Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Ho Chi Minh City


Our Vietnamese adventures were due to begin so after a bus from Phnom Penh we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnams biggest city and centre of commerce. Still known as Saigon to its eight million inhabitants, the name change came in 1975 with the communist takeover of North Vietnam, and the city being named after their late leader. 
The city is split up into districts and we stayed in District 1 in the centre. I have to admit there wasn't a great deal in HCMC that took our fancy for one reason or another but it is far from a dull lifeless city; it is now a contender to other thriving metropolises such as Singapore and Bangkok. But none the less we took to the streets to explore the Central Market, the City Hall, the Notre Dame cathedral - so called due to the likeness with its Parisian counterpart - and the Opera House. There are some quaint sidestreets to be found even in the busy centre where you can find airy bookshops, stylish boutiques and shops offering souvenirs that aren't tacky; a complete novelty! Here we found a restaurant for lunch where we could marvel at the distinct dishes that are typically Vietnamese. With 54 recognised ethnic groups in the country it is no wonder that the fare is so diverse, appealing to all.
I ordered Pho which is a staple dish throughout the country, although it varies from region to region. Southern style Pho is a slightly murky broth with various meats (sometimes unidentifiable, my top tip is not to look but just taste as usually the appearance of the floating chunks of meat aren't so appealing!), beansprouts and the essential greens which usually are a mix of basil, mint, onions etc. And just to finish it off, there's usually a bit of a kick in the aftertaste thanks to the chili chunks thrown in there for good measure! The simplicity of this dish is why it is so popular and cheap; it is the perfect quick fix to stave off the hunger but will leave you craving more. I was looking for something a little sweet to finish off my dinner so forgot my hesistation and delved (not literally) into the fruit section of the Central Market. I had been a little hesitant up until now about trying the fruits as 1) they're exotic and abit daunting as I have no idea how to eat them and 2) they're kept a little too alfresco with the flies for my liking. However I bought a handfull of Rambutan which is possibly as far away from the standard apple as you can get! The fruit, coming from the Malay word meaning 'hairy', is small, round and red in colour with a covering of soft hairy spines. Peel back this covering, as one would like an orange, and inside is a translucent white fleshy fruit which is the perfect refreshment in the 34 degree heat we have been experiencing. Needless to say I will definitely be having these again.