Sunday, November 1, 2015

touring Saigon

Our last day in Ho Chi Minh City remained completely unplanned the night before. My dad has a couple of students who are from Vietnam and so he reached out to them when we decided we would be going. They in turn put us in touch with some of their friends who are still in Ho Chi Minh. I kind of figured they would help us plan and give some suggestions of things to do, places to go, places to eat, etc. Seems like more than enough considering how distantly and thinly we were connected. But one of the friends, Chi, seemed genuinely interested and willing to show us around a bit so we figured we would take her up on that for part of the day Saturday. We didn't want to steal her whole day! Well we didn't finalize things with her until Friday night and she ended up going way above and beyond. Originally we had planned on doing a foodie tour on motorbikes on Thursday or Friday but we never got back from our day tours early enough, and our flight left Saturday night and all the foodie tours are late in the evening. But have no fear, Chi came to our rescue!

So we met up with her and her friend Ian at the HCMC post office Saturday morning. It's a beautiful building.
A group of students asked Caleb if they could take a picture with Declan. He told them yes. Some nerve he has giving permission for a kid who's not even his! ;)
We played in the phone booths. Mostly because because it was air conditioned inside those bad boys.

Then we went outside and found Chi. She was so sweet and brought us some Vietnamese food to try first thing and some chocolate cupcakes for the kids which they loved, of course.
Then it felt like we were the body guards of some celebrities. Time and time again, people came and asked for pictures with the kids. Tatum didn't love it, but endured for the most part. Declan, on the other hand, was a complete ham. Every time he would come over to me after they left and say "mom, I say cheeeeeeese." Several of the requests came from more groups of university students who were evidently doing some sort of photo scavenger hunt. The best was when one group was walking away Declan waved to them and all the girls squealed like Justin Bieber had just waved to them. (Justin Bieber probably isn't even cool anymore. Go ahead and insert a more appropriate name.) It was hilarious.
We finally escaped the paparazzi and crossed the street to check out the Notre Dame Basilica. We got there right as they were closing the doors but we came back later to check out the inside.

Then we spotted this person in a bear suit selling some food on the street. Why would you do that to yourself? It was so hot that day!
Independence Palace. Another building we got to right as it closed. We never made it back to go inside.
Our next stop was Ben Than market. This place was CRAZY! This is the only picture I got of it, which is lame because it's just some of the food stalls on the outside rings. At one point Brennan literally got trapped in one ladies stall area. She stood in his way and wouldn't move, trying to convince him to buy some shorts from her. Luckily Chi noticed and went to his rescue. We did end up getting some souvenirs there but it was a lot of work and a lot of stress. It actually might have been fun if we didn't have kids. But they were super grumpy and obnoxious. The place was like an oven. And then the people were all over you. It was really helpful to have Chi there to tell us what a good price actually was since they usually try to gouge you. She even helped in the bargaining a few times. But then after she said what a good price was you never felt like you could spend more or you'd look like a dork. We missed out on a really awesome piece of artwork for that reason. But I suppose it was all for the best because it was really too big to be taking around on the scooters for the rest of the day.
After the market they took us to lunch. It was fun to have someone there to read the menu, explain the options and give us some tips and suggestions.
We let the kids take a breather at the park after lunch while we waited for Chi's other friend to join us.
Once he got there it was time to hit the road on the scooters. Caleb and I all squinty eyed and ready to go.
Declan and I got to ride with Chi.
I thought I would try to strap Declan to me with the ergo because I was feeling a little nervous right beforehand. It became clear that wasn't going to work mostly because he really did not want to. Luckily he seemed to stay put just fine. :)

Caleb and Tatum were with Tan.

And Brennan was with Ian. I swear we got a picture of them, but I can't find it anywhere.

They took us to an amazing dessert place. We tried ice cream with mango and sticky rice, a jack fruit smoothie, and ice cream with mulberry sticky rice. Chi also let us try her frozen yogurt which was way different than frozen yogurt in the States and very delicious. Caleb almost tried a durian avocado smoothie but they ended up not having durian that day. It was so disappointing! Instead we tried what Chi said was the best smoothie combination: banana, mango, passion fruit. She did not lead us astray. It was so yummy.

The picture is dark but it's Brennan, Ian, Chi, Tan, and Caleb.
We had a lot of fun getting to know those three over dessert. They were so good at answering all of our questions, their English was amazing, and they were a lot of fun.
Back out on the scooters we went.
This time headed for this bridge. I couldn't tell you the name of it but we were there just as the sun was setting. There was a beautiful breeze and we just hung out for awhile, asking them questions about Vietnam and just enjoying taking it easy for a minute.

Declan fell asleep on the scooter and stayed asleep in my arms for quite some time. He was wiped out!

We saw Stark tower. :)
He woke up to enjoy our final few minutes on the bridge.
Then we headed to "walking street"
Tatum and Chi were good friends by now.
We hung out there for awhile and then Chi, Ian and Tan walked back for their bikes and came and picked us up. As we waited for them Declan kept asking where Chi was. He has asked that question nearly every day since. He also asked where Chunchun is, their friend here in our complex. I told him he was back in Singapore and his response was "oh, we went to Bali". It really cracked me up. I thought it was funny he remembered Bali, and it's kind of amusing to hear Bali as part of an almost 2-year-old's vocabulary. He's had quite an adventurous start to his life.
Chi picked us up some more Vietnamese food to try at the airport before our flight and then they took us back to our hotel so we could grab our bags and catch a cab to the airport. Can you even believe how generous they were? I mean basically I know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows her. That comes nowhere close to obligating her to spend an entire Saturday showing us around her city. But she did, she convinced two friends to do so as well, and they sure did show us a good time. Riding the mopeds in Ho Chi Minh City is a must. It was easily the kids' favorite activity of the whole trip, but it was probably mine too! The traffic there is crazy. There are 10 million people in Saigon and 6 to 7 million scooters. Can you believe that?! The locals say the traffic is organized chaos but it was hard for me to see any organization, just a whole lot of chaos. Don't get me wrong, I never felt worried riding with Chi, she was great! But it was so unlike anything I have ever experienced. And super fun! It was a fantastic way to end our trip to Vietnam.

Here are a whole bunch of videos of our motorbike rides.

Caleb had some fun with the dual camera feature on his phone.
Caleb, the big dweeb that he is ;), took a sideways video. 

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