My time in Vietnam ended in Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals prefer, Saigon. It was hot and sticky, and I was for once glad to have packed shorts. The city felt more modern then the rest of the country, more metropolitan, and more like the rest of SE Asia. The traffic was indescribable, the shops were bustling, and western companies were around every corner. The country’s first McDonald’s was under construction when I visited. Beautiful monuments and official buildings cluster in upscale districts, wedged between designer malls for wealthy tourists. In the less pristine areas, taxi drivers harassed tourists for fares, something unheard of in the rest of the country. In some ways, even this was refreshing. In the northern parts of Vietnam, there is a stiffness. In Saigon, it feels like the city has collectively decided to breathe.
Hidden in the dense foliage surrounding a Mekong tributary, was a small factory for making rice paper and coconut candies. The area itself was beautiful. The factory floor was open air and breezy, looking out over this small stream.
The process involved in making the rice paper was fascinating. It was a lot like what you would do to make a crepe. First the batter was prepared. Then it was spread in a thing, round layer on a hot plate. After it was cooked on both sides, the thin pancake was left out in the sun until it was dry and crispy.
I got the chance to taste test a bunch of different varieties. Some were sweet, like a thinner fortune cookie; others were more like tortilla chips. I was surprised by how universally delicious they were!
After a long trip down to the south part of the country, during which the weather magically became warm and tropical, we spent a day touring the Mekong Delta. This area was absolutely beautiful–villages on the river, ships zipping across the wide triangular bay, and small boats hand-paddled up narrow tributaries. While there we saw how rice paper and coconut candies were made, but that’s a story for another day!
Hoi An is not just a beautiful city, it’s also set in a stunning location on the delta of a river leading out to the ocean. On my second day in the city I woke up early and took a scenic 20 minute walk through rice paddies.
Cows wandered between fields and birds scrounged among the puddles. The rice had just been harvested and the paddies lay fallow, covered in water.
I stopped by a small roadside stand to buy a small sandwich of cheese on a baguette, a lasting dietary sign of French colonization, and a bottle of water and headed down to the perfect ocean.
The city is designed for pedestrians, with motorized traffic prohibited during prime afternoon hours. The streets are narrow and cobbled, lined with shops and restaurants interspersed with museums and historical monuments.