First of May was our first full day in Vietnam, and after waking up around noon (that sleep was surely needed) we were excited to go exploring (after coffee, of course). Sitting down in one of the western style coffee chains we decided to skip the Mehkong delta as it was not possible to get there without staying a night down there, and we wanted to move up north to get to Cat Ba island and Sapa. So we would leave for Mui Ne and the beach the next morning to relax and get out of the chaos in Ho Chi Minh City (Anne felt it was too much for her, the evening of independence day had left quite an impression). This being our one half day to get to know HCMC, we went for checking out Ho Chi Minh City Chinatown market at Cho Lon, since we had seen a good part of the central area the last day. Taking the bus to Cho Lon we managed to go in the wrong direction first, and ended up at the statue Tran Hung Dao – not a bad side-track – and after getting on the right bus things went smooth.

Ho Chi Minh City Cinatown market - selling Durian fruitsThe bus conveniently had its last stop at the market in Cho Lon, and we wanted to see the market. We walked around, first impression was chaos, noise, lots of people on motorbikes and food for sale that was spread out on the ground. We watched women chopping fish, selling life chicken and ducks and people going crazy on a stall that sold green scaly thorny fruit – Durian, as we learned once one of them was opened for a customer and we could smell it. Being curious we wanted to try, but it would have taken quite a while, since the stall was so crowded with people almost fighting to get some of the fruit. We decided to try some later and walked on, getting lost in some side streets and this way found out that the market is organized into different kinds of goods, for example there are streets reserved for vendors selling motorbike parts, or household appliances, or meat, or fruits and vegetables.

Walking back in the general direction of the city center, we came across a more residential area. Starting to feel hungry and overloaded with impressions, we decided to eat at one of the street eateries since we saw some delicicous-looking vegetables frying in the pan. Getting the food we wanted was a small task in itself – without knowing any Vietnamese we tried pantomime to tell we wanted whatever was in the pan right now, just to see the intended dish being waked away and out of sight, apparently off to some neighbour. So we just pointed out something on the menu – Vietnamese food-roulette – and ended up with fried rice noodles, vegetables and pork, not so bad luck after all.

Ho Chi Minh City - political postersAfter the Chinese quarter we had wanted to go see the Zoo and botanical garden, which is located northeast of the city center. Walking on we finally found our bus stop – not such an easy task, as bus stops are not marked so well – and even managed to get on the right bus. The ride was fun – we had a conversation with an old man who shouted at us in English, apparently very proud hat he could talk with these two strangers when most other people on the bus probably couldn’t. Getting off at the right stop was also a bit of a gamble, since stops aren’t marked we tried guessing by the names of the intersecting roads, and luckily managed to get off about right.

Finally arriving at the Zoo and botanical garden, we found it had turned dark already – not being used to the sun setting around 6pm we had thought there might be a bit more time. We still entered the zoo, just to have a look around. The Ho Chi Minh City Zoo has a nice park, though we found it a bit depressing – most of the animals have very little space to move or are kept in areas that do not look appropriate. Being split minded about Zoos anyway, this one together with the gloomy dusk and the heavy noise of the cicadas in the trees left a rather negative feeling.

Ho Chi Minh City - Fried abalone mushrooms with sesame crust

Tired from walking around all day we took a cab back to the backpacker’s quarter and decided to treat ourselves to a vegetarian dinner at a restaurant Anne had spotted the evening before. The place looked neat and clean, and the selection of dishes was delicious – fried tofu and steamed vegetables for Anne and a vegetable curry for me. Afterwards we just went back to the hotel, feeling extremely overwhelmed with so many new impressions. Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City are definitely high voltage and fast-moving – not so easy to keep up with when one is used to a more relaxed pace such as in Berlin, especially being tired and not yet acquainted with Southeast Asia. One thing we were especially happy about on this day was the realization that we had not seen any other tourists at all.