Miss Saigon? I do already!

8 Dec
Cocktails at the Purple Jade, Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon

Saigon, like the picture of our cocktails above, proved to be one part elegant, one part funky, with a little bit of an edge and a hint of darkness. After just 48 hours I have to say that I am in love with the city and know we will visit again. Here’s just a little taster of what we did and where we went…

Getting there

Mister Noodle and I took the 8pm Jetstar flight out of Changi and thanks to the wonder of a -1 hour time difference and a punctual service were in Saigon just after 9pm. Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport proved to be a revelation – with the international terminal built in 2007 it was bright, clean and surprisingly empty for a Friday night. Having read a tip in the inflight magazine we headed straight for the information booth where we picked up a taxi token for just 8USD and were soon on our way into town and heading into our first uniquely Saigon experience…the traffic.

Saigon Scooters 

Just as every guidebook, blog and article will tell you, there are scooters, everywhere. They don’t stick to any particular lane, they rarely have less than three people on them, and their horns are permanently set to ‘blaring’. From the back of our taxi it was like watching some intricately choreographed piece of modern dance, to a soundtrack of what I am guessing was the latest in Vietnamese techno, courtesy of our taxi driver. Whilst the whole experience was crazy, alien and a little bit seat of your pants, as the sights and sounds of the City sped past, both Mister Noodle and I could tell we would like this city.

From the ridiculous to the sublime

There couldn’t have been more of a contrast, as we were whisked out of the hurley burly of Friday night Saigon and into the Intercontinental Asiana, our home for the next two nights. When originally planning our trip we were determined to book into the Hotel Continental, the hotel Graham Greene stayed in whilst writing part of The Quiet American. However, a bit of research suggested that there might not be quite enough old world charm to justify the price or lack of modern amenities. We plumped for the Intercontinental and I am glad we did. I could wax lyrical about this hotel but this is neither the time nor the place, so I’ll save it for another time and another post. Back out into the city and our first mission, crossing the road and reading a map…

History is written by the victors

Thanks to Mister Noodle’s superior navigation skills and a good deal of scooter-dodging we were soon at our first stop, the War Remnants Museum*. I had read up about the museum in advance and had an idea of what we were in for as the bulk of the exhibits on display are photographic records of the Vietnam War. Originally called the Museum of American War Crimes, but renamed under conditions of the 1997 trade agreements with the US, the museum pulls no punches, either in the images on display or the political slant of the narrative which accompanies them. I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting the museum, however, I would not suggest spending a long time there on any one visit. Most of the artefacts depict in stark and shocking photographic detail the damage war does but after a while what I found to be more disturbing than the images was how quickly I become desensitized to seeing them. The point at which you find yourself somewhat blithely walking past another set of images showing the horrific effects of Agent Orange is the point at which it is best to leave.

Soaking up the city

Attempt at arty sepia shot - and lots of cables

Back into present day Saigon and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the weekend – just walking around soaking up the city. Due to the limited time we had to explore, and the belief that two legs are better than four wheels, we mainly stuck to the District One area. Relatively small in size, the district was brimming with life – from the elderly ladies wearing their non la (conical hats) and crouching on the pavements, cooking up snacks over open coals, to the young couples having their wedding photos taken outside Notre Dame and in the midst of the traffic, there was something new to see at every turn. There were so many beautiful things to capture on camera so why, when I get home, do I find I have this…

Arnie gets communist poster style make over

and this…
 

Who needs health and safety guidelines when you can stand on a motorbike to fix electrical cables?

I guess it just means we will have to go back again so I can pluck up the courage to ask one of the lovely hat ladies for their picture, get shots of things like the ritzy, glitzy shoe mountains at Ben Thanh Market and the architectural legacies of French colonial rule and not men fixing cables in the middle of the road. Ah well, you live and learn. So long, Saigon…for now.

(Those who know me well will note the absence of any real mention of Saigon shopping. The truth is the shopping was so good I have decided it is deserving of its own standalone post…to follow).

*I could not find an official site for the War Remnants Museum but for info, it is situated at 28 Vo Van Tan Street (District 3), and is open daily from 7.30am – noon, 1.30pm – 5pm. The admission charge was 20,000 dong (approx. 1USD).

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