Wednesday 11 July 2018

Benthanh Street Food Market.

Ben Thanh Street Food Market

Considering my last blog did not present Vietnamese food in the best light, I thought my second one should be of a more positive experience with Ho Chi Minh's cuisine. There is a lot of amazing food in Vietnam, but with a large group of people it is difficult to find a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh that everyone will enjoy, as they generally specialise in one particular type of food. Luckily, the Benthanh Street Food Market has an option for everyone, even those who come to Vietnam and insist on eating western food the whole time. 

Inside the Market

Benthanh Street Food Market is easily recognisable from its bright lights and chilled music in contrast to the Vietnamese road it is located on. There is plenty of seating downstairs at the front and back of the restaurant where you are surrounded with energy, excitement and an aroma of amazing foods. However, if you prefer a slightly calmer surrounding there is seating upstairs where you can watch over the craziness of the Market from a distance. But please do not come to Benthanh Street Food Market expecting a fine dining experience . The food is really good value for money, but it is a Vietnamese dining experience at heart. You share tables with strangers unless you are in a big enough group to take up a one and there is still no concept of personal space. Ironically, this is what actually makes Benthanh so much fun. It is lively and different from any eating experience I have ever encountered. The long park benches create a sociable atmosphere for eating or drinking. There is a huge variety of food stalls, so there are very few queues. The staff bring your food to the table when it is ready and its normally pretty fast. This is probably a less hazardous option then lots of hungry customers trying to balance their food through the mass of tables and stops the market getting to busy with people wondering around. 

Food getting prepared

Amazing food is not all that is to be found at the market, the drinks are really good as well. There are a variety of cocktail offers for those who are willing to spend a little bit more money, which I would highly recommend doing as there are some absolute gems. Standard priced beers and soft drinks are also available for those wanting to maintain a budget or if that just what you prefer. Benthanh Street Food Market is somewhere that is popular amongst a mixture of younger and older people, locals and tourist, which speaks for itself better than I could ever put into words. 

Friday 6 July 2018

My first and last food tour in Vietnam.

Moped Bike

After less than twenty-four hours in Vietnam I had an eye opening experience to the reality of living in Ho Chi Minh: a food tour. Although this may seem like a fun way to immerse yourself in the Vietnamese culture, do not be deceived. It was a shock to the system for a different way of living, which I had not had time to prepare myself for, after only being in the country for a short period of time. The tour started well, getting on a moped for the food tour created a feeling of excitement alongside a slight fear for my life. However I began to relax and really enjoy being a part of Ho Chi Minh’s constant rush hour. To be honest, speeding round on the mopeds was probably my favourite part of the food tour.  By the time we had visited a few restaurants I started to feel safer on the death trap moped than in some of the restaurants. 

Banh Xêo

The first restaurant we visited was luxurious compared to the to the others. It had nice food and was relatively clean compared to Vietnamese standards. The only downside was that the staff kept trying to touch the food on our plates. Although they were trying to be helpful by showing us the best way to eat it, once the food is on my plate I don't appreciate anyone trying to touch it with their hands. This can be put down to a difference in culture and is something that after spending a bit of time in Vietnam seems less significant. At the second restaurant, the fun began to decrease. We had high expectations for our Banh Xêo after being told it was the best in Ho Chi Minh but a certain experience at the restaurant led me to walk out without sampling one bite of food. A cockroach appeared on my arm,  leading me to scream in shock. Once it had been removed I ran out of the restaurant and refused to go back in to sample the food. A few of the others on the tour also did not feel comfortable eating in a restaurant infested in cockroaches so joined me outside. To somebody who is used to embracing cultures or travelling this may seem melodramatic. But, I was still extremely tired and jet lagged at this point and it was only the third Vietnamese restaurant I had ever been to. I am now used to seeing harmless cockroaches on Ho Chi Minh’s streets, but still would not eat in a restaurant which had them present, nor recommend doing so to anyone else.

Vietnamese Pudding

By this point I had decided that the bottled beer was the only safe thing to consume on this tour, which was not good for my bladder. After seeing the hygiene in the areas you were supposed to eat in the restaurants, the toilet seemed like another daunting experience. I was assured by our tour guide that the toilets at the next restaurant would be similar to a western standard so I foolishly believed him. I don’t know what western toilets he had previously experienced but the biggest rat I have ever seen ran out from behind the toilet. By this point I was past just screaming as the shock sent me into tears. I was genuinely overwhelmed by Vietnam at this point and could not see myself being able to adjust to coping with living here for a further eight weeks. I was not the only person feeling weary of Ho Chi Minh by this point, everyone was exhausted and eager to return to the comfort of our accommodation. This led to a rather gloomy experience at our penultimate restaurant with only 2 out of 6 people feeling brave enough to try the food. I was not one of these brave souls. We then happily escaped on the mopeds to the final restaurant which specialised in desserts. Due to the experience of the food point up till this point, I did not have high hopes. However, the dessert restaurant was  the best one of the whole tour and worth waiting for. I had a beautifully presented ice cream that  was really yummy but best of all the restaurant was cockroach free and the toilets were hygienic. 

