Getting To Know The Real Vietnam

Tonight I met one of the nicest people in the world.  It’s not easy getting to know anyone when you don’t share the same language, but a good friend of mine from Canada put me in contact with her cousin here in HCMC.  Khoa (Kwah) is a newlywed and new father and runs 3 very successful companies, and he still took the time to spend the evening with me.

He picked me up at the hotel on his MOTORCYCLE! And I am still on a high, after we weaved through the streets, in the middle of all that crazy traffic I’ve been talking about – but the strange thing is I felt very safe.  I didn’t hang on for dear life, in fact I barely hung on at all, just like the locals.  He let me sample some of the flavours of Southern Vietnam. We had Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese crispy crepes with shrimp, vegetables and noodles) and fresh spring rolls wrapped in mint and lettuce leaves.  Delicious!  We then rode a few miles to a downtown coffee place with a hopping bar upstairs.  Again I broke my anti-caffeine resolve and had a Vietnamese ice coffee that was as thick as syrup.  I had to ask for a second pitcher of sweetened condensed milk so I could drink it (I’m still buzzing). It was a very cool place and obviously a popular hangout for young trendsetters.  The women were all beautiful and dressed to the nines – most looked like models.   I wanted to treat him to dinner and coffee later for taking me around but he wouldn’t let me pay a single dong (mind out of the gutter – that’s the currency!).  

But the highlight of the whole evening was our conversation.  Khoa grew up poor in rural Mekong but put himself through university and has worked his way up as a successful entrepreneur, and in this country that is one of Asia’s rising economic stars, that should secure him a great future – and he’s only 30!   We talked about the war, about Vietnamese politics (I thought that subject would be off limits – but it seems times have changed), about his and Ngan’s (my friend) family.  I learned more about Vietnam in those 3 hours than I have in my whole life.   Khoa even invited me to attend one of the 6 weddings he has, this week alone. Couples prefer to tie-the-knot just before Tet (Vietnamese New Year – this year Feb. 4). But I doubt my schedule will allow it since I’ve already booked up the rest of the week.

While I say Khoa is one of the nicest people I’ve met,  I have to qualify that by saying everyone (even that ripoff Cyclo driver) that I have encountered in Vietnam has been warm and welcoming – another reason everyone should visit this country.  Wherever you travel you can visit all the monuments and attractions and take in all the festivals you like, but it’s the one on one encounters you have with people that create the most lasting memories.

PS – sorry no photos – I left my camera (and my glasses!) in my room, but I thought it was a story I should share.

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3 Responses to “Getting To Know The Real Vietnam”

  1. Joe Sawan
    January 14 at 1:48 am #

    Very cool, I am jealous, your writing makes me want to go there and Vietnam has never been in my must see places

    • Darren
      January 14 at 7:09 pm #

      Do it Joe! You won’t regret it. It’s an amazing place. I always thought NYC was fast and crazy… Saigon is about double that!. Just make sure you keep your wits about you.

  2. Lindsay
    January 15 at 4:52 pm #

    OMG your meal sounds fantastic. What a wonderful story. See – you are my hero and inspiration, D!! LOVE YOU! xo

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