On Thursday afternoon, Gavin and I moseyed on down to District 5, known here as Cholon. Cholon is Saigon’s Chinatown. We went late in the afternoon by motorbike. The sky was darkening, with ominous clouds closing in on the city. We figured it would rain, but we knew we had a bit of exploring time before the storm opened. We dipped through the streets and alleys until we found a parking lot and set out. First we walked along Trieu Quang Phuc, a squat lane cramped with traditional Chinese herb shops.
These herbs are mostly used for medicinal purposes and have a very pungent scent. Walking into the stores left my throat tight and my sinuses aching from the muscular potpourri.
The shops were filled floor to ceiling with overflowing bags of different substances; including dried, crushed dandelion, bushels of unknown plant life, dark oval eggs, iridescent pearl powder, and dried seahorses.
From there we walked to a street side bakery where we snacked on a cream puff and a coconut pie.
These fueled us for the rest of our journey through the neighborhood.
We saw shops full of Chinese masks and capes, ornately decorated with bead work, sequins and feathers.
I wandered into one shop that actually made illuminated Buddha’s. The streets were thick with incense and the pagodas we passed were ornate, colorful, and meticulously crafted.
We finally made it back to our bike and rode towards My Huong, a Chinese restaurant. We shuffled through rush hour traffic until at last we came to our destination. Within seconds of handing off our bike to the attendant and sitting down at our street-side table, the rain began to pour. It is hard to describe what monsoon style rains are to the inexperienced. As someone who grew up immersed in a constant drizzle from the skies, I thought I knew what rain was. Think again friend.
Buckets of water were dropped from the heavens as the sky quickly turned to an angry, murky orange. Within minutes, the tent above us was sagging and we were herded to a different table as the wait staff deftly used a broom to push out the excess water. Gallons came down. The streets were flooded an inch or more within the first five minutes. With clockwork precision, every bike on the street orderly pulled to the side, dismounted, hastily pulled on their rain jackets, started back up and continued on their merry way.
While the rain beat down all around us, we proceeded to indulge in an amazing Chinese meal. We ordered Com Chien Tom (Shrimp Fried Rice) and Thit Cua Xao Cai Bo (Crab Stew over Spinach) along with several bottles of Saigon Beer.
The dishes were well-sized, tasty, and filling. The ice was cold and the beer had alcohol, so we hung around eating and talking, drinking and laughing, waiting for the rain to subside. And just like that, it did.