We’ve just got back from a weekend in and around Saigon where we went to visit some great friends who moved there from England. Married to each other, they both work as doctors for a charitable foundation that provides medical care to some of the country’s poorest people (puts my life into rather harsh perspective: I woke up this morning worrying about what I was going to cook for dinner and whether or not I’d have time to squeeze in a quick blow-dry before I meet the lovely Lianne from Pinwheel Jewels).
J&S both adore their bustling, new found home and, as always, an insider’s take on a city is a luxury worth listening to.
Cục Gạch Quán. It sounds like it’s going to be horribly commercial when I tell you that this is one of the places Brad and Ange ask to go back to every single time they’re in town (annually apparently). Thankfully, Saigon doesn’t, yet, seem to do commercial in the way we’ve all become so used to and this place appears charmingly unbothered by who graces their tables.
J&S insisted on this for our first night and they were right: delicious and interesting local cooking, served with understated style and housed in a higgledy piggledy take on a shophouse (we had to climb this steep ladder-like staircase, in heels, to get to our table).
Think chopsticks in a tin can sitting on the polished, locally made, thick wooden table, leather bound menus, achingly hip people sitting behind us…and you’ll get the picture.
Motorbikes are part of Ho Chi Minh’s pulse. Vietnam Vespas took us on our own, guided night time tour of the city and its street food.
Each vintage vespa comes with it’s own really very good driver (THANK GOD; here’s mine, above) and after an initial emergency stop for a strong gin and tonic – a triple – I was fine and loved whizzing in and out of the traffic and stopping at roadside hawker stalls like this one, where we sampled Vietnamese pancake:
Also try: XO Tours – same, same but different
The Deck is, I think, one of the most fabulous restaurants in Saigon. The Luxe Guide, which I have a love/hate relationship with (it’s too trite to be helpful most of the time) calls it an expat hangout which does nothing to recommend it to me or do it any justice whatsoever.
Contemporary but chilled, it is uber stylish without being exhausting. We hired our own boat and made an entrance arriving by water:
I’d love to pretend that this is me; but it’s not. I looked the exact opposite of the woman above: fully dressed with disheveled hair made mad from the driving rain and wind that ripped through the canopy of our boat…oh, and we arrived by night.
But the restaurant picture, two above, is pretty accurate and wholly representative of the welcome, twinkling sight that greets you as you approach from the river (I now know that normal people get here by taxi which is – as I found out on the way back – about three times faster.)
There is always time in a big city for a spot of shopping. Viet Thanh was my store of choice, selling beautiful croc skin wallets, bags, belts…you name it. There were, sadly, some slightly questionable designs, (as there so often are in these sorts of shops; most were too old fashioned) albeit made in the most beautiful and beautifully coloured leather.
I bought this fabulous black crocodile belt:
I love how the end of it is all jagged from the scales: I have my very own tail (it can obviously also be worn tucked in, perfect when looking like a crocodile is no longer the order of the day).
The ‘steal’ purchase was lots of these beautiful handmade, cut out, pop up cards that were sold on almost every street corner and cost just S$2/£1. I panic bought armfuls. If you have a birthday coming up, the chances are you’ll be getting one.
The inside of a police station is not usually high on the must-see list but yes, I did squeeze in a visit thanks to the passing motorbike who snatched my bag one evening. Despite being super careful by day, it was after a few glasses of wine at night that error crept in and I began waving it around. But not for long it turns out.
Best Hotel: Park Hyatt is predictable but try the InterContinental which is cheaper and with miles better bathrooms
Best Spa: Xuan at Park Hyatt
Best budget blow-dry (you can take a girl out of Singapore….): Jasmine Spa. A Luxe Guide recommendation and a brilliant one. My 30 minute head massage and half-hour blow-dry cost S$6/£3. I KNOW! Almost worth the flight alone…
Worst overnight, private and non-luxury boat for a Mekong cruise, despite luxury promise and price tag? : Mango Cruises