Today I have no plans but to explore the bustling city of Saigon. I have no idea where I am going or what I will see, I merely pop in and out of shops as they call to me and explore what’s inside. The only thing I know I must do is to try Avocado Coffee, so I head towards Shelter Coffee & Tea’s tiny little shop at 13 Lê Thánh Tôn, with little detours along the way.
The busy streets give way to a quieter area in District 1, which contains Japantown. Here is where you’ll find this little green monster. Sinh To Bo.
I place my order at the cash register and then head up the narrowest little staircase to a seating area upstairs. I am the only one here so I take the opportunity to spread my arms above my head and try and fan my armpits under the aircon. It’s so hot outside that I am sweating rivers. I’ve just about run out of tissues to mop myself up with.
In no hurry, my coffee arrives. It looks like a cup of vomit, I won’t lie and it takes a few deep breaths and a stern talking to, to actually lift the cup to my mouth and drink. But when I do, I am pleasantly surprised. It’s a thick, rich texture almost as though it has icecream in it and it tastes sweet, I’m assuming from condensed milk. It really is very yummy in actual fact and I pat myself on the back for being such a brave girl.
After a bit more wandering I come across a modern looking mall – it happens to be Parkson. The blasting aircon inside makes me decide that this is where I’ll find lunch today. Whatever it is, I will eat it in the icy cold aircon, so my pants will have a chance to unstick themselves from my legs.
On a food floor of the mall, I come by a restaurant serving local dishes and decide that’s fine by me. I still haven’t tried banh xeo and lucky for me, it’s on the menu. What I’m not expecting is such a massive crispy pancake that could actually feed two people. It looks absolutely delicious though, with a scattering of perfectly fresh herbs and salad leaves that I give it a really good go. Banh xeo is made of a rice batter, which is then stuffed with bean sprouts, pork, shrimp and green onions, along with the herbs and salad greens that have accompanied it. Somehow you tear some off and incorporate the herbs while trying to dip it into a beautiful light dressing and trying not to let the whole thing crumble in a mess before it gets to your mouth. But when you do finally get it there, it’s a true taste explosion. I love this lunch. I later find out it’s meant to feed a family. Oops.
Probably because of the huge amount of food I’ve just eaten, I suddenly feel quite tired and weary and could quite easily head back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. But I spy a nail salon and looking down at my poor feet, I decide I will treat myself. You know who won’t be getting a treat? The poor girl that has to repair these wrecks. The weeks of trudging along dirty, rain-soaked streets and lack of scrubbing brush or proper soaking facilities means that they look absolutely filthy, my toenails are caked with dirt and my heels are cracking. But she does a hell of a job and in no time at all, they almost look amazing. The pedicure takes around an hour and only costs me around AUD$30. I pay her quite a tip in compensation for the possibility that she will never be able to unsee my feet in her nightmares and head towards the hotel for cocktail hour.
Tomorrow, I depart Vietnam for a few days of unwinding in that good old second home of mine. Reflecting, I now feel like I’ve seen enough of Saigon and I’m happy to leave her behind for greener pastures, but I’m glad I came back to see her on my own terms.