When we left Cheo Leo, we took a little detour before leaving district 3. Our guides, Nana and Huy from Street Food Man took us to one of the oldest apartment complexes in Saigon. There are plenty of modern housing developments, and by no means does the Whole city look like this; but, it was important to see, and it gave us context and some background for the origins of street food.
As you look at these pictures, you may well see a rundown densely populated tenement in disrepair. While that’s true on the surface, there is so much more below the surface.
We saw so many people living very close to each other, motorbikes everywhere, and families preparing their meal out on the street. Many people were preparing meals to sell to others on the street. There were fruit vendors, vegetable vendors, meat vendors, it was a bustling vibrant neighborhood and I felt like I was sitting on the surface of a beating heart!
Michael and I were mesmerized by the thrum of this neighborhood. The building had a common area balcony on each level and Nana took us up to get a better view.
There is a quality to this community, that is disappearing today in the US. As we become more affluent we put more space between ourselves and our neighbors. There’s obvious benefits to this; but these people had no space whatsoever, and the result was that parents watched out for each other’s children, everyone knew everyone’s business to be sure, and it appeared to be a safe place.
We lingered for a good 20 to 30 minutes walking around taking pictures–the spot blew me away! I guess what impressed me, was that most Americans would look at these pictures and see squalid misery. But to be there, I saw a thriving people making the best out of the life they had–and a good one at that! They seemed generally happy! I’ve known for a long time that money is not the key to happiness but this was a really good illustration! It is a moment I will never forget.
To really get a feel for the noise and the hum of this place, check out this video.
From there, we were off to neighboring district 10. This district is off the beaten path for most tourists, and our guides brought us to a magical section within the district called the Cambodian Market.
we walked through narrow streets and alleys each of them bustling with motorbikes, commerce and activity of all kinds! It appeared you could buy just about anything in this neighborhood clothing, food, and flowers everywhere!
We arrived in one small alley and found a vendor that sells coconut rice paper cakes. To look at them they look like a loaf of pita bread but they were thin and brittle and broke like a cracker. They came in different flavors, ginger, coconut, and others. It was really just a little snack, but a delicious one!
We met the owner of this small shop and tried samples, and then we were on our way. We continued to walk through the Cambodian market taking in the flower market with lotus flowers and orchids everywhere!
This was where everyone came to get flowers for any occasion. We saw a young man walking away with one bouquet for a date, and other people loading their motorbikes with flowers for what appeared to be a wedding. We even saw a group of somber young men carrying funeral arrangements out of one stall.
This section of Ho Chi Minh City would turn out to be one of the most exciting we visited the entire time!
Next, stay tuned for our experience with “Vietnamese pizza” on stop #4!