HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, September 30, 2011

Saigon Nights

8:30 in the evening. I park at one of the indistinguishable open-front bars that line the fetid canal running through District 3. Sit down at a table on the sidewalk. A waitress asks if I speak Vietnamese. "Not really." "Oh. I speak some English, so I will help you tonight." Ok, but I can order food in Vietnamese.

Get a plate of morning glory and fried chicken, while that night's beer girl pours a cold Bierre Larue for me. A friend sits down.

Traffic is roaring by on the road just a few feet from where we're sitting. We shout to make ourselves heard. A motorbike with a speaker system strapped to the seat pulls up. A ladyboy holding a wireless microphone hops off and begins singing karaoke while walking from table to table, trying to sell pieces of coconut candy.

A group of young teenagers - boys and girls - are drinking and yelling at the table behind us. Old, wrinkled women constantly approach us, sticking lottery tickets, hard-boiled quail eggs, and bags of peanuts in our faces: "Khong, cam on."

I motion to a waiter for two more beers. He brings the bill instead. No, we don't want to pay, we want to keep drinking. Fresh beers arrive.

The traffic is starting to thin out, but there is still the occasional rumbling truck full of gravel or concrete, blaring its horn all the way. On the other side of the canal, young men are racing their motorbikes down the newly paved road along the waterway. No helmets, no headlights.

More people join us. More beers arrive. I use the bathroom - it is unspeakable. A refreshing breeze blows down the sidewalk. We can now talk at a reasonable volume; only pausing when the racers roar by.

Three hours in. Another group of friends is at a similar bar down the road. Just past the train tracks. We pay and drive less than a mile before pitching up at another plastic-chairs-and-stainless-steel-tables joint. Plates of peanuts are delivered as we attempt to throw them into each other's beers. Another karaoke moto pulls up: this guy offers the mic to some of us. The crowd ignores our entreaties for them to get up and dance. 2 o'clock rolls around. Over five hours next to this stinking canal. Time to go home. Just another night in Saigon.

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