a beginning, & for mine I chose Vietnam!
@kt_mllr