Of all the countries listed to visit while on my travels Vietnam intrigued me the most. Before I set off I knew little to nothing of Vietnam or the Vietnamese culture. I was aware of the war with America from brief references in movies and literature, and I believed they ate Pho because London has a restaurant serving this (and they claim to be Vietnamese so…) – but other than that I was clueless.
The first stop on my month long tour of Vietnam began in the capital city of Saigon; also now affectionately known as Ho Chi Minh, after the much loved and favoured President.
Now as I’ve told you before, I’m more of a sand, sea and sun kinda gal. The sky scraping, city slicker life doesn’t hold much weight with me. But that being said, the vast city of Saigon stole my heart the second we touched down.
After our ride from the airport we checked into our hotel, which was set down some rather ominous back alleys. We passed crammed shops, which doubled as homes, street vendors selling all manner of dried fish, barking dogs, squawking caged cockerels, and dodged many a speeding motorcycle. It isn’t a beach side paradise, you cant smell the sea in the air and the slow pace that is favoured in many other parts of the world I have been to doesn’t exist here. But now three and a half months into my travels and four countries down so far, I can say with great conviction that Saigon is one of my favourite places yet.
The city is bustling and loud, and most definitely not without it’s threats, but somehow Saigon manages to regain charm. Beautiful gardens boarder the hectic roads, street food joints sit next to expensive fine dining restaurants. Everyone says hello as you pass along the sidewalks. Hoards of women of all ages meet to workout to pumping house music amid the local parks. There are bikes everywhere you look, loaded with everything imaginable; families of five, livestock, building material, ladders, and crates of glass. You name it and you will find it resting, quite precariously, on the back of a hurtling bike. And somehow, despite the rushing traffic everything and everyone has their place on the road here. Everything in Saigon seems to be perfectly, chaotically in sync.
Much of my time in Saigon was spent walking, just taking it all in – the sights, the sounds and the smells of the city. Every morning Cam and I would indulge ourselves in some Vietnamese café culture, sat road side enjoying some of the best coffee I have ever had the pleasure to taste, watching this world go by and the rushing city of Saigon come to life.
After our morning pick me up we would meander amongst the hustle and bustle, taking our time as we went, stopping for pastries and iced tea (a Vietnamese specialty) and to admire the many classic motorbikes as we made our way from one end of the city to the other. Saigon is divided into districts, much like London’s zones, so after exploring the franticly crowed backstreets we made our way east of district one to take in the grandeur of the Opera House and the National Post Office.
The cobbled streets of Saigon – a world of luxury and money, where streets are lined with designer shops and expensive gelato parlours. It’s Milan but better. Saigon has everything you could want from a city; it’s luxury vs. real life culture right on your doorstep. You can fine dine or try local food right there on the street. You can busy yourself shopping or simply sit and watch the people of Saigon, a cold beer in hand that cost you just 20p and you could be in another world and another city entirely.
It’s now been six weeks since I left, yet after all of the other amazing places I have ventured to Saigon still has a special place in my heart and I very much look forward to the day I can once again wake up somewhere in Saigon and say good morning Vietnam, I’ve missed you.
By Sophie Maguire