– by ChiChai@Empire –
Eating what my parents and those before them ate, learning the dances of my ancestors, feeling traditional wood carvings and woven tapestries, letting the breeze and sun-rays from different provinces stroke my face, speaking a language whose history extends further than my colonial history– all of the above shaped me into the person I am today. I was excited for Chris@Empire to experience the same but with his own motherland: Vietnam.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Philippines several times throughout my life. Each time, I learned something new about my family, my culture, and the country itself. Chris, on the other hand, has never stepped out of North America prior to this trip (unless you count Hawaii.) I was excited for him to indulge in his motherland like I have. I wanted to see him strengthen his connection to his roots. I knew he was eager to.
This is why we made our way to Vietnam after a week in the Philippines. And, to commemorate Chris’ first steps onto his motherland, Vietnam was our longest visit. Chris and I travelled from south to north in a ten-day span(aka expect hella Vietnam blog posts.)
Our first stop was Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City.
From second-cousins to great aunts– we spent most of our time in Saigon visiting family that Chris didn’t know he had. Visiting them included plenty of stories about Chris’ dad and grandfather. We even stayed with Chris’ great aunt who walked his dad to grade school!
Chris and I learned that although his family fled to Saigon during the war, they continued to cook North Vietnam specialties today. They wanted to make sure that we had a home-cooked meal with traces of their family history. And, honestly, this was my favorite meal out of our ten days in Vietnam. I’m still dreaming about these green onion wrapped goodies!
Along with meeting Chris’ relatives, we also made time for some touristy activities in Saigon. The first was our tour down Mekong, the world’s twelfth longest river.
Mekong is so long, it goes through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Being a provider of life and biodiversity, 70 million people from all six countries depend on the Mekong for farming and fishing.
Read more about Mekong, its importance, and its challenges against climate change here.
Our tour included a detour on a rowboat down a canal. My favorite part about the canal ride was how the trees tunneled over its visitors, as if to embrace us as we passed through.
While making our way down Mekong, we also made stops to different islands in which we encountered various animals…
… One of the animals being a boa constrictor who seemed to really like Christopher.
We also got to see one of the island’s local markets
and eat the island’s fruits. Look how colorful they are!
To cap off our Saigon touristy activities, Chris’ aunt and uncle took us out on motorcycles. *not pictured: my internal screaming*
Out of all the travel tips Chris and I received for Vietnam, I can’t believe no one warned us about how scary it is to cross the street. Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like to cross the street in Vietnam:
More people drive motorcycles than cars in Vietnam; In Saigon alone, 7.4 million motorcycles were registered last year! Despite how scared I was to be on one of the millions of bikes, I was happy we got to experience it. As Chris’ aunt put it, you can’t truly see Saigon unless you’ve weaved through it on a motorcycle.
His aunt and uncle drove us to the “best pho in Saigon.” I’m sure there are other places that may claim the title but this restaurant has my vote. The flavors, its warmth, its everything!– this pho had the perfect amount of cozy nourishment you seek when eating pho.
*drool* Lemme give you a close up of it righ quick:
They also took us out shopping at Saigon’s night market.
Note to future visitors: be brave and prepared to haggle! A dress I bought was originally priced at $30 but Chris’ aunt haggled it down to $7.
Between trying different local and home-made dishes to riding a boat down Mekong, my favorite part of Saigon was seeing how happy Christopher was to see, hear, and feel his homeland for the first time. And this was only the beginning.
As we checked off visiting his dad’s hometown, up next on our itinerary was his mom’s: the beautiful Da Nang.