Waking up in Saigon after over a full day of travel was a bittersweet experience. Of course having traveled for so long and so far, sleeping in a bed was something to be grateful for; however, as I opened the door to the hotel room balcony I was hit with an immense blast of heat and humidity. I had previously read in the CultureSmart book that local citizens wake up around 5 AM because the sun has not yet risen over the mountains and the temperatures are much cooler. I, in fact, woke up at 5:30 this first morning and as a foreigner, the temperature was anything but cool (it was actually a good 87°F). Luckily, I knew we would be spending time in air conditioning with our new IEF buddies at their university. We were greeted by the students outside the university with live flower lei’s and a lot of excitement. The greetings continued with traditional and modern dance performances as well as singing and icebreaker games put on by the university clubs. This welcome ceremony was the perfect way to bounce back from a long trip and get to know our new foreign friends. Luckily our Vietnamese friends attended the language class with us afterwards to help us learn and understand their language.
When our day touring and exploring the city began, we stopped for lunch at a typical pho eatery and were taught how to properly enjoy the dish. After learning this I realized that the pho I had eaten for breakfast was done incorrectly– but this of course will not happen for the remainder of the trip. The city tour shed some light on how the city is continuing to develop and globalize. As we were driving and walking around, I noticed many of the same stores and companies that we have in the states which is a perfect example of how companies are utilizing a growing economy. Along with this, the guide showed a constriction site of what would be the first subway system in Saigon. Since the project was partnered with Japan, it is a perfect example of global support in furthering development toward a more modern city. This tour also touched on well-known areas for tourist and locals as well as historical buildings and statues. Surprisingly, the Central Post Office had many artisan shops selling anything from small knickknacks to gorgeous hand-made silver jewelry (and of course, stamps). On the streets, motorbikes massively outnumber cars (and sometimes pedestrians) driving all over the street and sidewalks. Crossing the street was something you’d never expect to see in the states, there was certainly no speaker shouting “walk sign is on to cross fifth”. After some tentative approaches to crossing, we found the best way is to just go for it. If traffic is coming the bikes and cars simply drive around you as you cross. A bit nerve wracking at first but after a few attempts I was becoming more confident.
The welcome day with the university students continued even further with a ferry boat 7 course dinner and ride around the river. The courses consisted of several of the traditional meals I read about in the CultureSmart book including a small side of the country’s well-known fish oil sauce. Every traditional meal I intended on eating during the trip was eaten in about two hours. Not only were we treated with delicious cuisine, there was a traditional dance performance as well as a small musical group playing traditional instruments. In fact, one of the members played a whole tune with a LEAF! I’ve never been more impressed. The ferry boat ride gave us the opportunity to admire the cityscape in its night lights which was also a very impressive view.
All in all, a fantastic day to begin what will be such an incredible and memorable experience.