The trip to Saigon went smoothly enough. Our prearranged
taxi didnít show, the plane left from Chiang Mai late, and it
took F-O-R-E-V-E-R to get our bags in
Bangkok. We got lost in the Bangkok airport, and finally made it to the
Vietnam Air desk just one hour before departing. This flight left on time,
and the lunch served with wine was wonderful. We were on our way to
Our driver, Vinh, met us at the airport in Saigon. Quickly we made our
way through narrow streets filled with racing motorbikes, horns blaring
constantly, to Hotel
127, one of five hotels run by Madame Cuc. Twenty US
Dollars. No discounts, no bargaining, nada. 20 bucks was the price for a
spotless, large air conditioned room, complete with TV, minibar, and
Voluntarily coming to Vietnam without the aid of a free flight,
courtesy of Uncle Sam and the US Military, seemed odd to us. What we
learned, experienced, and saw was worth every bit of hassle real or
imagined. Vietnam was opened to tourism only a handful of years ago, and
Saigon, its largest city, is thriving.
Bustling , churning, this metropolis is just waiting to
explode commercially. You can feel it everywhere; the high energy, the
industriousness of the people, the old making way for the new. The
hustle and commotion are everywhere. Motorbikes outnumber cars by scores, and street markets are anywhere
there is space sufficient to accommodate them. Everyone seems to
be looking ahead, hungry for the future.
Beautiful female office workers, dressed in the traditional au dai and
high heels, gracefully glide their motorbikes through the orchestrated
chaos of rush-hour traffic. At the same time, the smell of food cooking is
in the air, and fresh baguettes, pate and brie are sold everywhere. Shops
with quality goods for exceptional value follow one after the other on
every street. Exceeding our expectations, Saigon seizes our senses,
energizes us, and promises optimism for its citizens tomorrow.
NORMAL, EVERYDAY TRAFFIC
Because much of the adult population was killed in the various recent Vietnam wars, and
hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled to live overseas, 65% of its people are under the age of 30.
This could explain why there were no
hostilities towards us as Americans; most were born just as the US left
Vietnam. And, once learning that we were from the States, a young
enthusiastic waiter at a popular restaurant stated with a huge smile,
"America have big heart". How refreshing!
The people who did remain in Vietnam during the late 1970ís either
could not or did not want to leave. Quite nationalistic and proud of their
country now that they are independent and one Vietnam again, there is
perceivable strength and endurance in their facial expressions.
MODERN SKYLINE VIEW FROM CYCLO
As a contrast to the chaos of traffic, a romantic and leisurely way to
get around Saigon is to utilize the cyclo driver. For a dollar an hour,
these drivers, mostly "retired" soldiers from the South Vietnamese Army,
calmly and confidently wheel you around wherever you would like to go. Giving
commentary as you mosey through the pandemonium of the traffic, there is a
peacefulness and timelessness about this mode of travel not to be missed.
Moving at just better than walking speed, without the worry of watching where you are going, itís perfect for photo taking.
Drivers will stop anywhere and at any time for your sight seeing, shopping
or snapshot needs. Buildings of French and art deco style abound.
FRENCH BUILT CITY HALL
Five kilometers from our hotel is the Cholon
market, the widely known dense cluster of streets comprising the
Chinatown of Saigon. Over a million or more Chinese live and work here
in this twisty, winding, jam packed selection of streets. Generating
great wealth, this area and its people have, at one time or another,
been welcomed, persecuted, or shoved underground and run by gangs.
Everything you can imagine to buy is found here, with streets known for
their specialized products. Worth a look see, and take your time!
We employed cyclo drivers to get to the American War Crimes Museum and
Reunification Palace, the Ben Thanh market, and the famous Majestic Hotel
and City Hall. Once known as The Hotel DeVille, this beautiful structure
then became The Peoples Committee Building, and is now called City
First time visitors to Saigon, we enthusiastically dove
into the experience, exploring its people, markets, food, and history. Not
sitting back, we found ourselves swept away with this cityís thriving
Persistent and craving a better life for themselves, the people of
Saigon are pressing, driving, leaping into the 21st century.