An afternoon’s walk through history

Old Saigon <Saigon River hotels to Dong Khoi> – Part 2

I strolled the waterfront for bit, and it took me a good while to find a “safer” spot for me to cross the lane so I could view the hotels away from their curbside location. When I crossed back, I ran like hell before a motorbike, car, taxi, truck, etc. could mow me over.IMG_1638

Taking in the large statue of Tran Hung Dao near the roundabout, I continued back toward Dong Khoi Street via a side street. I came upon a place to get a foot massage – my feet were aching after all the walking I’d done that week! – and stopped in. They asked if I wanted cucumber on my face, and I figured it would be quite refreshing to have some cucumber on my eyes during the massage.

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Well, it wasn’t just two cucumber rounds placed on my eyes. My face was literally soaked in cool, damp cucumber slices. I felt a bit like a serial killer ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or, in one friend’s post, I was a bit like an Easter Island rock head.

It was relaxing, however, even if the slight woman had me bent backwards over her knees to pop my spinal cord. I’ve never heard anything pop like that before, and it was rather … disgusting? It took me a bit to get going after that.

I walked up Dong Khoi again, this time locating another historical hotel – the Caravelle Hotel. It’s a bit Art Deco in its appearance, but I couldn’t miss its presence in the skyline. It used to have all sorts of foreign correspondence offices and embassies there during the war. According to Lonely Planet, a bomb went off there during the way, but they only just patched up some broken windows until well after it finished. You know, just in case another bomb went off. Seemed pretty smart.

I made a side stop past the Sheraton Hotel and visited the grounds of the sherbet-green (and difficult to miss) Saigon Central Mosque. I only went inside the gates to look around, but the color choices of the worship houses in HCMC were too exotic, beautiful, and stop-you-in-your-tracks to miss. As I found out the next day, there are even Pepto-bismol pink churches!

One last war stop was 22 Ly Tu Trong. It’s a bit spotty to locate it, since the address itself wasn’t up. I found 24 and 26, then worked backwards. 18 appeared. Thus, 22 was somewhere in there. It’s a pretty nondescript building, kind of old and unassuming if one were just to walk by, but the address itself is pretty famous. I had thought the photo of the evacuating helicopter was taking from the roof of Independence Palace. Not so. The helicopter took off from 22 Ly Tu Trong (formerly 22 Gia Long Street), and that frantic moment was forever immortalized in that wartime photograph.

 

As it was getting later – and I was getting hungrier, I decided to pop over to Hoa Tuc, a recommended restaurant for dinner. It’s set back from the main road (Hai Ba Trung) in a courtyard with a few other restaurants. I was lucky enough to be earlier than most for dinner, so I got a beautiful table just behind the hedges and in wafting distance of the large fan.

I started out with a cocktail made with banana liqueur and Saigon spring rolls. I was an immediate fan of both, even though I needed a tutorial on how to properly wrap up my spring roll with lettuce, basil, and mint leaves. My main was the lemongrass beef skewers, which also required a demonstration of how to eat. Otherwise, I would have simply sat there and eaten the beef off the skewer without knowing what all the green veg and little slivers of fruit were for.

After dinner, I started for my hotel, but as I walked back, I came upon Ikem, one of those sciencey-lab ice cream shops. I figured I had enough room for a scoop of ice cream, so I ordered the Mayan chocolate – chili and cinnamon with chocolate – and waited like a little kid for it to be done. The liquid nitrogen poured out of the large metal bowl like a Halloween fog machine. Viola! It was done in no time, and I had a delicious snack on my way to the hotel.

The final leg of the evening was walking up to this deserted bunch of drinking coconuts near Independence Palace. There was an older woman there earlier selling coconut waters, and they sure proved popular with the sweaty, strolling masses. The bundle of them huddled up on the concrete fencing just struck me as being quite lonesome, perhaps, despite their brightly-coloured straws. Or, perhaps, I was thinking of the woman, crouched low on the sidewalk, hawking the coconuts before ambling home, wherever in the city that might be.

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