For those of you not familiar with the classic 1980s video game “Frogger”, it involved guiding a frog across a hectic road full of cars, bikes and lorries, with the aim being to get to the other side without being squished. If you fancy a game, click here. For us here in Ho Chi Minh City (the official name for what everyone else knows as Saigon) a computer is not necessary. Simply nip out onto the pavement – a frog costume is optional – and consider crossing the road, swarming as it is with a determined taxis, umstoppable buses and constant stream of fearless motorbikes. Helen, a self-proclaimed frogger expert in her time, prefers the more aggressive approach to road crossing; I on the other hand, am still apparently only on Level Two, and tend to opt for the slowly-slowly approach. When old ladies grab your arm to help you across the road, you know that it’s a tricky game. Joysticks not required.

Once road crossing has begun to be mastered, Saigon is providing some very welcome features. Firstly, gone is the intense stickiness of Indonesia and Malaysia. Here, the weather is warm without being oppressive, meaning that sweating out the cheap beer that’s available everywhere is not so immediate. Meanwhile, the food is a delight, and a visit to the market for lunch or dinner can yeild such delights as pho (noodle soup with herbs, coming in pork, beef, chicken or seafood varieties), enormous prawns, delicious summer rolls, satays, clams or our particular favourite bahn beo. At first we were unsure what was on the plate, which cost a whopping 14,000 Dong (around 40p). The texture and taste suggested scallops, and the zingy sauce was flavoured beautifully lightly by the fresh herbs. With a bit of later research however, it became clear that, like most Vietnamese food, these are a rice based dish, specifically they are steamed cakes – the fishy flavour came from the small filling of chopped shrimp. As delicate as sushi and the fastest food we’ve eaten so far.

Bahn beo being prepared.

Bahn beo

Beef Pho

Summer Rolls and a cheap beer!

Shrimp Noodle Soup

In between the eating and death defying trips across the road, we’ve taken in many of central Saigon’s sights in the first few days. The War Remnants Museum was a sobering reminder of the brutality of the Vietnam War and gave an insight into why those tumuluous years will probably forever mould the consciousness of the people here. The Requiem exhibition of photos by war photographers who sied in the conflict was a particularly horrific affair.

Similarly, although a more disappointing experience, our visit to Reunification Palace showed how, despite Vietnam’s economic reforms, the history as told by the victors in the conflict is still being constantly reminded to the people and tourists in Saigon. Kept as a timewarp monument to the fall of the city in 1975, the rooms in the palace seem to have been left virtually untouched. Here, and in various parts of the city, placards and photo storyboards tell of the success of national unification under the victorious North Vietnamese. However, when red flags are dwarfed by a backdrop of fast rising skyscrapers and finance centers, and billboards for banks and electrical manufacturers seriously outnumber the hammer and sickle banners, perhaps this is a history that is slowly being consigned to the past.

2 Comments to “Risks, Ricecakes and Reunification – Early Days In Saigon”

  • Still following!!!! Daniel and ola safely back celebrated their I yr anniversary like you both would soonish, think babies are definitely not planned, but more travels as you could imagine.
    Well, Helen you knew of an Indonesian lady way before you visited the country heih?
    Happy and safe travel ing xxxx good choice to have visited Asian countries instead of going west Oz.

    • I did indeed! We are enjoying Asia very much and it’s very kind to our budget! Glad you’re still following. Happy New Year! X