Our Southern sojourn started with landing at the vibrant Ho Chi Minh City, the very commercial heart of Vietnam. The city bustled with energy, colors and the Christmas spirit. The city, beyond a doubt, undresses its lanes of French colonial rule in its yellow and white colored houses, crusty baguettes and delectable desserts. The American Rule, however, unfortunately, only leaves its traces in the war museums!
We had pre-booked our evening for a unique dining in the dark experience at Noir. After a quick shower, we hit the streets, keeping our trust in the ever so faithful Google Map, soaking in the holy spirit!
The experience at Noir, was an eye-opener (pun intended)! It made me realize how much I took my senses for granted- to touch, to smell, to hear, to see. Sight, amidst all the other senses, creates expectations and to not know through sight was very unsettling in the beginning. The most fun part about the tasting was the menu, which was in braille, so it felt like I was on a treasure hunt. We had to surrender our phones or anything with the slightest hint of a refractive light, for obvious reasons. We were led into the room by our server who was, unsurprisingly, visually impaired. With our hands on her shoulder, we walked through a labyrinth of heavy curtains that rapidly turned my world into total darkness, building my trust in a total stranger. The rest of the evening was like working through five courses packed in a mystery box, wherein we succeeded to guess about 60% of the dishes that were served to us. I loved the concept and enjoyed every minute of the experience.
We patted our backs for our good sense, and headed towards the Notre Dame’ Cathedral, built on the same architectural foundations of the namesake Cathedral in Paris, but not being comparable in its grandeur. The streets were decorated for the festivities and were reverberating in the whirr of a million motorbikes, spraying snow on everybody. Soon enough, we were a part of the madness and had emptied a few snow spray bottles ourselves!
We finally escorted ourselves to Apocalypse Now, a local legend, which gets you a free drink with your entry. Set over two floors, it isn’t the most sophisticated of clubs, but it is lots of fun, with cheap drinks, western pop tunes and plenty of space for dancing or chilling out! They also had a robotic performance with guys dressed in light costumes (surely inspired by Amitabh jis stunt) overtaken eventually by cheerleaders, on popular demand, of course! ‘Let there be light’ is not always the moto after all ;)!! Open until 4 AM, Apocalypse is one of the last places to close your night in Saigon, and that is exactly what we did!
Our next day in Ho Chi Minh encompassed a visit to the Jade Emperor Pagoda which is one of the most revered temples in Ho Chi Minh. This Taoist temple is filled with hues of incense smoke hanging heavy in the air. Intricate architecture, carvings, statues of Gods and Goddesses and Chinese characters create an exotic and timeless ambiance.
Ben Thanh Market, identified by its clock tower, is a massive market in the heart of the city, it was slightly overwhelming where one can find hand-made handicrafts, ‘Good-morning Vietnam’ T-shirts, Dalat Coffee, silk fabric (although if you are visiting Hoi An, you should reserve your shopping for silk from there), souvenirs and some local cuisine stalls. This is your best place to bargain and buy gifts for your friends and family back home!
We decided to spend the night, local style! We ventured into Pham Ngu Lao, which is the backpackers district where Vietnamese life unfolds around you and people watching is super fun. The nightlife is great, where people sit on plastic stools on the street and drink cheap local beer.
We went to a roof top bar with great views of the city, made friends with a co-backpacker from France and hit the street starting with a karaoke bar, raising bets for a game of pool, chiming with the locals, bargaining with the street hawkers and ending up at the premier nightclub of Saigon named- Lush. The venue has kitted itself out in an industrial chic’ style, with a lower pad to shake some leg and an upstairs area with seating. The music was amazing here and I heavily recommend this place to anyone visiting the city.
The waterfront of the city towered by skyscrapers was gorgeous and a walk around the area gave us the contrast feel to the otherwise grounded feel of the city.
We got back to our pad in the wee hours to only get a couple to rest and then to let our wings carry us to our next destination- Hoi An.