Ho Chi Minh City, talking about reproduction and seeing old Saigon

by May 21, 2014

View from my window at dawn – old and new

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I was contracted to talk and run a workshop about contraception. I had a wonderful time, speaking to about 300 doctors from all over South East Asia as well as India and Pakistan and learning so much about their cultures. As a bonus, I managed to have a walk around the central part of the city and admire the architecture from colonial French times in what was once Saigon. Modern Ho Chi Minh City is equally enthralling with wide streets – very clean – and thousands of scooters and motorbikes. At first I was pretty nervous about crossing roads, but the drivers are not out to get you and actually swerve around any  errant pedestrians. At the intersections there is a sort of ballet as the opposing squads of bikes move toward and across each other in their masses. People were friendly and I was warned a few times to hold on to my possessions as there are marauders on scooters who will whisk your bag off your shoulder.

Wrought iron design here – very French
Saigon Opera House
The gardener watering the plants

was very keen on getting into every part of the magnificent park opposite the Opera House and moved assiduously around me as I sat on a bench drawing the scene.

Shop in Dong Koi St

Shops were bright and assistants helpful but not overwhelming. I had to buy some new glasses because I stupidly lost mine at the airport. I was sent to an ‘optic’ shop by the hotel and although there was not much English, they understood that I desperately needed at least reading glasses. I had new frames and new lenses within 30 minutes and if I had been able to be around for 4 days, could have had new multifocal prescription glasses.

A great find was L’Usine – thanks to my daughter in law, who sent me an article from the NY Times – ’36 hours in Ho Chi Minh City’. It is a really good cafe and adjoining homewares and clothes shop – think modern, industrial, but with a Vietnamese twist. It is up some steep, grotty stairs leading off an ‘art’ alley – lots of rather garish and commercial oil paintings. Nothing took my fancy there, but loved L’Usine – which is part of the restored, refurbished Hotel de Saigon. Great vibe – you could have coffee, cakes etc and sit there for hours reading or working. It would be a great place to write a book!

L’Usine shop
L’Usine Cafe


And then, of course, I did a bit of work, which was very enjoyable too.