Sunday, 9 October 2011

Saigon - Pearl of the Far East (according to the French colonalists

Sadly this label is well past its sell-by-date & its hard to conceive, in modern Saigon, exactly what prompted this label.

Saigon has baffled my sense of orientation as I regularly get lost while wandering, I think its the hard to remember Vietnamese street names, many of which seem very similar. Its also probably the heightened level of concentration needed when crossing roads, so less information about the surroundings gets taken on board.

Just about every motorbike rider wears a safety helmet but that's as far as safety goes - I've seen mums with a toddler in front & one behind, riders using their phone & smoking, even a pillion passenger eating a meal with chopsticks. I've seen everything being carried on a bike from a fridge to a dozen chickens but the most disconcerting was a guy belting along with his passenger holding four large sheets of plate glass.

Not many Europeans stop off for a street coffee which is not unreasonable as coffee has come to mean a comfy relaxing place as much as the coffee itself. But if you do just want a coffee hit, a pavement shot will cost about 30p whereas one of the many new coffee shops will set you back £1.50 - 2.

I found a great place for lunch, its not a smart restaurant where lone diners feel like 'billy no-mates' yet is a significant step up from crouching on the pavement. Its called Pho 2000 & its great claim to fame is that President Clinton, the first US President to visit Vietnam after the war, stopped by to have some chicken noodle soup.

Its a basic caff style rather than a smart cafe, the menu is limited but that means what they do is really good & its all fresh & reassuringly too hot to eat immediately. My favourite meal was chicken noodle soup, which is a rich broth with various herbs & large slices of white chicken breast. It comes with some salad, a plate of mung beans, fresh limes, basil along with chilli & soy sauces to add to taste. All for £1.50 - an amazing price for a superb meal.

A lot of local bars seem to be dingy or nightclub style places whereas I prefer open bars overlooking the beach or street life, failing that a nice old fashioned pub. So in cities I often try out Irish bars, I'd try English pubs but they're not a universal brand like the ubiquitous Irish pub. However they're pretty disappointing places in Vietnam (there was a great one in Beijing), the Hanoi Irish pub's only Irishness was a pretend Guinness pump on the bar.

In Saigon I found Sheridan's & O'Brien's, neither had Guinness on draft & a tin was four times the price of any other beer & whose ever had a decent tin of Guinness? O'Brien's was actually set up by a Frenchman who presumably thought a French bar would not be so popular in its old colony.

The central Ben Thanh market is very much a tourist market & is not very impressive but is a useful place to find a collection of every knock-off branded product on the planet.

A strange thing about Saigon is that there are virtually no cats & I've only seen half a dozen little lap-dogs in the city. This is extra strange as so much food is eaten directly on the street so there's plenty of litter to keep a legion of scavengers well fed.

I've just read in the Vietnam News that a car ploughed into a group of motorcyclists in Siagon yesterday - killing 3 & seriously injuring 13 more. It was a page 5 low priority news item, the sort of location where a UK newspaper might run a story about - bus wobbles & frightens passengers.
So maybe the Siagon roads are as dangerous as they look, even if you're a local - beware.

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