Secret Saigon

Travel not only broadens the mind, it makes the mind. I made my broadened mind up many years ago (2004) to see what Vietnam was all about and have loved it ever since. The first thing you have to be very at one with the universe about is the heat. You put your lipstick on, leave the hotel every morning, stand up straight and say to yourself, it’s going to be 35 degrees, you are going to sweat gallons and every single person you speak to or even walk past will scream, 'you beautiful hair madam you very modern'. Then they pull the red hair to see if it’s a wig. The Vietnamese engage you immediately – they love fun, are very witty and very direct. 

Then you take someone’s advice to try a rooftop restaurant called Mountain Retreat. You get to the address, no restaurant sign, walk down a shabby alley, no sign, someone screams with laughter points at your hair then points at the stairs. Up SIX flights of stairs you come to the Mountain Retreat, a family restaurant on the roof of their house. It has lots of foliage, chickens wandering around, nanas doing the dishes in bowls on the floor and the general vibe is hilariously insane. The food is fantastic and obviously everyone knows about it because it is pumping. Pork ribs and fresh spring rolls have never tasted so good served with Saigon beer jumping with ice-cubes.

A visit to a market is a symphony of endearingly tempting things like boiled snake head, delicious little pork and dried fish pies, sugar cane and kumquat juice pressed right in front of your very eyes, eggs with embryos inside them – eaten by Vietnamese men to help put a bit of lead in the old pencil. For some mysterious reason Vietnamese women don’t seem to need aphrodisiacs. You get fabulous Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk, pounded shrimp wrapped around sugarcane sticks and grilled, fried silk worms, mountains of fresh Vietnamese mint and basil and fish sauce to eat with everything, unborn eggs taken from inside a slaughtered chook and in the middle of it all French baguettes and Breton cake, which the Vietnamese have completely forgotten is not Vietnamese.

The best part is your reward at the end of the day – your choice of the best roof-top bars all over the city – very chic, (sometimes ridiculously expensive) and absolutely de rigeur. Think glamorous decor and B52 cocktails. No-one here would just go to bed – that would be bad form. And even better, Saigon is relatively safe and a woman can walk home to her hotel as if she was just one of the locals. But then they see the hair …..