Thursday, 23 November 2017

Vietnam, day 3: She Drinks the Iced Tea Drink, She Drinks the Smoothie Drink...

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
16 May 2017
On our third day in the capital, we decided to soak up even more French culture with breakfast at Une Journee A Paris. 
A cute little cafe, it serves both locals and foreigners. I had lotus tea in an adorable goldfish tea set while Yannick had hot chocolate (he described it as "fruity and dark like good Lindt") and viennoiseries. 
While there, and old man who was probably French shuffled off with a bag of croissants.

Our first touristing of the day was at the Hindu temple of Mariamman. Built in the late 1800's, its central altar is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman and serves the small population of Hindus in the city.

In need of more fresh air, we took a stroll through Tao Dan Park with all its lush vegetation and statues. The cactus garden was my favourite part, though the lotus pond was what caught many an eye, including a swarm of avid amateur photographers. Apparently this park is popular in the early morning, when hordes flock here to exercise. We were too late in the day to experience that, but we did see one lady learning to dance.

Just a few blocks from the Reunification Palace, we visited the Venerable Thich Quang Duc Memorial. On 10 June 1963, the Buddhist monk self immolated to protest religious inequality. The South Vietnamese president was Catholic, and issued policies discriminating against Buddhists even though the vast majority of Vietnamese people were Buddhist. As his body was burning, he remained silent and stoic while those around him wailed and prostrated themselves before him. It was a demonstration that shook the world, and even US president J F Kennedy commented on how much of an impact the photo of the burning monk had.

He had self immolated on the site of a busy intersection, and it remains so over fifty years later.

The Xa Loi Pagoda is where the body of Thich Quang Duc was carried once the flames had subsided. Apparently even after his body was cremated, his heart stayed intact, and is on display in the pagoda (though as we didn't know this at the time, we didn't find it). There was a separate staircase leading up to the pagoda for men and women, and at the top there were several people on their knees praying. We didn't want to disturb them, so just had a quick peek and then left, though on the way down Yannick could see a secret garden from his staircase. It was beautiful, with hanging vines, lotus pads and pineapple bushes.

We didn't spend long in the War Remnants Museum, as I became overwhelmed with horror and despair. Before my eyes became completely dysfunctional with tears, I took a photo of this scene showing a demonstration (against the American War) in Aleppo, Syria in 1967. The first floor displayed dozens of photos showing war protests around the world (including New Zealand), but as Aleppo had been recaptured by Syrian government forces during the civil war only five months before our visit to the museum, I found it of particular interest in terms of current affairs.

With my appetite completely destroyed, we decided to go on a café crawl instead of getting lunch. We had seen many quirky looking cafés online and used this opportunity to try out several. Our first stop was La Fenetre Soleil, a hip café bar set in an old colonial era apartment. 

The airy windows lit up the eclectic decor, which had a mixture of cosy worn sofas and Japanese chairs amidst exposed brick. We were the only patrons apart from a couple who were having a nap in the corner. I ordered rose bud iced tea, which had actual little rose buds in it, and we were given a free dish of candied lotus seeds. I'd never tried them before, but wow yum! I'm glad we visited at a quiet time, as apparently smoking is allowed freely. However, it would be fun to return at night when the dim bar would be bustling and the music area (including white grand piano and drum set) would be jamming. We left when some irritating people sat near us and watched a reality show singing contest, the already less than stellar vocals blaring through shitty phone speakers.

Next was Loft Cafe, which had a huge clockface window. 

So unique! So stylish!

Yannick, figuring he had better not have too many coffees in one day, had a smoothie and lime white chocolate mousse while I sipped at lavender tea. After leaving the cafe, we followed the spiral staircase up to the top of the building, where we saw an antique wrought iron lift with a heavy-looking counterweight suspended from the ceiling. 

Someone called the elevator from a lower floor and we watched as the weights went up and down on their cables.

Having timed it just right with the odd opening hours, we finally managed to go inside the cathedral. However, it wasn't particularly interesting so we left quickly.

Crossing the street, we passed by the Post Office, where a woman in a green army uniform was directing traffic and a banana vendor hawked her wares.

Then we found L'Usine (meaning "the factory" in French). The bottom level was a clothing store, but up the stairs was a spacious café where Yannick drank red wine and I had a smoothie. We tried to work out why it was named L'Usine - could it be that the building used to be an old factory, or is it to do with the clothing store?

Last on our café crawl was The Old Compass Cafe, which was kind of hidden down a narrow alleyway and up some stairs in a 1960's apartment block. We didn't stay long as Yannick was full of drinks and didn't want any more, so I ordered a green tea. The server asked Yannick to order something as well, but he declined and the mood was rather awkward so I enjoyed my tea, took some photos and we left.

We rested back at our hotel for a spell, and then headed out again in the evening for dinner. Along the way, we saw a cute chubby kid in a black martial arts outfit. 
At Hum Vegetarian, we had an array of dishes including spring rolls with an amazing dipping sauce, fried tofu in spicy sauce, red curry with tofu and rice noodles, and carrot fried rice which was delicious. We had opted to sit outside as the heat wasn't so unbearable after the sun set. Yannick was bitten by a mozzie that caused him to itch throughout our dinner, and our ears were occasionally beset upon by the barking of a dog in a nearby alley and loud singing from a neighbouring karaoke joint. Even with those negatives, the food was excellent and more than made up for it. Our waiters were so nice, and the cherry on top of the evening was dessert: sticky mango rice. 

So sticky! So mango! Yannick, who usually isn't a fan of mango, surprisingly loved it.
On our walk home, we were called out to with a bold "Hello hello!" and looking around we found that it came from a child who was slouching between her two parents on the back of a motorbike, glaring at us in anticipation of a response. I don't know if I'll ever grow tired of that celebrity feeling when I'm greeted by strangers just for being a foreigner.