Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Arrived on the 18th after a red eye flight. Picked up from the airport by the hotel’s driver the journey made clear that even by SE Asian standards the traffic in Saigon is nuts.

First thing to do was get some sleep. Having done that the day was gone so spent the evening getting dinner and a couple of beers in the surrounding backpacker district. Unfortunately it has all of the brashness (maybe more) and none of the charm of Bangkok’s. The main street is open to Saigon’s traffic so any streetside seat there would have fumes at the front and ear splitting bass from behind. The alleyways offered respite but were too small to offer much in the way of people watching and none of the restaurant bars did the laid back thing very well.

The local food is good. Not has hot as Thai, but with more use of herbs. On my first full day launch was at a restaurant called Propaganda. Wonderful food, great atmosphere, friendly and professional staff; it’s one of the restaurants I’d most like to return to from anywhere and a place I’d happily take anyone.

The War Remnants Museum contained not only a wide collection of abandoned US military equipment, it also covered the brutality of the regime that the Vietnamese were rebelling against prior to the US getting directly involved.

Otherwise Saigon is busy, really busy. Roads are clogged with traffic and millions of scooters. In many places your walking in it as the pavements are clogged with parked scooters, traders, tables and chairs. Elsewhere the pavements can free up but the clogged traffic means the scooters take to the pavements at key choke points; one of those was parents dropping off kids at school. Crossing the road is always a serious act of faith that the scooters and vehicles will flow around you. You can pick a time to ease the flow but you never cross an empty road. Partially because many of the scooters regard traffic lights as suggestions rather than instructions.

This morning was a visit to the Củ Chi tunnels, a network of dug tunnels that allowed the communist resistance to maintain a stronghold over an area within 40km all through the end of the French occupation after WWII and all through the subsequent American War. Although fascinating the museum opened up more questions than it answered. I’ll need to find some books on them particularly ones that covered the engineering. Growing up with the Great Escape we know that tunnelling is hard with ingenuity required to stop collapses and to provide ventilation. Much was made of the incredible achievements made by the people here but almost nothing on how they actually managed it. It was nice to chat to an Aussie family on the trip who gave me some tips for Hanoi.

Tomorrow at 9am I’ll catch the train to Nha Trang, a brash seaside town. I’ll stay there for one night before catching another train to take me to Bai Xep. That’s meant to have a new laid back beach scene and I’ve a couple of nights booked. If it turns out as I hope then hopefully I can extend my stay.

I’ll not miss Saigon. It’s just too busy, with little charm, attractiveness or interest. That makes it sound worse than it is, I’ve been to worse. It’s not horrible being here, there’s just limited rewards for the hassle. My Aussie friends told me Hanoi is much nicer.

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