HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Different Perspective

Editor's note: my friend Anthony is visiting Saigon right now, and this is a guest blog written by him about his thoughts on Vietnam. Enjoy!

Mike has graciously extended an invitation to me to add an entry to his blog, an offer I was more than happy to accept.  I hope that my words convey to you readers what it is like to take a vacation (or "holiday" to all of you non-American readers out there) to this beautiful country.

Where to start?  First of all, my name is Anthony Pinto and I've been friends with Mike since our freshmen year of college a little over four years ago.  Last spring when I found out Mike was going to be in Vietnam I informed my mom of the news and she immediately told me I had to visit.  I have her to thank for the initial push, so thanks mom. 

Considering that this was my first trip to Asia and that my knowledge of Vietnam began somewhere around Platoon, continued to Apocalypse Now and ended around Forrest Gump I think it's safe to say that I had little idea of what to expect of my two week trip to an area I only associated with Hollywood blockbusters.  What I received was an eye-opening, tastebud-pleasing, surprise-filled adventure that I will not soon forget. 

I won't expound upon story after story of my experiences in Saigon and Central Vietnam- as any follower of Mike's blog knows he does an excellent job of this and I'm sure he will soon post entries detailing our travels.  The purpose of this post is to try to convince any curious traveller who might have a desire to come to Vietnam to book the trip.  For me, coming to Vietnam has been like taking a step into a bustling world where many of the values that Westerners sometimes forget due to the rush and craziness of everyday life are rediscovered.  It's amazing how the simple things- taking time and using the best ingredients to prepare every meal, watching children who can only dream of toy trucks have the time of their lives racing tipped-over stools on the sidewalk, and receiving kindness and generosity from absolute strangers asking little or nothing in return- can have the most profound impact.

There are so many stories and memories that will take from this place: riding motorbikes in Central Vietnam through rice paddies, up mountains, and along the South China Sea in the pouring rain, learning how to cross the street for the first time in Saigon, hopping on Mike's moto and being blown away by his driving skills considering the undescribably insane traffic (seeing two guys on the back of a moto is no different here than seeing two guys in a car in the states... and no, I did not wrap my arms around him for stability), swapping road tales with fellow travellers from various corners of the globe, receiving a lesson in simple Vietnamese phrases from a friendly local travel agent operating her business out of her living room, showing that same woman on a globe on her desk where my hometown of Pittsburgh is located while she looked on with an intrigued expression and asked how close to New York I was, finding out the painful way that grown Asian men LOVE Justin Bieber, standing on a corner whistling while waiting for Mike to come out of a restaurant only to be interrupted by a little 3-year-old boy hopping over my feet, unzipping his pants, and trying to pee as close to my leg as possible, and receiving help on two occasions from complete strangers when my bike tires went flat in the middle of nowhere (one mechanic had his tools stored in an old ammunition box).

One story I'd like to describe in greater detail: as Mike will surely explain later, in Hue we were wet, cold, tired, bedridden in our hotel, angry, and questioning why we bothered to spend 3 days in that city.  On the 2nd night, the rain finally let up and we decided to go out for a nighttime stroll.  We ended up eating a late dinner at a small street stall with only the locals.  The cooks were delighted to have us and it was a great feeling to not feel like a tourist in a city bustling with them.  Although Mike and I clearly looked different, dressed different, and spoke different languages from everyone around us, that night we were all there for a common purpose- to eat and enjoy the stillness of the Vietnamese night with friends.  Mike and I couldn't help but note that Vietnam is like that: when things are down and feeling bleak, this beautiful country has a way of throwing something at you to remind you that everything is okay and that sometimes the most profound moments can be found in the simplest of places.

As I said before, I hope anyone curious about travelling to Vietnam does so.  The only disappointing part about this trip is that I have to leave.  Just as I received the initial push to come out here by my mom, I hope that you receive the same push- whether it's from a friend, a travel TV show, or even Mike's blog- and don't be afraid to act accordingly.  In the meantime, thanks to Mike for allowing me to add to his blog, keep reading and enjoying this blog, and happy travels!

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