vietnam, saigon :: cholon, bánh xèo & war remnants museum

The next day in Saigon, we got up nice and early to go for a quick swim. After all, we needed to work up an appetite for a big day of eating! Also, it was just the nicest thing to wake up to bright sunshine, and take advantage of the already rising temperatures at 7:30am.

The city is already bustling from the early hours of the morning, so by the time we left the house to head to Cholon (Chinatown) around 9am, the streets were already packed with people. BB took us to a few different pagodas in Cholon, where locals were tending to the temples and paying their respects, snacking and doing some maintenance work. The distinct scent of incense reminded me of my grandmother’s house, and I found it fascinating how different the temples are to those I’m familiar with in Japan. They’re colourful, kitsch, and each one varied from the next. 

BB, with her passion for design, crafts and colour, also took us to the narrow street markets of Chinatown, where they sell rows upon rows of bright ribbon, beads, sequins, thread, fake flowers, lace… basically anything that you could ever possibly need that falls under haberdashery and beyond. It reminded me a little of the stalls in Hong Kong that sell things like these, where I bought mountains of threads and beads as I was fixated on making bracelets that summer (whilst watching the London Olympics!). 

We also visited a couple of churches near the area, one of which looked like Disneyland castle – they have many churches in Saigon, and they aren’t quite like the ones in Europe, as you see. It was a whirlwind of a morning, to say the least!

We were extremely excited for lunch, as we were headed to one of the places featured in the Saigon episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations series. 

If you’ve never tried Banh Xeo, you’re definitely missing out. It’s the Vietnamese take on savoury crepe, made with rice flour and coconut milk, fried until crispy (but still a bit doughy inside), filled with shrimp, pork and beansprouts. You then cut pieces of the crepe and wrap it in leaves, along with fresh herbs and special sauce. It is amazing, and although I’ve tried it a couple of times before (once in HK and once in Tokyo), it was definitely the best I’ve had. We also shared some summer rolls (we were seriously addicted to these the whole trip), and fried soft shell crab, and it was one of my favourite meals of the entire holiday. It was brimming with locals, which is always reassuring! 

{Banh Xeo 46A :: 46 Đinh Công Tráng, Tân Định, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh}

After a coffee to digest in a gorgeous little café that our driver recommended for us, we ticked off two of the major Saigon tourist to-dos – the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. We actually didn’t go into the Palace, just saw it from the outside, but we did visit the War Museum in its entirety. Well, not quite. I glanced at a couple of the photos in some of the rooms and couldn’t stomach it, but we went around most of the exhibits. I think that most people tend to agree about the decidedly one-sided aspect of the museum, which we knew going in and was still surprised by (because it was extremely so), but I think it’s probably still worth a visit, as I did find it educational to an extent.

We weren’t especially interested in seeing the inside of the Palace, but it was still quite a sight to behold outside of the gates. I know that a lot of tourists also like to visit the war tunnels, but I flat out refused as it’s definitely not for the claustrophobia-prone… I was just fine taking a walk around the nearby streets, being entertained from scene to scene of daily Saigon life.

We then headed home to relax for a little while, before our next adventure that evening! It involved motorbikes, sun loungers and frogs. Any guesses…?

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