When Jes and I began our big 6 month trip in 2013, it took us about 5 days to actually acclimatize to the new time zone and pace of life. We were in Bangkok at that time, and I remember that we’d get so exhausted by mid afternoon that we would go back to our guesthouse for a “nap” that would invariably end up lasting 7-9 hours and we’d find ourselves wide awake at 1AM and starving having missed our dinner completely. It was a rough adjustment for us, but we eventually came around and just forced ourselves to not nap for as long or else we figured we’d never manage to see a night market!
Fast forward to us now with 10 month old Daniel in Saigon, we suspect he is going through a similar adjustment. Except that we keep waking him up from his epic afternoon naps just at the point where he is probably right in the midst of a nice, warm, comforting deep sleep. This sadly results in having a super crabby and frantic baby on our hands who probably has no idea what he wants to make him happy. So he just cries no matter what we do. It’s been, to say the least, a little bit tiring for us all.
Still, we are pushing forward and forcing him into a new routine where we go on walks at least 3 times a day with the hope that exposing him to sunlight will help reset his internal clock. He’s typically much calmer once we’re out and about, and seems pretty taken by all the people and crazy Saigon traffic whizzing all around us. It’s certainly different than our usual walks back at home! Unfortunately sometimes in the apartment he can get really restless which can be tough when we just want a break to hang out in the A/C. In addition, whereas we can control when he wakes up if he is still asleep, we cannot (and have never been able to) control when he decides he no longer wants to sleep. And it seems that at night he’s only able to sleep in 2-4 hour chunks, which has meant the same for us. We’re thankful for thick walls in the apartment and for the fact that Daniel is surprisingly happy and giddy during those early morning wakeful times…even though we are usually pacing around like zombies with only one eye open. On top of it all, Daniel is also showing his first signs of separation anxiety from me, which is a new development and an unfortunate one to happen on vacation. Jesse is being great though and not giving in even when Daniel starts to cry for me, making his best efforts to remind Daniel how much fun he can be too (and Daniel thankfully always concedes). Ah the joys of the parenthood!
So we have been in Saigon for about 4 full days now and we’re just sort of taking our time exploring the surrounding neighborhood we are in. It’s about 35 degrees and sunny every day outside, with high humidity but also a nice breeze most days. Our apartment is in a great area away from the main tourist drag, where we can just watch and experience the local life happening all around us. There is a school on our street with kids buzzing around, a few coffee shops and lots of pricier restaurants (seems like we are in a more affluent area). The main roads around us are lined with many clothing shops and mini-marts, and of course there is a constant stream of motorcycle and taxi traffic which always makes it fun for us to cross the street. The Cho Vuon Chuoi market is about a 10 minute walk away, around which there are all sorts of small back alleys and densely packed streets with vibrant, old shophouses, local vendors and food stalls galore. We have always loved walking through markets, and this one is great – filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, butchered meats, fresh fish, clothes, household supplies, beauty supplies and just about everything else you could possibly need. Truthfully, the people of Saigon have not all been super warm to us (we get the usual stares that we are used to from being a mixed couple), but this is not to say that we haven’t had some lovely interactions with locals as well. Having Daniel strapped to us doesn’t hurt, as we have had many a game of peek-a-boo played by strangers as we wait for lights at street corners. We’ve also been spoiled by the amount of excellent English speaking around us, from both young and old. It has made our life so much easier, especially as I recall the last time we were in Vietnam everyone just expected me to be able to speak Vietnamese and would get frustrated when I couldn’t.
At night we go on longer walks when the sun is down and the air is cooler, and we’ve enjoyed strolling through some massive public parks where we can watch the locals exercising on the public machines and ballroom dancing to some upbeat pop classics. One night we took a stroll near the Notre Dame Basilica just as evening mass was ending and streams of people were flooding the streets. There we also encountered crowds of teen and early 20s couples and groups of friends hanging out and socializing along the streets and parks. The city, both day and night, is bustling and alive which is so much fun to be a part of.
