It’s a question that all foreigners ponder, especially when talking to the Vietnamese about it.
Fact: Ho Chi Minh City refers to the whole of the city. Saigon refers to the downtown area, mainly district 1 and 5.
But in Vietnam, you will hear it called as Saigon more than anything else.
My first impression was this city is on drugs! It’s an adrenaline rush just crossing the street. If Hanoi was bad, this is 10 times worse! And it makes sense when you consider the population of 11 million people in a city without public transportation. About half the population is on scooters; families of 4, teenagers, career women in heels, farmers with their crops in tow, etc. Rush hour is ALL the time!
People are also everywhere all the time. Peace and quiet does not exist. If I lived here, I would never leave my house due to pure anxiety.
We felt lucky that we had chosen to end our trip by staying at a 5 star hotel located in district 5, and not in the tourist area of district 1 with all the backpackers and touts.
We got our own map and set out to seek the sight of Saigon. After all, the main sights were grouped together and the streets seemed easy enough. I guess I will never learn that no streets in the world are quite as parallel as Toronto, and finding street signs here became another mission. Thank goodness I had a team to work with.
As all big cities, a river runs thru Saigon but it’s not a pretty picture. There are several ports with tankers and the river is polluted beyond belief. It’s quite sad to see how poorly this city is being taken care of, considering its history. The stink of the river is revolting and makes me wonder how tourists would pay extra for a river view in the riverfront hotels.
An opera house is located a few blocks from the river. It’s a big icon on the map but in reality, it’s disappointing and not even picture worthy. You’d think a French colonized country would house a wonderful opera building!
Then again, the French influence is fading. Most people don’t even speak English, even at our hotel. The locals here seemed extremely unfriendly and mean. I was glad that this was the end of my time here. The chaos, the noise, the confusing streets and throw in rude people – you defiantly feel unhappy.
We took a day trip out to the Cu Chi tunnels which is about 2 hours out of Saigon, but considered to be a suburb. During the war this area was the countryside, and the townspeople created an underground tunnel network to house the Viet Congs.
It’s impressive to see the system they had developed and the anti-American propaganda is appalling!
We spent more time sitting in the van getting to and from our destination however then at the actual place. This is due to the heavy traffic of a non-existent transportation system.
But it seemed well worth it since I got to fire an AK-47 – my first ever experience shooting any sort of gun.
getting into the tunnel
I ended 2010 in Saigon, among Vietnamese locals and tourists, cheers-ing Saigon beer with fellow travellers on the humid and crowded streets. It was an incredible feeling.
Of course among all the chaos my friends and I split up but the best but was when I finally made it back to our hotel floor to find our hotel pool party ending, and my friends in the pool, fully clothed.
Of course, I had to jump in.
It has been a wonderful 3 weeks of travelling through Vietnam. This country is beautiful in regards to landscape, rich in history, and its people have gone through much hardship to bring their land this far. However of all the places I have visited in Asia the people here have been the most devious, rude and the most difficult to understand. Perhaps there is an underlying hatred towards Westerners and I found this type of behaviour more so among middle aged people than anyone else. Vietnam is a young country, just over 30 years old and trying to still cope with all its loss and adapt to its emerging economy. Hopefully with time it will be better.