Saigon

I whizzed through the streets on the back of an uber—not a car, but a scooter. The speed created a reprieve from the oppressive heat as the wind cooled my skin, and I couldn’t help but close my eyes as the driver wove in and out of the traffic. For some, it might be a terrifying ride that promised death at every intersection. For me, it was meditative, the craziness somehow relaxing—it was like a dance. We swayed around the corners, waltzed elegantly through impossibly small spaces. Every ride was a feast for the senses, the smells from street markets and food stalls wafting through the air, the sounds of the city roaring in my ears, my eyes constantly darting around trying to take it all in.

Saigon left me craving more. It’s one of those captivating cities that you can barely scratch the surface of in a few days time. Its sprawling districts and tangles of countless alleyways promised me that I had only gotten a taste. What I did see, I was enchanted by—a fast paced city defined by both old and new—hectic street markets that have existed for centuries contrasted with trendy local boutiques and stores like Zara and Chanel. Cheap and delicious street food next to world-class restaurants serving food from every corner of the globe. People in traditional garb with their non las walking next to those wearing the latest fashions.

I spent a lot of my time in Saigon floating between its countless trendy cafes, the scene so spectacular it put DC to shame. There are cafes on rooftops and cafes immersed in secret gardens. Cafes with balconies and cafes hidden in old seemingly run-down buildings. As much as it’s necessary to brave the hectic streets to get a feel for a place, it’s oh so relaxing to people watch from the safety of a balcony or window seat. One of my favorite finds was this old apartment building (42 Nguyen Hue), which is overflowing with hip cafes, tantalizing dessert shops, cool restaurants, and chic boutiques. I have to admit, I didn’t attempt the world-renowned street food in Saigon because it is impossibly meaty. Instead, I took advantage of the city’s modern food scene, which offers a whole host of foods more friendly to my animal-loving heart.

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One day, for a reprieve from the city’s hectic heartbeat, I took a tour down to the Mekong delta, which is known as the rice bowl of the country. Think Venice, but infinitely better—greener, less touristy, and with far more character. Surrounding the river are those who have made a life on the water, who use boats as their means of transportation and sometimes even home, who set up their markets on the water. With boats brimming with pineapples, jackfruit, dragonfruit, passionfruit, and a whole host of treasures unfamiliar to me, we made various stops both on the water and on the banks of the river, sampling different specialities and learning as we went. The Mekong is stunning-its slow pace, vast sky, and fresh air a welcome alternative to Saigon. They are both enchanting in their own ways, and I have to say, a stellar introduction to this incredible country. Pls don’t laugh too hard at this picture.

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