Sunday, 04-01-2015 - Tuesday 13-01-2015
Days 137 — 146
Sometimes when you’re traveling, you just need to slow down.
We’d been on the go pretty steadily since we’d left Bali on November 14 (which was day 86, so 51 days prior), and we were getting a little burned out. So now that we were set up in a (mostly) quiet residential apartment, we sort of took it easy for the next ten days.
Our apartment was on the 18th floor of a 25-floor high-rise complex. There were a total of four buildings built around a central square which featured a fairly large swimming pool. The ground floor of all the buildings were dedicated to business and offered residents easy access to everything from restaurants and bars to grocery stores to beauty salons and even a kindergarten. Everything we needed was right there.
We cooked our own meals more than half the time during our 10-day stay here. Having a kitchen to cook in is a luxury for the world traveler—even if the stove was a two-burner propane number that sat outside on the balcony. And there was no light on the balcony, so we often cooked dinner in the dark with flashlights. It was an adventure.
One night Samantha made macaroni & cheese, and on another night she and Jackie cooked a meal that they’d learned how to make in their cooking class. They were unhappy with how it turned out, but Frankie and I thought it was delicious.
Other than that, we just sort of fell into a routine for 10 days.
We went swimming in the complex’s pool a few times. It cost $1.00 per person. We gave a man sitting at a desk our money, and he gave us some tickets. Then we walked into the pool area and gave one of the lifeguards the tickets we were just given. It was sort of a funny system. The water in the pool was really cold, too, but the girls had a good time in the water.
On two occasions we went to the movies at the Crescent Mall to see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies and Paddington. While we were there, we also tried Lotteria (Lotte’s fast food outlet) for the first (and probably last) time.
The mall has a frozen yogurt place called Frugos Yogurt on the first floor. It’s slogan is “Self-serve American Frozen Yogurt” and it has a very American vibe (and prices). We tried it out and, except for fewer available toppings, we could have been sitting anywhere in California. It felt a little strange.
Another odd thing is that Vietnam has banned Facebook, but many companies advertise a Facebook presence (Frugos being one of them—frugosvietnam). I found this a little peculiar.
Our host at the apartment recommended a few restaurants to us. One was a fried chicken place down a road. He couldn't remember the name of it but told us we couldn’t miss it if we just walked down there and looked for it. And for the most part, he was right. We strolled up as the chicken was cooking away in a giant wok filled with oil, right out front.
The food was pretty good, and really cheap, but there was no English at all, so I still get the feeling we missed out on some of the more interesting dishes they served. But maybe that’s a good thing. On the way out of the restaurant, we noticed that there was no more chicken being fried and the front of the restaurant looked pretty much like any other along the street. We were pretty lucky we walked by when we did or we would have missed it.
On our way to and from the restaurant, a trickle of a stream ran alongside the road; it was a thick silvery gray in color and clogged with trash. It looked pretty disgusting.
We decided to splurge a little and went out to a place called Thàp Ngá (which means Ivory Tower or something) one evening. This was another restaurant that our host recommended but didn’t have the name for. He told us to just get in a taxi and tell the driver to go “that way,” and you’ll find it. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen, so I dug deep into the Internet and managed to find what I thought was the place. It was.
So we grabbed a taxi (there's a convenient taxi stand right at the apartment complex), and headed off. We showed our taxi driver the address in Vietnamese, but it was still a bit challenging for him to find the place (taxis in Southeast Asia never seem to know how to get where you ask them to go), even with the added assistance of passing a giant road-side sign saying "Thàp Ngá 700 meters" and me directing him via Google Maps. But we got there just fine. There was a long line of taxis picking up patrons from the place, so I wonder if our cab driver was being straight with us about his confusion. It seemed to be a pretty common destination.
Thàp Ngá is a huge restaurant—so huge they drive you to your table in a golf cart, and the staff wears roller skates and rides bicycles to get around quickly. There was no English spoken here (which would have been a nice thing to have known going in), and because of that, ordering was somewhat awkward. I asked the waiter to give us a minute to look over (and decipher) the menu, but he wasn’t having it—he stood there while we tried to figure out what we wanted.
Despite not quite knowing what to order, we ended up with some spring rolls, some pork dumplings, and four medium-sized lobsters. I'm not quite sure that was the meal we wanted to order, but it's what we got, and it was quite delicious.
One of the draws to this place is that you can fish in the many ponds while you wait for your food. The girls really wanted to fish, but there weren’t many people doing it, and we didn't know how to ask for fishing poles of what sort of expectations there were if you caught something, so we, unfortunately, let this activity go.
On three occasions during our stay at the apartment, people stopped by to collect money for bills. Apparently bills aren’t sent through the mail in Vietnam. One was the cable bill, one was the electrical bill, and I have no idea what the third was for. I guess this come with the territory when you’re staying in an apartment, but it made for some awkward moments to open the door and have someone demand payment from you in a language you didn’t understand.
During these ten days, we went back to District 1 twice, both times stopping off at the Blue River Hotel. The first time was to pick up the the replacement credit card that Chase Sapphire sent via UPS International. The second time was on our last day in Vietnam to hopefully pick up the replacement debit card that Charles Schwab sent via first class international mail, (yeah, don't get me started on that), but it hadn't arrived (it arrived the day after we left Vietnam).
Each time we were there, we ate at Pho Quynh and had the notion we wanted to hang out in District 1 and do something, but there was nothing really thrilling we wanted to do. I guess we could have gone to the Bitexco Tower Skydeck and had a look around at Ho Chi Minh City (and an expensive drink), but it wasn’t really all that appealing after living on the 18th floor for a few days.
The Airbnb listing for our apartment mentioned stellar sunsets, and during our 10 days there, we did see some really great sunsets high over Ho Chi Minh City.