- We arrived in Siagon, Vietnam (or Ho Chi Minh City depending on who your talking to) in a bit of a haze. Our preference was to fly in during daylight hours so we could get a lay of the land but the cheapest flight we could find was a red eye. So, when we arrived we hailed a Vista Sun taxi (recommended for foreign travelers as they have standard meters and offer honest taxi fares) and went straight to our guest house (aka hotel). We organized a hotel ahead of time but when we arrived we found our reservation wasn’t on record and we had to renegotiate. Most hotels in this part of the world are set up for two guests, with either one queen or two twins per room. Some hotels have a triple, which includes one queen and one twin per room. If the room is big enough you can request an extra twin bed for a small fee. The hotel we were at only had doubles so we had to pay extra for two rooms instead of one, costing $80 total. It was way above our price range but we were to tired to figure something else out so we booked one night and hoped to find more affordable accommodations the next morning.
The next day, we stumbled our way through the language barrier and ordered a Vietnamese breakfast and Vietnamese ice coffee, which was the only bonus to our expensive nights sleep. The bright flavors tantalized our taste buds and lifted our spirits. And, after our first bite we knew everything was going to work out fine. After breakfast our new friend, Joe, met us on his moped and hailed a taxi for us.
We met Joe via a connection on facebook and had corresponded with him prior to our arrival about visiting his country and asked if he would be open to showing us some of his favorite things about life in Siagon. And so, he became our unofficial tour guide but mostly he became our friend.
He lead the taxi to a different part of town more centrally located to the shops and restaurants. He helped us negotiate a triple room with an extra bed at the Dragon Palace hotel at $40 (plus breakfast) a night. We booked two nights and once we were settled in we met Joe in the lobby.
First thing we noticed when we walked out of the hotel was the fantastic amount of mopeds. They were everywhere! They seemed to be driving in a chaotic mess but after adjusting our eyes we found a flow to their road rules. Crossing the street was intense and our first few times we sought a local to follow close behind as we crossed. After a while, we adjusted to the rhythm and our confidence rose a bit.
Once we got our bearings, Joe asked us what we were interested in seeing. We told him that tasting the local fare was top priority and he began to organize a food tasting extravaganza!
We tasted traditional Vietnamese ice coffee, Pho’ (pronounced Pha? like a question), mango smoothies, more coffee, and for dinner he brought his family and they took us for Seafood and an after dinner coffee/tea. The tastes, the sites and the sounds were all surreal and fantastic! And, the conversations even more compelling. When you travel to new places it’s common to misunderstand customs or communication, so it was a real asset to be able to ask Joe and his wife questions and find understanding.
The next morning he met us again, breakfast in tow, this time a French baguette filled with pork and Vietnamese vegetables. We hoped in a taxi and went to the sky deck, the highest building in Siagon, to catch a view of the city. We ordered coffees and fresh juices and although it cost tourist prices (US prices) it was worth the view. We talked more about all of the mysteries and joy of global travel, specially our delight in meeting Joe and his family.
Around the many meals that we shared, we heard about Joe’s journey, his heart for family and community and his vision/desire to set up a transitional care home for cancer patients. To meet someone at the beginning of their dream is a privilege and an honor and his passion inspired us. More than the food or mopeds, figuring out the cheapest place to stay or seeing the city from the tallest building, it was Joes story that endeared us to Vietnam and we are forever thankful for his openness to share and care for us.
If you are ever heading to Vietnam and want to experience, life through local eyes, a vacation with a purpose so to speak, let us know, we’ll send you Joe’s way. Who knows, maybe your trip will be the encouragement and catalyst to help fund Joes vision to open this unique cancer patient facility.