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.
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.
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.