We’ll be heading to mainland China very soon so in an interest of catching up as best I can before we get there, my Vietnam posts are going to be relatively brief! 🙂
Saigon was interesting to me because of all the places we’ve traveled to so far, this was the first city that in some small ways most resembled the “typical big Asian city” composite I had created in my mind way back when, before we started the street. It’s hard to put a finger on why exactly that is, and of course as usual the vast majorities of my assumptions were off base and Saigon is much more than some simplified stereo type.
Still, there was something in the energy of it, in the bustling streets, in the evident layers of history, in the amazingly narrow and crammed shops and buildings, in its juxtaposition of tradition and poverty and ramshackleness with modernity and affluence and expedience, in its somehow unforgiving yet neutral attitude, that felt – well, if not expected, familiar.
We arrived into Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) after spending one VERY long day on the bus coming from Siem Reap. Entering the city after dark, I was dazzled and delighted by the neon absolutely everywhere. Signage with massive, blinking rainbow letters was everywhere to see (the half of it belonging to karaoke club!).
Maybe we were overwhelmed by all the color and light because we left the bus and in no short order were totally hoodwinked by a scamming taxi driver. One lesson learned and we were a lot more discerning and demanding of cab drivers in Vietnam after that!
Besides the neon, other things I loved or want to remember about Saigon include:
– The stunning colonial architecture, especially the main post office which is just romantic and elegant as all get out.
– The “crossing the road” through a sea of moped experience. Not quite as nerve wracking as I had expected after the stories I’d heard, but still it does require some trust and a bit of Zen mind, and I really enjoyed it.
– How many trees there are in the city!
– Catching glimpses of people’s home lives through occupied balconies/open balcony doors above the street level. There were some really lovely older folks living in apartments across the hotel we stayed in – loved to see them hanging out on their tiny balconies as we would come and go.
– How the constant, heavy traffic sounded like the rush of not-too-distant water once you got a bit of distance from the main streets.
– Despite the urbanity of the city, we would occasionally run into roosters or chickens hanging out on the sidewalks, which I always got a kick out of.
– The incredible, powerful evening rainstorms – and how wet we got having to run just around the corner through one to meet Louise and Patrick for dinner.
– How awesome and fun it was to run into Louise and Patrick after meeting them briefly back in Laos! 😀
– The sweet smile of the woman who worked in the restaurant of our hotel.
– The totally amazing and delicious pomegranate and watermelon martini I had while taking in the Saigon skyline. Need to try to recreate that drink when I’m home again! 🙂