When heading out into Saigon for a quick lunch, workday, or night out on the town, there are a few staples that you must bring with you.
Tissues. I prefer Pulppy brand of tissue pouches. There are many uses for these tissues. When eating hot soup, your nose inevitably runs, therefore you have to wipe or blow it several times throughout the meal. Napkins usually come in moist form and there is only one per a person delivered to a table. I like to use them after the meal to clean up my hands because keeping one on your lap leaves an unsightly wet spot. Tissue is also needed when going to the bathroom. Most Bathrooms at restaurants or bars don’t have much in the way of toilet paper. Sometimes a wet half roll is available for use, but when it comes to my unmentionables, I like to know the TP is clean, thus your tissue pack comes in handy!
A face mask. Face masks are for sale on every corner of the street, they come in every color of pattern you could possible want. Mine is pink, but plaid is big here as well as the surgical masks you may remember from the Bird Flu scare some years back. Your face mask is the only think protecting you from the fumes of traffic. Weather they actually work or not is still up for debate; however, you feel a bit healthier if you have one on.
Antacids. Gavin and I have an assortment of different antacids in my bag. These are necessary after a… uh-hum…interesting meal. We have a chalky, hardly palatable Vietnamese brand if the gastrointestinal burn is minimal, Tums for those dishes laden with spice, and Pepto-Bismol for those increasingly rarer times of dangerously tumultuous tummy. Epicurean Russian Roulette - you never know what meal is going to kill you…or at least leave you sitting on the toilet the next day.
A map (or at least clear directions to where you are headed). The streets here all have gone through many name changes and there are a lot of little alley ways. It is easy to get confused. And don’t trust Google Maps, ask someone for directions instead and have then spell out the names of the streets for you. Otherwise you’re lost and frustrated and American. We love the half dozen or so French streets that are still remaining. Pasteur is a lot easier name to remember than Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.
A written list of key Vietnamese phrases. It’s a different language, which means there is a 0% chance of me gaining mild fluency. It’s almost impossible to speak if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you have something important to say (e.g. I’m allergic to _____.) write it down and show it to someone.
My trusty menu. I took a menu from The Golden Flower, a Vietnamese restaurant in Reno, to help me out here. It has the Vietnamese transliteration for everything and is fairly comprehensive. It has come to our aid on a few occasions thus far.
Bug spray. Weather you put it on before you leave the house or bring some sort of ointment to soothe post-bite itches, you need something. We’ll go days without a bite, then get attacked at a certain place. It’s like death, you never know when or where it will happen, so be prepared.