Wednesday, April 25, 2007


One over riding thought from my trip: Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it’s now officially called) is the best city I’ve visited in South East Asia. By far.

So, I got back late last night. The trip was good. The temples of Angkor were great. Though the heat (forty degrees!) was sapping. Phnom Penh was terribly depressing and slightly grotesque. (More on those later).

Saigon was the highlight though. It might have been just relief at getting away from Phnom Penh and our shady guesthouse that seemed to double as a brothel. But saying that is probably injustice to Saigon. The city never disappointed in the five days I spent there.

There’s not much to see per se. It’s just the vibe that Saigon exudes. It’s bustling and very busy and the noise and smells are over powering. But Saigon is welcoming, the chaos pleasant and the city just sucks you in. You can just stand in a corner at a road side forever and never get bored because there’s just so much happening.

The traffic is mad of course. Motorcycles are so numerous that they seem like a never ending stream of ants inhabiting the city roads. (Saigon has the largest number of motorbikes for any city in the world.) Every road crossing seems like a new challenge – traffic rules are singularly ignored.

The first afternoon I was walking around alone and was at wits end trying to figure out how to make it across the street before a policeman came up and held up traffic to help me cross. After a while though, you get used to crossing the street in full traffic with motorbikes zigzagging around you. Motos are also a great way to get around the city. Though every time I got onto one I was quite sure I wouldn’t get down alive.

It’s a wonderful city to people watch. The city seems to live on the streets. There are roadside coffee and food stalls. Fruit vendors everywhere. At night the Ben Thanh market spills out on the roads. The people are wonderful, never pushy. The shopping is great and cheap, cheap, cheap. If I had my own house I would go back to Saigon just to buy stuff to put in it. The food was amazing. Brilliant pho, juicy fresh fruits, strong coffee. And despite the chaos and noise and mad rush, you can always find a quiet spot. Even in the rush of Cholon, the city’s China Town, the pagodas are like an oasis of calm.

I am still recovering from the trip. I haven’t even processed everything yet. I do know, however, that I would very much like to go back to Saigon.


vanshica said...

You indeed had a great time in Vietnam and Combodia and did loads of scary things like drink snake wine, eating weird insects and what not(the thought itself is quite scary).Extremely adventurous,I must say.
Anyway,enjoy your long trip to Turkey(in advance).

km said...

so what kinda music do Saigon radio stations play?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Tabula Rasa said...

ah, welcome back. glad you had a good time :-D

you know, that last line reflects just how great a difference thirty years can make!

TS said...

Wow! Sounds pretty inviting. I love 2-wheeler type cities, especially if the weather is pleasant.

And you're going to Turkey? Lucky you.

MISSquoted** said...

wsnt saigon a part of cambodia before vietnam annexed it[when they invaded cambodia of course]??

Karan said...

I hate you.

Renovatio said...

Staying on the photography vein, if you stuck a bulb in those springie things, you could get some great lighting out of those...

Szerelem said...

V: I didn't drink snake wine. Ewww. But I ate porcupine.

km: Ummm.....I didn't listen to any radio stations! But the bars there played good music.

TR: Have you been to Saigon? You should :)

TS: You'd love Ho Chi Minh if you like two wheelers! The weather was hot -not nearly as bad as Cambodia however. And by the evening it would get pretty pleasant.
Turkey - well hoping it works out :)

Miss**: Saigon and most of the Mekong delta were part of Cambodia but that was way back in the 16/17 centuries. Been with Vietnam ever since.

Karan: Don't be mean! I got you Trung Nguyen coffee all the way from Vietnam!

Renovatio: Hah! Those springie things are incense! But I know what you mean :D

Revealed said...

Love is on the way, I can see it in your eyes

MockTurtle said...

Lovely pics as ever.
What tipped you off regarding the Phnom Penh guest house? (I'm assuming the cleaning lady did not promise to love you long time)

Chimera said...

ah, Saigon looks so similar to India - which includes crossing a very busy road.
so when r u heading to Turkey, I'm soooooo J.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

Pho is just mind numbingly glorious no?

When I was in Hoi An three years ago, I think I had the best beef pho, (made extra special with beef tendon)ever.

I did feel like an awful carnivore after that, though.

Szerelem said...

Revealed: :-)

MT: Oh the guest house was just extremely seedy and shady. And had too many white men with Cambodian women going up to their rooms.

Swati: reminded me of India too. But the traffics a bit more insane I think. Istanbul in June if all the visas and all work out….fingers (and toes) crossed.

Punkster: Ah, the pho was brilliant!!! So fresh and tasty! And they had these brilliant fresh leaves that added so much flavour… uff…now I want to eat pho! How was Hanoi? Would like to go there too.

Ali Riza ARICAN said...

HCMC is a nice city with good breeze and many motorbikes... Good for travelers but crazy for the residents...
Take care,

Yen said...

Hi, happen to see ur blog when I visited Kelvin's facebook... I study in SMU but stays in saigon for abt 20 yrs :P Btw, Vietnam actually does not really invade Cambodia. (we were too busy to protect ourselves from colonists alr). Keep in touch and next time, wish to guide u to more places in Saigon... ;)