Saturday, 4 February 2012

Saigon, The First Day 31st January

Saigon in daylight...

The alleyway is quiet, not many people about at 10am as I step out into daylight. It must be about 28 degrees, warm, not hot and not humid. The place is clean, no garbage anywhere, it has a certain continental feel. Cafes end to end each offering a western style breakfast, even cereal is available at over £2.50 for a small bowl! Fruit salad and yogurt is usually a safe option and is a good portion, with coffee at £1.80.

Saigon is separated in to districts, much like Parisienne quarters with traffic to match. Not so many buses or taxis here, it,s mainly 2 or 3 wheelers that make up 80% of the seemingly organised chaos and mayhem.  As in Bangkok, this city is cross crossed with smart, wide boulevards - crossing them is an entirely different experience though.  How to cross a street in Saigon without getting hit - that would be quite a useful and handy little guide! Some streets that have traffic lights enable a break in the mayhem, and at least one side can be crossed before the next heap of bikes have you in their sights. Other streets however are just one continuous stream of traffic and one needs to tread carefully to avoid a stay in hospital. For first timers like me, best thing is to cross with a local. It's a case of taking a steady walk across, letting the bikes swerve to avoid a collision and thankfully the roads are wide with plenty of space - wait around like in Britain and it,l be 2am before you can follow the green cross code!

Today is a round the block tour, a few streets here and there to capture the flavours, sights and sounds of Saigon city. District 1 centres on Pham Ngu Lao road, and is clearly a tourist hot spot. Turning left towards district 5 and Pham Ngu soon belongs to the locals again. Right at the end is a small market, mainly produce here, the usual exotic kinds of fruits, all kinds of meats and various fish, still alive in bowls. I never thought of shrimps being able to jump, but they can and quite away to the annoyance of the fish woman.

Class and chique  in abundance. Smart malls, huge high-rise developments and big cars symbolises Saigon culture - Chinese, French with American influence. Cafes with smart decor everywhere, literally every few yards there is a smart expensive looking coffee house with or without an attached cafe. An alleyway here, crammed with  lunchtime office workers and local shoppers, eating. I'm the only tourist, and it's clear why. The menu is in Vietnamese, the staff don't speak any English. I can see Chien, it means Chicken, so chicken soup should be a safe bet. No chicken soup and I can't even get across noodles or rice to them. I am shown a glass cabinet with various, and dubious looking meats - thanks, and I walk out!  Across the alleyway is the same menu in English - noodle soup it is.

Back to base which is the Quang guest house, down some alleyway, off the Pham Ngu Lao road. Lots of people on corners milling about, watching, looking intently. Top Tip here - fasten pockets. If they can't be zipped up, find a safety pin and use those to pin each pocket tight.

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