My favourite way to get to know a city is by walking round it, so I was glad that central Saigon is compact enough to get around on by foot. Although it did mean that on my way from our hostel to the Reunification Palace and the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica I had to decline the offer of a motorbike taxi on every other street corner. The drivers, although naturally vociferous, were also friendly: my ‘No thanks yous’ were met with smiles and ‘Ok’s, and I was never hounded down the street. I even felt a bit guilty for not taking one, but it was so enjoyable wending my way through the back streets, occasionally happening upon wonderful, shabbily elegant buildings that no-one has yet thought to gentrify.
no wonder my passport stamp says 'socialist republic of vietnam'
The road to the Reunification Palace, lined with trees and communist flags, was more attractive than the Palace itself which is a spectacularly ugly concrete box. There is a wooded park between the Palace and the Basilica, which offered a welcome shady place to pause.
A couple came up to me and asked me to take their photo, and then we fell into conversation. They turned out to be cousins, on holiday in Saigon from Malaysia, and we chatted pleasantly about nothing in particular for a while. Then they asked me to come to a party at their friend’s house, and I kept having to politely decline, without actually coming out and saying ‘No-one but a maniac would wander off to the house of two strangers she just met that could be serial killers.’
saigon notre dame basilica
When I got to the Basilica, they were starting a service so I couldn’t go inside. Instead, I peered in through the grate and then started on my way back. This involved crossing what seemed to be the main road in the city by foot, without the aid of pedestrian crossings, via the grandest roundabout I’ve ever seen. I got stranded for five minutes on it, before bolding taking my life in my hands and dodging the buses and scooters to get to the other side.
roundabouts are taken seriously here
I tried my first Vietnamese curry that night, which seemed (unsurprisingly) to be quite similar to Thai, but less spicy. There were shoot type things in it (lemongrass perhaps? I’m a bit fuzzy on south-east Asian cuisine) that I chewed on once and then spat out in horror. The rest of it was delicious though, and it came with a free happy hour starter of garlic bread. Weird combination I know, but garlic bread is one of the Western foods I miss the most in China, and I was going to take every opportunity to stuff my face with it.