Week 1: Xin chào Việt Nam!

It’s not often that you get to say you had a perfect day, let alone a perfect week. However, every day that we’ve lived in Vietnam since our arrival has been nothing short of amazing.

The hustle and bustle of the city is astounding. Walking around the streets of Ho Chi Minh City is fascinating enough, let alone doing any activities. Not only that, but as it’s near Lunar New Year, the whole city is practically glowing with decorations and festivities. As we start work only next week, we’ve been able to walk around the city and really take it in. There’s an completely different pace of life here. An electric and purposeful busyness that we’ve never experienced in Aotearoa.

In a few short days we’ve been able to tick many attractions and bucket list items off the list – including daily Vietnamese coffees and Banh Mi, Bến Thành Markets, Reunification Palace, the Fine Arts Museum, a waterbus across Saigon River, hole-in-the-wall pho street food, multiple markets, the Pink Church, and we ended the week by going to the Cu Chi Tunnels. And conquered our first challenge: crossing the moped-filled streets in one piece.

There is nothing here that is even remotely like living in New Zealand, and walking around I was convinced my eyes would become permanently wide-eyed. One of the highlights was going to the Bến Thành Markets on both our first and third day in HCMC. Packed in what looks like an old train station are market stores for anything you can think of. Walking through, it is like a kaleidoscope exploded. The markets are filled with beautiful fabrics, punny t-shirts (my favourite being “Phở King” and “Saigonia”), knock-off luxury brands, dresses, souvenirs, food, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Everywhere you walked, you were hailed by determined shopkeepers rallying to give you a good price. In fact, one lady took one look at the purple skirt I was wearing and promptly sprinted off to yield three more than looked exactly like it. This was also our first experience, as a group, of trying to haggle – with some people having more success than others. It was also here that I had my first Bánh Mì in Vietnam, which set the bar very high on food for the rest of our trip.

On that note, the food here has been out of this world! We started with the legendary Bánh Mì, and it’s only been up from there. It’s fascinating that every local we meet keeps telling us that the food in Hanoi is better because what we’ve had here has already been more than delicious. From hole-in-the-wall phở places, frog dishes eaten on the side of the street (it tasted like chicken!), to restaurants specialising in Bánh xèo, to $2 noodles and spring rolls delivered on a moped – we’re eating like royalty.

One of the most fascinating things for me is learning about Vietnam’s history whilst being here, remnants of which are obvious as soon as you walk out the door, where modern buildings and shops sit intermittently with grand, French-style villas and buildings. A product of French colonisalism. While we’re here, we get the opportunity to hear from locals and guides alike about their history and what it means to them. And thus, reflect on both its impact on the Vietnam we see today, and critically analyse how we may have learnt about the very same events. My experience in Cu Chi especially was fascinating and emotional as we walked around on our tour, heard about the history, and really sat with it. The history, the reasons, and the ingenuity really blew me away.

I’ve also been taken away by the diversity of the city. There are 24 districts in Vietnam, and although we’ve only visited a handful, each has a unique and distinct character. From the bustling business hub to walking along the Saigon river, from shopping districts to winding motorways. I’ve never experienced this scale of a city, and it’s only made me more excited for what work-life will be like. As I write this, I’m incredibly tired. But the city is not. It’s late at night, but I can hear clubs pumping, sirens blazing, and a city alive with energy. It’s incredible how much the city changes at night into a totally different, fluorescent atmosphere.

Anyways, I cannot wait for what more this city has in store for me. I really cannot believe that living in HCMC is my life right now, and I will endeavour to make the absolute most of it.

Cám ơn, Viv

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