Vietnam, the mystique Indo China, has a hypnotic lure for many New Zealanders. It is one of the fastest growing overseas holiday locations now with Air New Zealand flying direct to Ho Chi Minh City from June 2016. A bowl of beef pho breaming with fresh beansprouts, mint, basil and chilli is one of my all time favourites. You just can’t beat the cleaness of the flavours and the warmth that travels down your body. That is why I was excited to plan my 14-day journey through Vietnam early 2016. The 14 days took me from north to south, starting from Hanoi and finishing in Ho Chih Ming City.
Now for the 5 month immediately before my Vietnam trip, I was living back in Taiwan. It was a country known for its millions of scooters and motorbikes. I think Tom Cruise is still recovering from his shock during his visit in the early 2000s. Having said that, upon landing in Hanoi and having just checked into our hotel located in the old town, I was already overwhelmed by the maze-like narrow streets, the bumper to bumper traffic and the 100 people who are honking at the same time. I think it is the honking that got to me. Hardly anyone honks in Taipei. Despite the disturbances, the sun has set and it was time to seek out the perfect spot for dinner. To my family, the perfect spot for dinner means eating what the local people eats. Armed with all the gastro pills one can get from the Travel Doctor, we set out onto the streets. After walking around for 30 minutes with my 10-year-old son covering his ears most of the time, it seems to me that there were three category of restaurants – one for the locals, one for tourists looking for local food and one for tourists looking for love. Now for the tourists who are less adventurous or have less gastro pills than my family, they tend to opt for actual restaurants with ‘normal height’ chairs and a printed beer menu. At the same time, the local people, the real people, are ‘grounded’. My interpretation on this is that they are really close to the ground, one foot, to be precise.
Now I haven’t had much experience sitting on stools that low but I have had my fair share of squat toilets. I can say with authority that the demands on the body to carry out both manoeuvres are very similar and it gets easier with practice.
If I take away just one thing from that evening, it is the pronunciation of the delicious noodles, pho, which is not what I’ve always imagined it to be ‘F-O’, but ‘Fah’. Now that I have set the record straight, you might get a tickle like me when I saw the following printed on local t-shirts. Bon appetite!