I have always believed myself to be a city girl, or perhaps I have always hoped to become a city girl with an aura of cool urban efficiency mixed with refined upper-class sophistication. However, Ho Chi Minh City has completely dashed those dreams for me as I in no way whatsoever want to live in a city. In fact, I may never even want to visit a city again. I admit I am being overly dramatic, but Ho Chi Minh City is like New YorK City on steroids! All the trademarks of a city such as traffic, noise, pollution, population density, verticality, etc. are exponentially increased and just totally in your face. Your personal space is constantly assaulted and even in sleep, one cannot escape the invasive grasp of the city. Though I must say that our hotel at least does offer a refuge from all the noise of Ho Chi Minh City. Being on the nineteenth floor of Windsor Plaza Hotel does have its benefits as we have both silence and a fantastic view of the city.
My first impression of Windsor Plaza Hotel was that the decor looked a bit ostentatious with its gaudy gold columns and paneling and an overly elaborate crystal chandelier. Also, the hotel just did not look at all like the pictures on its website. Thus, it was with much apprehension and wariness that my husband, my sisters, and I approached the check-in desk. It really did not help that behind us there were several frantic staff members attempting to clean a large pile of rubble that looked to be either a fallen ceiling tile, or a miniature explosion. As we all were too exhausted to investigate further, we never did figure it out, although my husband half-heartedly suggested that it might have been some sort of terrorist attack. In any case, Windsor Plaza Hotel would be our home for the next couple of days.
And it is turning out to be a pretty good home - the gaudy decor is slowly growing on me, the staff are very friendly, the simple rooms provide all the basic necessities, and the breakfast every morning is great and it’s free! Just a short ride on the elevator down to the 4th floor every morning provides ample rewards for both the eyes and mouths. It is a breakfast buffet that satisfies both Western and Eastern tummies - there is a long table filled with changing items such as stir-fried noodles. fresh dim sum, lyonnaise potatoes, salads, and many other delicious dishes. There is also an egg station where you can get hot omelets made to order, and even a pho station where you can get unlimited bowls of Vietnam’s signature dish! The freshly baked french baguettes are unbelievably soft and buttery and so amazing, I have never had bread like this before in my life. There is also plenty of tempting desserts, and fresh exotic fruits and juices. I am definitely being spoiled here as back in the US, I would only get pho if my mother made it, thus I would be forced to go months without it. And fresh dim sum would be many hours and a torturous drive away and not just a short ride down the elevator.
If the breakfast buffet is any sort of indication, it appears that Windsor Plaza Hotel is trying very hard to cater to Western tourists and their needs. It desperately wants to be a Western landmark at the sacrifice of its Eastern location and this results in an on-going identity crisis. At the exterior is Western features and amenities, but at its core is an Eastern heart and spirit. This is perfectly exemplified in the first three floors of the Windsor Plaza where one finds a vibrant Vietnamese marketplace - An Dong Plaza. At the very foundation of Windsor Plaza lies a multitude of Vietnamese people selling their wares and making a living - it is the living pulse of this hotel.
Hesitant to stray from the comforts of our hotel, but determined to explore Vietnam and do what we came to do, my husband, my sisters, and I all piled into Vinasun Taxi along with my parents to head to Ben Thanh Market. Introduction to Ho Chi Minh City via taxi is very eye-opening and thrilling in a life-threatening sort of way. There is absolutely no order to driving or traffic, and hearty vehicles share the road with a plague of fragile Honda scooters carrying minimally protected individuals and families. Every turn finds you head-on with either a vehicle or a pack of scooters and leaves you clutching your seat and exclaiming ‘Dear God!’ at the inevitable collision, yet somehow you make it to your destination unscathed. It is stressful and chaotic, but it works. The sights and sounds of Ho Chi Minh City are never-ending, it is really a physical representation of ADHD. I believe that if you do not have ADHD already, then you will get it once you leave Ho Chi Minh City. I am not sure about my husband or my sisters, but I am hoping to gain much more from Vietnam than ADHD.