HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Boys are Back in Town

Contrary to the title of this post, my three friends (Joe, Mike, and Alex) who had been visiting for the past nine days are now gone. They flew back to the U.S. at dawn today, so it's back to the usual grind tomorrow. It was great having some pals from college in, and we had a great time together. It didn't take long to get back into the old rhythm of busting each other's balls, quoting Will Ferrell movies, creating elaborately dirty jokes, and debating which hot celebrities we would rather sleep with (example: Natalie Portman or Kiera Knightley?). I haven't made many good guy friends out here, so I appreciated the visit a bit more than they even realized. Their first two days in Saigon weren't exactly conventional.

I had to work for the first half of their first full day here, so Anthony acted as tour guide to kick things off. Once I finished up I texted him to see where they were, and his response was, "At Vincom Center. Arcade. We're drunk." They had gone to the German brewery by the Opera House and somehow ended up at the arcade (which is enormous), so I headed that way. We played a few shoot 'em ups and had an absolutely brutal round of bumper cars that left me with a gruesome golf-ball sized welt on my right shin, a wound that still hasn't healed. The attendants could only watch in horror as we lined up for ruinous head-on collisions (we were the only people playing) and nearly killed each other while laughing.

We then headed to the bowling alley at Diamond Plaza, where multiple rounds of beer ensured that we scared away every other customer. We put money down and I handily won both games, probably because I hadn't started drinking until several hours after everyone else. We grabbed dinner in the neighborhood I used to live in and then went to sleep early.

The following day, Saturday, I took charge because Anthony had to teach from morning till evening. We had a late breakfast of pho in the Pham and then walked to Ben Thanh Market while Joe, Mike and Alex stared in awe at the traffic. Everyone should visit a market when they visit Vietnam, and unfortunately Ben Thanh is the most convenient to get to. I hadn't been in a long time, and I didn't realize how insanely pushy the hawkers there have become. As we walked through narrow canyons of rip-off shirts and pants the women selling them constantly grabbed and generally molested us as they tried to draw our attention to their wares while calling out, "You! What you looking for?", "You buy t-shirt for you?", and "Hey, handsome man, what you want?" This type of behavior certainly did not make us want to buy anything, so we got out of there as fast as possible. That place is a damn nightmare.

After escaping the clutches of the market women we walked to La Fenetre de Soleil, one of my favorite cafes, where we relaxed for a while with smoothies and a shisha pipe. We began discussing what to do next, and I mooted the idea of going for a massage. I've never gotten a massage here because so many parlors are there only to provide the stereotypical 'happy ending', which I find pretty creepy, but I figured we could probably find a legitimate place.

Some wandering led us to the Golden Lotus spa, which looked reasonable and (probably) good. We had no idea what to expect though, and we were giggling like idiots as we tried to guess what would happen to us. In the end it turned out that we had made a great choice: the service was professional and everything was completely clean, so I will certainly be going back for more in the future.

After pampering ourselves we dropped by a grimy bia hoi place where plastic 1-liter bottles of fresh beer were served for 10,000 dong and the men at the table next us picked their toenails. It was soon mid-afternoon and rain was threatening so we returned to the apartment, where Joe, Mike and Alex promptly fell asleep. Suffice to say that they were having trouble adjusting to the time difference. A few hours later Anthony came home and we all ordered in Indian for dinner, which caused some serious digestive problems for some of us. We were pretty proud of the initial Saigon experience we had given the guys. The following morning we would take a bus to Da Lat, where the videos from my previous post took place. More to come soon.

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