Day 14: NO MONEY IN $AIGON
🤬 Broke, tired, and stressed out in the city
Even closer to us than the four-story restaurant and grocery store is a much smaller vegan place, tucked away in an alley right behind our hotel. Despite its size and location, Phuc Quang Chay is highly rated on Happy Cow. I also assumed that the food here would be on the bland side of things, in part due to its adjacency to a Buddhist temple. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I order their Bún bò Huế, a traditionally beef noodle soup. Growing up, given its murky broth and strong aroma and use of pig blood, I was not a fan. Now, as an adult and a vegan, the thought of a stew made of animal parts makes my own curdle. I decided to order its vegan alternative anyway, and the soup did not disappoint. If there was ever an example of umami, this would be the perfect embodiment of it.
I relished the broth, but moved on to our appetizers (crispy fried tofu and mushrooms) and also ate a bit of bæ’s beef noodle dish. The sizzling of the mock beef and onions with vermicelli noodle was pure heaven on Earth.
Despite the sheer amount of food we ate for breakfast, it only amounted to about seven dollars. This is really quite amazing.
My parents swing by to pick us up to Landmark 81, a tall skyscraper. They go to eat pho while we take in the sights on a cafe on the 75th floor. I absolutely love their decor: steely grey concrete walls with modern wooden aesthetics and clay furnishings and tropical plants. Their aesthetic totally speaks to me. What doesn’t speak to me is their unnecessarily loud Christmas music blaring throughout the cafe. Loud music typically doesn’t bother me, but there’s something about disrupting the vibe of a seemingly serene space — with tall ceiling and tons of natural lighting — that is a complete turn-off. We politely ask a waitress if the music could be turned down (she does), only to have another waitress turn it back up (we ask nicely again).
I get a cup of iced matcha latte with almond milk, which is well-presented with its lemongrass straw and pandan leaf. The drink is fine (I forgo the sugar syrup), but the views and interior design more than make up for it. 170,000 VND
After lounging about for a bit at the hotel, we go to Veggie Saigon, which is only one kilometer away but feels like forever. Crossing a street feels absolutely insane and stressful — and there were many streets, both big and small, before we could actually get to the restaurant. It was our first time walking to a destination since our first night, and we were doing it alone. I felt myself tense up, holding my breath and anticipating the anxiety, every time we approached an intersection. Even larger corridors with traffic signals were horrible because there was no indication of how much time you have left to cross the street. At one point, we immediately get the red signal light and scooters start edging toward us and I panic and wanted to run as fast as possible. As counterintuitive as this is, the key is to walk slowly and predictably so the scooters can go around you. I know, W-T-F.
Once we get there, I feel relieved but still anxious at the thought of having to make that same trip, which is less than 15 minutes, back to the hotel when the sun has set.
Veggie Saigon occupies the second floor, and I get bánh hỏi (rice vermicelli wraps) because it’s one of my favorite foods growing up. The dish falls short of my expectation: while there is fried tofu, it is not very tasty, and instead of vegan fish sauce for dipping, I am given soy sauce, with sparse lettuce and mint leaves. The fried banana cakes are enjoyable, but not at all like the deep fried Cambodian banana fritters I like. At least we are getting more dessert! 192,000 VND
The walk back isn’t quite bad; there is a park that we go through that’s enjoyable. We walk through the Central Market, but nothing strikes our fancy. Along the way, we see a cool-looking restaurant called Filthy Vegan. Once we get to Au Lac, we pick out our desserts: one sugarcane drink, two scoops of green tea and durian ice creams. The cost is only 72,000 but we realize we don’t quite have enough in cash and try to pay with card.
Uh oh, 300,000 minimum.
The cashier doesn’t speak much English but gestures to us to turn right for an ATM. We walk a few paces before realizing that we do not see any ATMs whatsoever on the sidewalk.
I pull up Google Maps and look up ATMS. It seems like there’s one across the street at the Public Bank. We get there and we can’t withdraw using an international card. The bank still seems to be open, so I ask one of the employees about the closest ATM. He suggests we go downstairs to where the Family Mart is located in an underground garage. We find it easily enough, but the ATM cannot read cards with chips.
Lucky enough for us, our hotel is across the street and we head to the front desk. An employee tells us that there’s a “station down the street with two ATMs.” We walk some distance, a bit confused, before we realize he’s referring to a gas station at the end of the block. bæ explores on his own as I stay in one corner, and try to avoid all of the scooters whizzing in and out.
After some time, he reports that one ATM is down and the other cannot dispense cash at the time. There is literally no other ATM in sight — not out on the sidewalk, not within a business, just none at all. This is so unlike every city that we’ve ever been to.
Resigned, we walk down a fairly active alley hoping to find something, anything. It’s a no-go. We end up circling back to Au Lac and getting my sugarcane drink.
Given the pedestrian experience and the bad luck that seems to follow us with the four ATMs we’ve encountered, we are in a pretty sour mood. How are we going to pay for breakfast tomorrow? Or the taxi to the airport? It seems like my family’s cash reserves are low, so we were hoping to cover transportation but that now seems unlikely. We hang out at Au Lac for some time, savoring as much of the sugarcane drink as possible and cooling down from running around town.
What an unfortunate way to end our trip. 20,000 VND