May is the beginning of monsoon season for parts of Vietnam.  As Paul and I negotiated our way through the flowing traffic towards the vast train station (“ga” – in Vietnamese, as in “gâre” – a word left over from French colonialisation) the rain began to pour, a kind of massive condensation of the muggy humidity that pervaded the city.  In this kind of weather you need rubber flip flops or wellies.  We waded through puddles, observing the full colour of Vietnamese life splashing on all around us, and once at the station, booked our sleeper train journey to Nha Trang in two days’ time.

 

Our first taste of pho at a station café, a delicious steaming bowl of rice noodles in stock which you topped with fresh herbs, leaves, chillis, beansprouts and a squeeze of lime.  These noodles are eaten at breakfast, at lunch, as a snack.  I loved them. 

 

At tables nearby people lay stretched out on their seats for an afternoon nap beneath the waft of humming electric fans.  We sat at our table for a while, watching the station traffic come and go until the rain subsided.  This was how it would rain most days, especially in the south – an hour or two of heavy downpour before the sun came out and dried everything out.

 

We gave ourselves an introduction to the city by walking around some of the main sites – past the Reunification Palace, through the Cong Vien Van Hoa Park, around and into the late 19th century main post office, with its impressive French colonial architecture, and the neo-romanesque Dame Cathedral beside it.  Most museums closed by 4pm and we made a mental log of what we wanted to see next day.

 

 

Later that evening we sat on the roof terrace of our hotel and ate hotpot, the wind occasionally blowing out the flames on our table top cooker.  Someone somewhere was singing hideously bad karaoke below us and all around the city mopeds beeped and honked.  This was a huge, vibrant, energetic city and we were going to need all the sleep we could get to make the most of the next day’s explorations.  An early bedtime was in order.