We’ve had some fantastic meals as well, starting of with a mean breakfast of fried egg and mixed meat sizzling plate called Banh Mi Op La, sided with a fresh and crusty baguette, pickled veggies and pate. The dish came highly recommended from several food blogs, and it didn’t disappoint. Daniel has been a good sport too, sitting on our knees while we eat at the low street side tables (we feed him his fruits as he watches the people and motorcycles whiz by). We loved the food there so much we have already gone back again!
Other notables were a busy Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli, grilled pork, spring roll, lettuce & herbs) stall that we stumbled upon on a side street near the market which was packed with people (always a good sign!). The seats outside were all taken, so they sat us inside at a communal table where I noticed a young boy doing some English homework next to us. I asked him if he is going to an English school. He explained that he is just taking English classes at school but the rest is in Vietnamese. Jesse asked his brother if he was also learning English, and he replied “Yes, and we also learn Japanese!” We commended them on their excellent English and their father seemed very proud of them for chatting with us.
Another morning we had a dish that I really loved in Hanoi called Bun Rieu Cua which is a noodle soup with a tomato based broth flavored by freshwater crabs found in the rice paddies. It also has shrimp, fish patties, cockles and blood pudding in it, and of course is topped with endless herbs and greens. Jesse warned me that the southern version isn’t the same as the northern, which he was right about. While still tasty, it didn’t quite blow my mind like the one back in Hanoi. The owners of this stall though, fell in love with Daniel so they happily took him from us to play while we ate (a welcome break!). Daniel was pretty tentative at first, but eventually went along as they offered him the toothpick holder to play with which he just couldn’t refuse. He did start to whine and cry for me after a while, but it was fine since by then I had already scarfed down my whole bowl of soup!
We’ve also had a few tasty Banh Mi sandwiches – one classic version with the random sliced meats in it and another with some tasty grilled pork patties. Both delicious, but we are still in search of one that is better than the one we had in Hoi An with the fried egg on top!
Daniel particularly enjoyed our make-your-own-spring roll meal called Bo La Lot, which are little seasoned minced beef (bo) rolls, which are wrapped in wild betel leaves (la lot) and grilled over charcoal. You then stuff those puppies into rice paper rolls filled with lettuce, herbs, pickled veggies and vermicelli, all dipped in some sort of tasty fishy green sauce. Amazing!
And in true Chanman style, we’ve had our first hilarious “Asia is not meant for people Jesse’s size” moment of the trip one evening when we were having a bowl of pho for dinner. Daniel began to get a little antsy so Jesse went to pick him up and as he stood up, he smacked his head against the overhead fan. The cover of the fan snapped off and I think one of the blades did too. I was sure the cover was going to fall into someone’s bowl of soup, but thankfully it just hit the metal table and rolled on the floor (sadly, no photo of the aftermath). We made quite the scene, and despite our best efforts to offer the owner to pay for the broken fan, he kindly refused. We did leave a big tip that night…
All in all, it’s been comforting to return to a country we’ve visited before, as we don’t have to discover everything for the first time again. The words, customs, flavours and pace of life are familiar, though the details and specifics are new to us since we didn’t spend much time in the south the last time we were here. With Daniel in tow, it certainly changes the type of exploring we might have previously done (no more motorbike rides for us!), but it also allows us to slow down our pace and enjoy a bit of a routine each day as well. Our plan is to stay in Saigon a few more nights and then move on to some less urban areas for a change of scenery. Despite a few inevitable jet lag struggles, we are proud of Daniel for adjusting and taking his new surroundings in stride. He’s also shown a good appetite whenever we eat some sort of delicious minced pork or beef dish, and even been willing to eat a little bit of rice every now and then! Finally he’s showing signs of being a true Chanman. We figure it can only get better from here ;)
Actual Travel Dates: March 13 – 17, 2015