So what else did we do in Saigon? Well, we spent a fair bit of time just wandering around really! On the Saturday we hired a boat to take us down the river for an hour which showed us a little more of the city. From the fishermen you can see in my photos below (who I think were dredging for snails) to the fancy condo’s that are popping up along the river, life in Saigon is interesting to observe.
From here we walked back via Thai Binh market in Pham Ngu Lao. Whilst the indoor area of the market is nothing special, the outside wet market was a real hive of activity and all sorts of produce was on sale, some of which I was quite unfamiliar with.
I also had a massage at the Saigon school for the blind which is located across the road from the market which whilst a good way to support a local charity initiative was not really a particularly good massage (although for 90 baht you can’t complain!)
One of the most surprising sites was probably “Notre Dame” Basilica, a Catholic cathedral built by the French (using stones imported specially from France) sometime between 1860 and 1880. Apparently only a couple of percent of the Vietnamese population are practicing Catholics although we saw more churches in Saigon than temples (not to say that is the case – just what we observed on our walk about)
The Jade Emperor Pagoda was certainly a bit different to any temple I have previously visited. The outer courtyard had ponds with both fish and turtles inside and people could purchase either of these creatures outside and leave as an offering. I think it may be a similar concept to what i saw in Ayutthaya where you release an animal in order to receive good karma (well it’s a bit more complex than that I’m sure but that’s the general gist of it!) Inside the temple the strong scent of incense is quite overwhelming and the figurines of the Emperor and his guardians seemed quite menacing!
Dinner was a bit of a crawl between two local restaurants where we ordered a few dishes we had never tried before. In the first restaurant which had a beautiful garden outside and stunning traditional teak interiors we tried a pancake that you eat wrapped in lettuce leaves called banh xeo (as I am reliably informed from twitter! I forgot to take pictures of the menus as I usually do on this trip!). In the second, we tried this salad of jack fruit (very interesting) and some tiny little pancakes called banh beo that looked like Knhom Krog (or Thai coconut pancakes). We found them pretty bland to our taste until the waiter who had been observing discretely came and showed us how to add the fish sauce to soften thm and scoop them out of the plate! For drinks – Beer street is definitely really fun, as the night goes on the chairs edge closer and closer to the middle of the road and scooters whizz past at breakneck speed! I also really liked the admittedly more touristy “Allez Boo” where I enjoyed a shisha and Ricard as we sat on the pavement and watched life whizzing by.
Saigon still manages to retain a small town feel even though it is quite spread out and it is definitely possible to see a good deal there even if you are just visiting for 36 hours as I did. I had a wonderful time in Saigon, saw some interesting sites, ate some outstanding food and of course, got to spend some long overdue time with my brother which was fantastic! I am really looking forward to exploring more of Vietnam and the region in general – if anyone has any suggestions on where I should visit next, I would love to hear them.