In the ‘Year of Friendship’ between Japan and Vietnam, I am finally here. If you were a teenager in the 80’s, you might remember the early electro track from Paul Hardcastle who talked of the average age in Vietnam being nineteen, n-n-n-n-nineteen. Having been in Saigon for about nineteen hours, I can say that there is nothing average about Saigon – What a good city this is!
On my first day in Vietnam, I have learnt how to cross the road, how to make a wish, eat Pho and sit in a park. These seem like pretty basic things, but not so in Saigon.
Crossing a road might seem like a simple task. It is a simple task, but pretty daunting at first in this city of 9million people, 4.7 million motorbikes and an apparent blatant disregard for pedestrian crossings. It turns out though that, although there is almost a constant stream of traffic in Saigon, if you just start crossing, motorbikes and cars will generally tend to drive around you. I can’t believe that many people get past the age of nineteen with traffic like this, but the main advice about crossing the road is to walk at a slow and steady pace…and hope that the traffic misses you!
Tour leader Tyler and I headed out to District Five AKA Chinatown and the Cho Binh Tay Market. This is a great place to experience the buzz of Saigon with huge numbers of shops and stalls selling just about everything. On a walk through the market’s narrow walkways there is just about every fruit, fish and vegetable under the sun with all sorts of clothing and goods available too – stalls are selling various types of rice, Durian, dried mushrooms, dried sea cucumber and even bags of dried seahorses.
After lighting a prosperity prayer for InsideVietnam at Quan Am Chinese shrine we headed back into town had a good bowl of Pho, hung out in 30/4 Park next to the Reunification Palace and got ourselves a newspaper….This wasn’t newspaper to read, but to sit on. 30/4 Park is where the young folk of Ho Chi Minh (much younger than me, Tyler or guide, Thuy) hang out – I like to keep in touch with da yoof. Due to the fact that people are not allowed to vend food in the park (apparently), we were given old bits of newspaper to sit on (probably dirtier than the ground) whilst people head off the park premises to grab us a coffee, Coke or coconut. It’s a nice way to relax in the midday heat, hangout with the locals and have a drink.
The first thing to hit me about Saigon though, apart from the traffic, is the apparent love of food. It is everywhere you go, looks good, tastes good and is cheap too! Anyway, must get off and head out for a $10 massage before getting out for some more food…Tyler tells me something interesting could be on the menu tonight (?!?!). It’s all interesting to me and I am really psyched to be Saigon and Vietnam…and this is the first day!