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Archive for the 'Ho Chi Minh City' Category

Long week-end in Saigon

Long before I ever set foot on the continent, Vietnam had always been the first Asian country to peek my interest through American soldiers depiction of life during the war. I remember always being eager to read the next volume of my monthly subscription to NAM: The Vietnam Experience book by Time Page and fascinated by all the great movies of the time such as The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon or Apocalypse Now. While Vietnam remains a Communist country on paper there is little sign of the political legacy of Uncle Ho that lives on in Saigon today. Yes, red flags are still flying off official buildings and you might pop into a few kids of the youth pioneers with red ties around their necks but Vietnam has definitely chosen the path of China’s market economy and capitalism is apparent everywhere. The only thing really left from the revolution is the one-party dictatorship…

Ho Chi Minh City, still commonly known as Saigon to its seven million and growing inhabitants is Vietnam’s largest and most exciting city. While the best way to explore it is on foot, things can prove to be challenging at times. First thing you’ll have to deal with is the boiling 38 °C+ heat and humidity that will make you quickly sweat like a pig by just walking a few blocks. Next comes the traffic, as there seems to be more motorbikes than grains of sand on the beach and the fact that they honk every 30 seconds makes it a very cacophonic experience. With very few cars and even less traffic rules it can be exhausting at times. But, once you do get the hang of it, wandering through Saigon’s streets and alleyways is a whole lot of fun soaking up the lively atmosphere and watching the locals go by their daily routine. There’s plenty of markets, pagodas, temples, churches and parks to discover and once your hungry no shortage of nice restaurants to savor the delights of Vietnamese cuisine on the cheap.

The South Vietnamese people themselves are a friendly bunch and besides the obvious touts of the tourist area of Pham Ngu Lao things are relaxed. I was lucky enough to be invited back a girl’s family’s home I met for some food where I spent most of my 2nd day living on a very local level. Though the language barrier can be a problem the younger generation is slowly catching up, a sharp contrast with 20 years ago when you could have been arrested for speaking English. Expecting little I was also surprised of the good range of nightlife in Saigon. Ok, this is no Manila but they have a few live music venues and the disco I happened to try out was still going on strong when I left around 2-3am. Grabbing a last beer or two with some food in the De Tham area wasn’t a problem neither at that time. I would definitely be happy to return and explore a bit more of Southern Vietnam. A bit of beach time in Nha Trang followed by the crossing the Mekong Delta into Cambodia sounds like an excellent idea for a future trip. But as always so little time and so much to do…

Here is a list of my recommendations for hotels in Saigon, Vietnam:

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