YOGA IN THE HUMIDITY
The first thing you feel when you step off the plane in Asia, is the humidity, it hits you brutally and mercilessly, reminding you this is far, far away from home.
Landing in HCMC airport for the first time alone, I get my luggage and take a good 20 minutes to orientate myself and find a cab. I come out of the terminal building, massively regretting the size of my luggage and curse myself for the last minute choice to pack the second pair of heels…Research prior to arriving I head left out of the terminal building, straight towards the queue for the metered cabs, pass several taxi touts offering ridiculously overpriced fares. Getting in, I sheepishly attempt at pronouncing the name of the road where my hotel is located – my exposure to Vietnamese growing up via grandma and grandad failed at allowing me to read the umlauts on words, so I probably sounded like any other tourist. Due to its popularity with backpackers, we’re quickly on out way to the Pham Nu Lau area, the journey takes around 15 minutes and costs me 140,000 VND. I’m excited, the nervous kind of excitement you get when you’re about to embark on a unknown, unplanned journey, I wanted to embrace this feeling and absorb everything about being in this new city but was distracted by my overly curious cab driver, asking me numerous questions – where am I from, who I came with, how long I’m staying – questions I’ll learn later are the basic conversation starters used by locals in Vietnam.
On you first day, once you are all checked in, there’s two things you have to worry about:
1. Exchange yourself some local money
2. Find your first munch that will violate your foreign body the least
Fortunately I was feeling OK for food, being full still from my plane snacks and meal, I head to near Cho Ben Thanh to sort out task 1. In Vietnam changing money is quite basic, jewelers offer the best exchange rate and from previously visiting Saigon with my family, I knew that there are a few located to the right of the market. You have to be careful of fake money, but with the minimal Vietnamese I speak and understand, I’m able to easily change up a good amount to keep me going for three weeks.
Saigon is busy, it’s dirty, it’s suffocating, crossing the road is like and extreme sport and there’s a fuck load of fast moving people everywhere, plus way too many flies, but once your bodily senses overcome the overwhelming change, you easily start to appreciate the city. The locals going about their daily business become entertaining, the colours you see everywhere, in food, fruits, on buildings, signs and at the markets stimulate your visual sensory and the constant beeping of horns and the 1000’s of offers for a motorbike taxi slowly fade into the background.
Day outfits in Saigon (and probably all of Vietnam) are dictated by the environment, you can’t wear what you want comfortably, you quickly get too hot for that pretty, perfectly fitted shirt you bought back in Zara, in London. Shorts and a loose fitting vest top is the only thing you can just about breathe in, preferably a top made of silk or some sort of other lightweight material. Crochet or lace is ideal, although quite revealing for this relatively conservative country where men are often sleezy, and one does not want to or should avoid stimulating their instinctive intentions.
I opt for my CK denim cutoff shorts (pockets are useful for carrying my valuables without a bag, as bags are occasionally snatched by people going by on their bikes), with a polka dot chiffon top from F21, gold glitter sandals from Miss KG, Ray Ban sunglasses.
Food: a hot bowl of Pho is a good fail safe for a first meal as it is made up of pretty basic elements, if you have a really sensitive stomach, it’s best to go to a chain restaurant like Pho 24, to eat your first bowl and avoid the cheap street eateries until you’re stomach is more steel-like.
Exploring the city: there’s little to do in Saigon itself, except dive into some haggling at the markets and get a massage or other beauty treatments, both can be achieved by walking. If you’re into trance/dance/techno, clubbing is also an option.
Desperately trying to find an alternative activity, I search the Internet for a Yoga centre and find one located in district 1, about 5km from where I’m staying, they have open classes and more appealing to me, a rooftop studio for you to practice by yourself under the stars (o;
I needed to work out how to get there without getting a taxi as I felt this kind of defeated the whole point of going to exercise. Renting a motorbike was an option, but it really isn’t recommended to drive a motorbike for the very first time in Saigon, you’ll almost indefinitely hurt yourself and plus my family would be relatively upset with me for doing so, even if I didn’t get hurt…
This biking tour company details road safety tips in Vietnam and it is seriously the funniest thing that I have read, all the tips paint a highly accurate picture of the roads in Vietnam, Saigon specifically.
With that in mind, I opted for a bicycle, this way I’m exercising on route and I can get a feel for the roads, if the roads get scary at any point I have the option to ride on the pavement for a while – yes there’s little in the way of road regulations here, so this was fine. Biking also meant that on the way back, I could take the same route I took there, even if some of the roads were one way!
Here’s a map of my journey to Sivananda Yoga Center Vietnam