Quận 10, Vietnam
“What is your transportation?” asked the Vietnamese-American sat nearby in Pho Hoa (‘a contender for the title of Saigon’s best pho restaurant’ says Lonely Planet). I’m walking. “Walking? Huh. Just …take a walk!”
And I had. After I’d got up at 5 to go for a run-my conclusion from Internet wisdom was that you either don’t bother, run laps of a park or get up early and do the latter. 5 was about right, roads quiet enough that I could cross them, so I wasn’t limited to sections of the canal but could cross each bridge as I came to it (yes) and get a decent distance in. The first person I’d seen on leaving the hotel was a local runner, and there were more, plus plenty of walkers, when I got to the canal. Perfect. Ricked my ankle once, on a manhole handle (!) but otherwise, a total success. Done by 6.15, the sun was up and I went to bed for a couple of hours. Running at that time was manageable-very warm, but like a blanket, rather than the furnace of midday – 37C, said one daytime sign.
Up later, I took a walk (Boston accent). The reunification palace is reachable from here, but the walk is a bore-every road crossing (not at 5am) is an effort, even if a predictable pace does mostly see you safe. I made it, but living here would necessitate a bike-or, more realistically, for me, getting the hell out as soon as possible. That said, it doesn’t seem quite as horrendous as Hanoi, though there my hostel was better placed, on a road that was walk and cross-able, and which even closed to traffic (which always has to be enforced with barriers-if you can get a bike down a path, a bike will go down that path) sometimes, with a patch of restaurants and bars round the corner and the lake nearby. Here, no oases, though there is a plethora of coffee shops. Funny road, though, as left out of the hotel leads, realistically, only West. I think it’s a military base that blocks the way South and SW. So everything has to go North then W or E, which makes it feel a little cut off.
The palace is surrounded by gardens, for a it of relative peace and quiet. Near(ish) by are the botanical gardens and History museum, and the War Remnants museum. Mindful that the museums close for lunch, I hit the latter for the morning. It is propagandised but still mostly effective in showing the horrors of war-particularly the victims of agent orange. Some hardware outside sets a tone, but any gung ho reactions will soon be tempered by the peaceful exhortations inside.
For lunch I ignored and fended off the moto riders who wanted to take me to a local restaurant and walked to a local one-more expensive than theirs, I’m sure, given that this was my most expensive meal yet, but left me near where I wanted to be. I explored the Adidas outlet store on Pasteur, which was underwhelming and suffered from the Asian posh store curse, whereby an assistant detaches like a tie fighter from the mothership and secures themselves to you by a tractor beam. Which means my browsing ends and I play ‘move as mysteriously as possible’ to see if that beam can be broken.
After lunch, the history museum, which is a little run down, but covers a broader history than many other places, starting from the Stone Age. There are plenty of proud dioramas showing successful revolts against the Chinese as Mongol invaders – the latter beaten three times – but without a colour code nor clear winner shown, each was a case (ha!) showing a red v blue battle, with some vivid plasticine deaths.
The history museum also has a water puppet show, and at 20 minutes it’s the shorter, more accessible way to enjoy the historic Vietnamese art form. Kind of cool, kind of somnambulant.
On the walk back I enjoyed my last road crossings a little. I enjoyed two small Vietnamese children waving “hello!” a lot more, especially the tiny one who kept it up all the way down the road.
I walked back, via Pho Hoa and Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) because I’d spotted I was near this one last entry in the guide book, and got back to the hotel without dramas, through heavy heavy traffic. Unlike yesterday, where I’d returned from a walk and nearly been squished by a bike. I guess it was inevitable, some time.
Read: Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man for Himself.
Reading: Mary Kowal, Word Puppets.