Following yesterday’s Reunification Day, it was back-to-back bank holidays with May Day today. Obviously the day of the worker is going to be observed in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam! While visiting Saigon, you’d barely know that you were in one of the world’s remaining bastions of communism. The Vietnamese economy is booming with sustained growth levels of around 10%. It’s certainly noticeable to the casual observer in Saigon. Since I was last here in 2014, the amount of high-rise buildings, modern shops and fancy restaurants that have sprung up is astounding. Despite the vast modernisation taking place, there are still a couple of reminders of the political regime though. Websites of organisations deemed to have been a bit too critical for the government’s liking have been blocked. One such is bbc.com. The BBC being banned in communist Vietnam provides a terrific irony with the Daily Mail keen to point out (usually with little basis) how left-wing an organisation the BBC is! Facebook was also blocked the last time I was in Vietnam, although this no longer appears to be the case. However I’ve heard that if there is any inkling of a protest occurring or any rumbling political dissent, social media in Vietnam can suddenly go offline.
After a fairly hectic last couple of weeks around Cambodia, I was taking it easy today and decided to check out some of Saigon’s cafes. South-East Asia has a great cafe and bakery scene and even by these standards, there are some terrific places here. They range from simple local establishments to Starbucks clones, as well as even a few proper franchises of the Seattle-based chain. I found a nice place called Phuc Long, attracted by its impressive air conditioning unit rather than the slightly unfortunate comedic name! Vietnamese coffee is terrific. It has a distinct rich and smooth taste and tastes great with a bit of condensed milk. You don’t get much in a serving but the idea is to enjoy the flavour rather than guzzle it down in large volumes.
I still believe that the famous 30p glasses of home-brew beer are still available in certain parts of Saigon. However I didn’t fancy sitting on a child-size plastic chair on the edge of the street with motorbikes whizzing by a few inches away while drinking one of them. Call me flash, but for little more than double that you can still enjoy a cold bottle of Saigon Beer while sitting on a nice bar stool and watching televised sport. Again without sounding like an old man I also don’t see the infatuation that some of the travelling youngsters have with nitrous oxide. Laughing gas is supposed to make you a bit dizzy in order to take your mind off childbirth. I’d take three cold Saigons for the same price as a balloon any day!