Monday, 17 September 2012


I took a taxi with Jessica into the city in the late morning. She had a lunch appointment with a colleague and I was hoping to go to the Central Post Office, and then the History Museum. Jessica invited me to join them at the restaurant where we got out of the taxi, provided that I sat on another table, but I decided to go somewhere a bit cheaper by myself. I found my way onto Dong Khoi, a street I know very well by now. Along this route you pass several significant landmarks, such as the Saigon Opera House and the Hotel Continental, an important political and social hub during the French colonial period, and famously featured in Graham Greene's The Quiet American.

Statue of soldiers outside post office
I reached the Central Post Office, which I have now visited about three times. I like it very much in here, with the polished wooden benches, high vaulted ceiling, old fashioned telephone booths, each one adorned by a clock showing the time in major world cities, and of course, the large portrait of Uncle Ho that greets you as you enter. After paying for stamps and posting my mail, I sat down briefly to check the route from here to the History Museum. At this point I was disrupted by a woman with a camera. I assumed she wanted me to take a photo of her with her boyfriend, so I started to stand up. But in fact she wanted a picture taken with me, and sat down snugly next to me with her arm around my shoulder. She then switched places with her boyfriend so he could be photographed with this unusual foreigner, and they both thanked me and left. When travelling in South East Asia as a kid with my parents I had occasionally been pulled into photographs with strangers but I assumed I'd grown out of my youthful cuteness by now. I wasn't too bothered, however, and returned to my map. But just as I was about to leave the same couple returned, this time with some friends, so that they too could take photographs with me. I obliged, but when they had finished I quickly scuttled away before I became some sort of permanent exhibit at the post office.

From here I took a right onto Duong Le Duan, which I walked down for about ten minutes, passing the American and Birtish consulates as well as other important-looking buildings. Bizarrely, there was a long queue of people manned by security guards outside the American consulate, and I couldn't think why. At the end of the street I reached the zoo and botanical garden, where the History Museum is situated. As it was lunch hours and the museum wouldn't be open for another half an hour, I went to a cafe nearby for lunch, and by now I was starving hungry. Unfortunately, the food I ordered- fish and rice at 30,000 dong- was no good; all the food was barely lukewarm and the fish had a horrible smell and an overly salty taste, so I hardly ate any of it. I suppose that it the cost of refusing to eat anywhere that isn't dirt cheap! To my surprise the waitress was very gracious about this, apologising for the food being cold. My experience so far of Vietnamese restaurant service has been mostly abrupt and impersonal, and total refusal to believe that there is anything wrong with the food! A case in point is a meal we had at Mui Ne. I was sat at one end of a long table of about twenty-five people and next to me was a Vietnamese girl called Thi. Halfway through eating her salad she silently stood up, took the dish back to the kitchen area and spoke to one of the waitresses. It turned out that she had found piles of cockroach droppings in her salad, but the staff refused to believe her and even accused her of planting them there herself. Thi returned to the table empty-handed and as far as I know she and her boyfriend still had to pay the full cost of their meals. Considering how polite Thi had been in not disturbing the rest of the party about this rather ugly incident, I thought that the staff could certainly have shown some more respect and generosity to the unlucky girl instead of putting pride first.

I left the cafe and rounded the corner to the History Museum, but was very disappointed to find that it wasn't just closed for lunch, it was closed all day Monday! My Lonely Planet (published 2001) had said it was open on Mondays, so I think it is perhaps time to get an updated guidebook. Just down the road was the Ho Chi Minh Military Museum, but this too was closed. I gave up on the chance of a day of education, and instead went to the zoo, where I spent a few happy hours watching giraffes, elephants and hippos. The place is huge once you venture inside, and I would recommend visiting due to the incredible value. An adult ticket costs 8,000 dong, equivalent to about 25 pence, from which you can spend a day walking around and looking at the animals, or else relax in a quiet shaded spot amongst the botanical gardens. Monday lunchtime seemed to be a good time to visit as it was fairly quiet and peaceful, and fortunately the rain held off, making it very pleasant weather. When I saw Jessica again and she asked me how my museum trip had gone, and I told her I went to the zoo instead, she rolled her eyes at me despairingly. She asked whether I had at least seen the water puppets, which I told her I hadn't. Water puppetry is a traditional Northern Vietnamese type of entertainment dating back to the 11th century, when peasants would make wooden puppets appear to dance on the water in flooded paddy fields. Jessica told me that the Saigon Zoo is the only place in the city to see water puppets, so I had let slip the only chance I had of seeing some culture today! I hope I will be more successful tomorrow.

Bust of Louis Pierre, director of the zoo from 1865

Burmese pythons: magical and terrifying

Happy terrapin enjoys the sunshine

1 comment:

  1. Who say a trip to the zoo isn't culture? For a Yorkshire lass brought up on trips to Anfield with dad and day's out to Scarborough with mum and Auntie Teeny Tiny Tina and her not-so-tiny bottle of gin I think you are doing ok here x


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