To some people, this blog probably seems very over dramatic. But I had never experienced anything like this food tour before and as I have never been to Vietnam, I had no way of preparing myself. I was also extremely tired because of my flight which contributed largely to me finding the experience overwhelming. Despite my experience of a food tour not being the best, I would still recommend doing one, but perhaps not on your first day in Vietnam. If I had been given sometime to adjust to the culture and get some rest, I may not have found the experience so negative and overwhelming. Also, speeding around on the mopeds was great fun. 

Wednesday 4 July 2018

My run in with a Cow

Vietnam is a place of Intrigue and risk, a place where you are forced to acclimatize to the chaos.

An experience that I will never forget was during an 80km bike trip to an infamous land mark site near Hue or (Hoi An). Me and 3 of my friends decided to rent mopeds, thankfully they aren't as strict about having a government recognized license out here. With limited experience driving, we set out on a 80km journey across motorways etc. A common cliche  said in this life, is that its not about the destination but the journey and in this instance I would echo this statement. As the scenery that our eyes gazed upon was incredible. The beautiful rice paddies, with endless amounts of greenery a sight to behold. But when contrasted with the chaotic nature of the motorways for me it  best summed up Vietnam. The calm, disciplined, zen like nature of the farmers right next to the 24 string quartet symphony that was the motorway a perfect way to encapsulate Vietnam. To have the vibe of the old culture living side to side to this new more westernized version of Vietnam. Many question whether this culture change is ruining Vietnam for what it is, however I believe it is a natural state of progression and evolution. To survive, you must evolve and adapt, the same principle applies for us as humans and I believe this same principle applies for Countries especially Vietnam.

However, lets get back to the story at hand. So during this wonderful scenic journey, we  were driving down this road with my three friends Toby, Luke and Joe cruising ahead I was lagging behind them. In front of me I noticed a farmer was waiting for his cow to cross this road, with the cow on the other side taking its time. I had plenty of time to make this gap so I thought nothing of this. However, a car pulled up next to me and decided that his patience for the cow was limited, he sped up and overtook me startling the cow. As he overtook the cow ran across the road and met me head on, deciding that a mere collision wasn't enough, the cow picked up its head and headbutted me off my bike. Luckily for me the bike took the brunt of the force, however the outcome isn't a surprising one.

I was sprawled out on the floor, blood everywhere, it trickled down my arms, legs, knees all over the road. I lay there on the floor in silence, not realizing that my friends had stopped and saw everything unfold. They ran around me and for a couple seconds I lay there, then as those seconds passed we all burst out laughing. None of us could believe it, I had just been headbutted off my bike by a cow! Now many people always ask what did you do next? How long did it take for the ambulance to get there? Well, naturally after laughing I got up, dusted myself off accepted that there was going to be a lot of blood staining my clothing, saw that my wing mirrors were on the side of the road picked them up screwed them on started my bike up and we continued on with my journey. Because this is life, shit happens, now you can cry about it and ruin the rest of your time or you can accept it for being what it is and move on.  This is Vietnam, I wasn't going to allow a crash like that ruin my time here. An important life skill that has continued to serve me well throughout my life.

My first Experience in Vietnam

The first thing that hits you is the sweltering heat, the thick humid air. A wonderful yet challenging experience to deal with as the first instance coming off almost a days journey inhaling recycled air. However, as you get into that taxi and  I made my way towards my accommodation , I got my first sight of the beautiful chaos yet somehow artistic expression that is the collection of bikes that sweep through the street like a Tsunami. Barely a day ago I was in the United Kingdom, a place of rigid and organised nature a stark contrast to the symphony of chaos that is Vietnam.

 One of the most important commodities we take advantage of is our time and I believe that too much is wasted in the Classroom, or spent on something that we aren't interested in. Character and success is built on experience, failure, pain, struggle and independence. These are the qualities that you pick up during your time in Vietnam and working for ODM.

 Learning a new set of skills is one of the most humbling yet fulfilling experiences as it forces you into a position of submission. To accept that this is something that you aren't good at and that's OK because the earlier we can appreciate that we know nothing the more we go on to learn. One great example that illustrates these qualities that you pick up within the ODM group was my first introduction to blogging. As they don't hesitate to throw you into the deep end by assigning you tasks that may require skills that you haven't picked up e.g. using Word Press, SEO keywords etc. But as I said before its important for us to feel uncomfortable as its in these moments of un-comfort is when we truly get to know who we are as human beings. When we constantly succeed what do we learn? Nothing is the answer. Overall I look forward to this daunting challenge ahead of me and the pro-active nature of the work I've been set during my time at ODM.  Although provisionally it isn't what I expected, the hours are incredibly tough 9-6 seems very excessive, especially with limited breaks in this heat.  But overall, I look forward to the challenges that I will face both Independently in Vietnam and with ODM.

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