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Okay, given it is the first question everyone asks me, no, I did not revisit any of the places I served in the bad, old days. I have no desire to go back to those little jungle battlefields, and the majority of them are not that easy to reach anyway. Like most of my overseas adventure these days, this was a cooking school program, with one major difference from my trips in the past. This time I would start in Ho Chi Minh City and travel north to Hanoi with stops in Hoi An and Hue.

The next question is almost always, “Why a cooking class?” You quickly discover that these schools know students don’t want to spend 10 hours over a propane burner, so the classes tend to only be a half-day at max. I’m not a “lets join a tour group so we can pet a tiger and ride an elephant” kind of guy. I would rather explore places of special interest to me, alone. I spend a morning cooking and then disappear into the markets, butcher shops, fishmonger stalls and hardware stores of whatever town I’m in.

Ho Chi Minh City
Every guide to Ho Chi Minh City will try to direct you into the Ben Thanh Market in the center of the town. The first clue that you’re getting the old tourist hustle is the signs indicating you’re in an official, government “fixed price” zone—no haggling allowed. While the butcher and seafood stalls are fairly interesting, forget Ben Thanh for edged tools. Find a cab and head for the ethnic Chinese markets of Cholon in “District 5.” There you will find rows of cutlery stalls with a wide variety of locally made knives and cutting tools. The one downside to this is that the vendors aren’t especially friendly and seem to have little desire to display their wares. Apparently, they think you should know what you want when you arrive, pay for it and leave as quickly as possible. I don’t know how the locals handle the vendors, but it cost them several sales with me.

Knife-patterns-wise, Ho Chi Minh City was a surprising hodgepodge of styles…

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