by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Monday, April 15, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
It is shortly before 4 pm in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, by the time we have received our book of scavenges from the Global Scavenger Hunt ringmaster (as he likes to be called), Bill Chalmers, who has ranked Vietnam a “Par 3” in difficulty (on a scale of 1-6), strategized what scavenges we will undertake, and head out of the Manchester Hotel, a five-star historic property, toward Ben Thank Market, one of the scavenges on the list.
Built in 1870 by the French who colonized Vietnam for 100 years, it is where then and now, you can find locals and tourists alike, with row after row after row chock-a-block full of almost everything imaginable. (be prepared to bargain aggressively; the shopkeepers are even more aggressive). I come away with a few things I can’t bear to pass up, when Margo realizes a second scavenge we can accomplish: tasting three separate fruits (there is heavy emphasis on “experience” scavenges that involve food, and Vietnam, Bill says, is one of the great food places in the world).
We find a fruit stand and sure enough, there are fruits I have never seen before, including one, called dragon fruit, which looks like it was devined by JK Rowling for Harry Potter; the others we sample: rambutan, a mangosteen, a longan. We are standing around these ladies, asking them to cut open the various fruits so we can sample them to complete the scavenge (photos!).
We ask locals for directions to our next stop: the Water Puppet Show of Vietnam at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater, getting lost along the way and simply amazed at the rush and crush of mopeds (mainly) and cars, and the range of what people carry on them without a second thought. Also amazed we are able to function having departed Vancouver for Vietnam at 2 am for a 14-hour flight to Taipei, followed by an hour lag time before a 3-hour connection to Saigon. But we forge on (the secret to avoiding being taken down by jet lag is to stay up until bedtime). This is also on the scavenger list.
The performance proves fairly amazing – the puppets actually emerge out of water; water is their platform. There is musical accompaniment on traditional instruments and the musicians also become the characters and narrators and sing. This is quite an outstanding cultural performance – the artistry and imaginativeness of the puppets (who swim, fish, race boats, dance, catch frogs anddo al sorts of things,is amazing. These seem to be folk characters, and the music is traditional. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand Vietnamese. (www.goldendragonwaterpuppet.com).
From there, we hit another scavenge, going to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitesco Financial Tower, which affords beautiful scenes of Saigon, which you appreciate as a very modern city. Many of the buildings below are decorated in colored lights.
Back at the Hotel Majestic, we go up to the 8th floor M Club, a rooftop bar, where there is a band playing. The open-air views of the Saigon River and the skyline are just magnificent. Margo orders a “Majestic 1925” which is Bourbon, infused orange, sweet vermouth, Campari, orange bitte, orange zest, and smoked – the whole process done on a table brought to us, as a crowd gathers to watch the mixocologist light a torch to generate the smoke. Quite a scene.
We will continue doing scavenges tomorrow in Ho Chi Minh City, before heading out to who-knows-where-in-the-world to continue our 23-day Global Scavenger Hunt. The grand prize is bragging rights as World’s Best Traveler (and a free trip next year to defend the title).