Monday, 23 May 2016

Travel: Saigon and The Mekong Delta

Our final stop in Vietnam. Saigon is a name that has been familiar to me since I was a child - it just sounds so exotic. The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975 but signage and the local people still refer to it as Saigon.

The view of the river from our hotel's rooftop pool
The traffic is crazy and the city is huge and sprawling, it's divided into 19 districts which sounds very Hunger Games-esque. District 1 is where we stayed and it and the neighbouring District 3 are where everything you'll want to see as a visitor are located. So many people warned us of pick pockets and crime in Saigon but walking around District 1 during the day and night didn't feel any scarier than London - just be sensible and keep your wits about you as you should in any big city.

This guy wins the award for craziest thing carried on a bike
Saigon is the business centre of Vietnam and it felt like much more of a capital city than Hanoi did - Hanoi being the Washinton DC and Saigon the NYC of Vietnam - a modern, capitalist centre but one that is still scarred by the memories of the war in a way that I didn't see or notice in other places we visited. Its got a similar vibe to Berlin where the memories of the war are there at every turn, albeit that the Vietnam war is so much more recent and happened within many more people's lifetimes than WW2 so the memories and the hurt are that much fresher.

Communist propaganda
We started at the War Remnants Museum and Reunificiation Palace which were sombre but essential places to visit. There's so much history that I only knew very vague details of before my visit and the museum and palace were so important for understanding more about not just Vietnam but our whole world.

American tanks outside the Reunification Palace 
The city feels like a mix of an Asian metropolis and a European capital - the Notre Dame Cathedral and central Post Office wouldn't look out of place in Paris but the communist propaganda lining the streets in preparation for Reunification Day certainly would. We took our capitalist selves off to Ben Than market to bargain hard for beach dresses and to the Diamond Plaza department store which was blissfully rather empty...

Ho Chi Minh's statue ready for Reunification Day outside the People's Assembly Hall
Central Post Office 
I still hadn't tried Bahn Mi on our trip and having never had it in London before either I was determined that I'd eat it for the first time in Vietnam. As its a street food snack, I asked in the hotel and was recommended Nhu Lan Bakery - definitely an authentic local spot. Bahn Mi is a French-style baguette traditionally filled with pork and pork pate. As my family don't eat pork we had a fun exchange explaining that we wanted our bahn mi with a fried egg and without the array of meat - a lady who'd hopped off her scooter to grab lunch kindly helped us out and for £1 each we had a tasty baguette and salted lemon drink sitting at metal tables with a mostly local clientele.

Saigon has a more international food culture than other Vietnamese cities - not only did we spot our first McDonalds and KFC but Korean, Japanese and Chinese restaurants abound. I used the insane heat as an excuse to introduce my parents to my favourite Korean dessert, patbingsu, at Caffe Bene. I don't like ice cream so this shaved ice dessert is a saviour in 35 degree heat (which in a busy city feels even hotter).

Glorious shaved ice 
Our second day in Saigon was spent visiting the Mekong Delta - two hours out of the city and a total world away. We boarded a boat and visited a few of the islands where local people sell their wares. It did feel touristy but not in a brash or annoying way - we saw coconut candy being made, dipped our fingers into a beehive and held a python. The best part was stopping for a cold drink and plates of fresh local fruits - jackfruit tastes just like those fruit salad sweets I remember has a child only it's actually fruit and not artificial colours and flavours.

Young coconut on the boat 
We took a sampan boat through the narrow water ways
Miniature bananas 
Tropical fruits and chilli salt for dipping
Our final night in Saigon was the official end of our tour and we headed for a post-dinner drink at the Skydeck, Saigon's tallest building. The views are impressive and but the cocktails being around £8-10 each made this a hangout for tourists, ex-pats and the wealthier locals in a city where brand new Mercedes drives past a man on the street crafting "new" pairs of trainers from piles of second hand ones.

Our Vietnamese adventure over - next stop: Singapore!


1 comment

  1. Oh my gawwg it looks so good, and all that fruit! Love the sound of it. Chilli salt for dipping - I'm quite intrigued. Sounds strangely tasty :)


© Lillian Zahra | All rights reserved.
Blog Design Handcrafted by pipdig