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Janaline's World Journey “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Saigon, city in the sun!!

VIETNAM | Monday, 25 August 2008 | Views [701]

At the local market in Saigon

At the local market in Saigon

I lived in Saigon, Vietnam for a year and loved it.



Saigon is a world where old and new competes to survive in this dense populated city. It’s a city filled with skyscrapers, ancient temples, motorbikes, people on bicycles and every inch of it covered in tall slim buildings.

The streets are overcrowded with motorbikes, piled with up to 5 people each fighting for way with taxis and even trucks. The streets look like organized chaos with motorbike drivers talking on cell phones, not abiding traffic signals, not even driving in the same direction as that traffic flow.



I dared to brave the streets of Saigon on my bright yellow Honda cup only after about a month. The first couple of weeks just crossing the street felt like a brave life risking thing to do. I have never seen so many people on motorbikes in one place, and they don’t actually stop at the traffic lights. You have a mere 30second gap in which you have to weave through the motorbikes to the other side before they start moving again.



I got myself a canary yellow 1969 super cup motorbike. It couldn’t go faster than 60km ph but in a city as crowded as Saigon you don’t need to go faster. And the up side of this was that when I got into my first accident I wasn’t hurt too bad because I was going at a snails pace. The down side was that my motorbike had no petrol gage so I did get stranded a couple of times without gas. But then you didn’t have to walk far before you saw a brick with a white paper cone in it on a corner. This was where you could quickly buy petrol on the street. The first time this happened and the little Vietnamese dude brought me a bottle of green petrol I thought they were trying to trick me, petrol should be red shouldn’t it? Well in Vietnam you get dirty unrefined green petrol, the cause of all the black fumes in the city.

I quickly learnt to never leave the house without my little fog mask…looks like a dentist mask but it helps you from chocking on all the fumes you will be inhaling while driving.



Saigon has a great expat community and you were never alone or left without something to do. You could always count on knowing someone at one of the many pubs or clubs where they had different specials for different days of the week. We had a weekly roster worked out. Mondays you would start the week with $1 tequilas at Le Pub in Pham ngu lau, Wednesdays was sangria at Pacharan close to the theatre, Thursdays you could enjoy a $1 vodka and orange juice in the pham.  The rest of the time you could find us at Bread & Butter a pub in the Pham owned by an ex English teacher.



I did the usual sightseeing in Saigon but the one place that really stood out for me was the War Remnants Museum. It documents many of the atrocities committed by the US military during the war. It’s filled with US armoured vehicles, bombs and even artillery pieces are on display.  There are also pictures of deformed babies, defects attributed to the use of chemical herbicides by the US military. It would be difficult not to be horrified by these photos of mangled children, tortured soldiers and napalm victims.

Even though the museum is very one-sided it truly drives home the [point that war is horribly brutal and that many of the victims are innocent civilians.



I tried to become part of a Vietnam and all the different aspects that it consists out of.

I volunteered at a orphanage once a week- working with the little kids- just playing with them and giving them some human interaction, it was very upsetting in the beginning but worth it. Giving a few hours of my time to cheer some one else up for the week.

I even started kung fu classes at a pagoda close to our house- figured it was time to learn a martial art and where better than in an Asian country. The whole class was in Vietnamese and I didn’t understand a thing in the beginning, I had to follow every one but soon picked up some of the terms they used. It fascinated me that even during rainy season they kept on training in the rain, where other people wouldn’t even drive around they stood in the rain still practicing. I was unfortunately clearly the worst student in the whole group and after a couple of months I was still in the beginner group…I do blame this on the fact that I couldn’t understand the instructions.


You can’t help but fall in love with Vietnamese cooking or drinks. Its hot most of the time, well it only cools off a bit during rainy season and only for the hour or two that it’s raining.  I fell in love with Vietnamese ice coffee or café sau da, which is strong coffee with condensed milk and ice, really refreshing in this heat. The food there was great and even healthy. They have the best fresh spring rolls and ban xeo which is a rice pancake filled with pork, shrimp, lettuce and spring onions.

If you are up for some strange food there is always the restaurant 31 where you can treat yourself to crocodile, frog, grasshoppers, shrimps, ostrich, scorpion, snake and rat. Personally I would not recommend the deep fried scorpion as its very crunchy and mostly just shell. The grasshoppers are quite good and the crocodile is excellent. If you want to try the snake, have minced snake, as the whole snake in soup is just too bony and disgusting to actually enjoy.

The crocodile is a winner though and we went back a couple of times just for shrimp and crocodile.

Tags: janaline smalman, motorbike, saigon, travel, vietnam

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