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.