The final part of what seems like one of my most arduous travelogues to date brings to a close three weeks of travel in Vietnam. I’m going to keep this one short, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to go through each and every activity in painstaking detail. In summary, here’s how the rest of my Vietnam trip panned out:
After landing in HCMC, I spent the weekend relaxing, doing some sightseeing and going up to the Bitexco Tower for the Heineken Experience. I found a few amazing coffee shops, got a haircut, did some shopping, went to Ben Thanh Market, ate tons of street food and shot a video for a client at their factory.
After five days in Saigon I flew to the Phu Quoc Islands for two days. I searched for the perfect beach but it wasn’t to be. I then made my way back to Da Nang via Saigon for another weekend in what has to be my favourite coastal Asian city. After that, it was back to Saigon for a final four days before heading back to Seoul.
Lots seen and done, but I don’t want to write about that. Rather, this piece is about finding a place that feels like home, replete with all the vagaries, frustrations and madness that reminds you of everything you miss. Time and again, I’ve always said that South Korea, for all its convenience, is too sanitised, too mundane, simply too monotonous for me to ever consider staying there long term. Hanoi, while charming, did not endear itself to me. It reminded me of Mumbai – the good and the bad – and while it had an undeniable energy, seemed a bit antiquated compared to many of the other Asian cities I’d visited. Saigon on the other hand, well Saigon felt far more futuristic.
Allow me to recount one particular instance that will stick with me for a while yet. On getting my milk coffee at the local, I began conversing with the barista about my plans for the day. As things go, he was a young chap looking to practice his English so I obliged. We got onto the topic of finding a barber (I told him I was going to cut my hair at one of the street barbers down the road) and he suggested I go to a barbershop in District 3. I was a little apprehensive but I took his advice and found the barbershop after a little bit of searching.
On entering, I instantly recognised the music they were playing – an alternative selection of music that not many people I know are aware of. They impressed me with a quick, precise and close cut. All this for the princely sum of VND110,000. Less than KRW10,000 for a quick, quality haircut and a shave. This was something I could only dream of in Korea. As trivial as that might sound, I felt resentful that I didn’t have access to this level of service in Korea. Of course, Korea is the epitome of efficient, but it just falls short in some areas.
Now, this isn’t to say that Saigon is without its own foibles. Having joined a few Facebook groups, I read far too many accounts of people who’ve encountered theft, far more than I would ever expect in Korea. Although slightly unnerving, I’ve come to terms that this is the sacrifice that comes with moving to a destination that is innately more interesting than my current situation. As the saying goes, “the grass might be greener on the other side, but that’s only because there’s more manure.”
I look forward to visiting Vietnam again but moreover, I look forward to making a life in Saigon – at least for a little while.