After our two day trip to the Mekong Delta we were tired and wanted a rest. We hung out in Saigon and caught up on sleep, laundry and writing. There are often geckos on the wall as you sit in a sweltering room to blog (oy, that sounds sooo international-hippie-blogger).
The street we’ve been staying on is called "mini hotel alley" and has a lot of tall thin buildings that function as guest houses.
There are huge numbers of touts here — incredibly persistent people trying to sell you anything from xeroxed copies of Michael Crichton to nail clippers. They interrupted each meal about ten times, but we only encountered them in this neighborhood. The streets in this neighborhood are absolutely frenetic, and at times annoying. There were two rabbits living in a small cage across from our hotel, lots of xe oms (motorcycles) and women with conical hats carrying large baskets full of merchandise on yokes passing by.
At one point, we were trying to take a shortcut to a nearby street, and started walking through a narrow alleyway — maybe eight feet wide. There were hardly any people in the alley, except a few locals. As we went deeper into the alley, dingy pastel-colored walls branched off here and there, and it became clear that the blocks all contain myriad alleys and micro-neighborhoods. We saw entrances to homes not visible from the street, with little shrines to Buddha or the earth genie, turquoise-walled living rooms open to the alley, and the same immaculate floors. A few dogs were running around, and there were carts selling bahn mi and cigarettes, and cafes with covered umbrellas and tiny plastic chairs that maybe only the locals go to. This is probably where the they go to "get away" from the tourist invasion. Noticing locals peacefully eating in the shade, I couldn’t help wondered if perhaps they’d like to buy some of my lovely sweat socks or soggy gum. Perhaps an old comb with cough drops? No? Well how about a ratty inflatable plane pillow and a few tea bags? Two dollars? Only two dollars!
In contrast, we went to a "Highlands Coffee" shop, kind of a local Starbucks, across from Notre Dame. Lots of trendy cafes and shops are nearby too. This kind of development is definitely a sign of a growing economy, and there were lots of stylish young Vietnamese in the area.
We bought some really great modern-looking lacquer-ware in the area. We did notice some of it looked like they were aping Karim Rashid’s work.
We ate at one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town, Lemongrass, and had some lovely fish. Mine was the kind you wrap up in rice pancakes with mint, lettuce, bean sprouts and noodles. No touts here.
And closer to mini hotel alley, I bought some summer clothes at a little store where they make everything by hand on old sewing machines. Each garment is completely unique — the designer seems to make something new every time, and sells them for about $10 apiece. This kind of place makes the gulf between our currencies obvious.
We’ve often seen students walking home from school in their uniforms. High school girls wear a white ao dai, a beautiful long-sleeved dress with high slits up the sides and long trousers underneath. This is a traditional kind of outfit.
Our last days here also included visiting several old pagodas, shrines, and a mosque.
All in all, we’ve really enjoyed Saigon and are sad to leave, but the cool weather will be a relief.