Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Saigon Streetscape

I had grown up with the name Saigon and struggled with the name Ho Chi Minh City, a name which meant very little to me.  The name Saigon evoked for me memories of war, bombings, massacre, refugees, the helicopter evacuation at the end - the stuff we remembered from watching the news growing up in the sixties.  While we were just watching the terrors of war on TV from the safety of our homes, those were memories that nevertheless had an impact on our teenage being - a big reason why I was particularly touched by the War Remnants Museum with its record of war atrocities and inhumanity.

My first impression of Saigon was how different it was from the rest of Vietnam.  It's more like a city in the western world with neon billboards and glitzy hotels.  Until we started walking through the sidestreets, then pockets of old Saigon peeked through in the roadside foodstalls in between parking lots and the odd street vendor trying to dodge the police right in the middle of the tourist district, where the buildings were impressive and the pavement clean.  The gigantic Cho Binh Tay market was dazzling with its vast array of goods - overwhelmingly colourful and bustling, a feast for the senses.

While traffic was just as congested as in Hanoi, it was actually quite orderly.  At least, I know that if I crossed on a green light, I wouldn't be run over, unlike in Hanoi, where one could not take such assumptions for granted.  One interesting trend I noticed is that the ladies on bikes are very conscious of protecting their skin from the tropical sun - they all wear masks, goggles, and long gloves - a fashion statement in themselves.  

Rush hour traffic...

The humongous Cho Binh Tay wholesale market

Believe it or not - these are the masks worn by the lady bikers

Long gloves not for the ball, but for the road

Your choice of material in the market

An aisle just for hats - never seen so many in my life!

This is how they line up soft shell crabs - when they are lined up, they couldn't move 

You can make a lot of soup with that tail

All the prices are posted for the merchandise each day - of course you can still bargain based on that price

Dried shrimps in a dozen sizes and quality

Biggest longan fruit eveer
In complete contrast to the market, are the western style shopping centres like the one below...

The Presidential Palace and its staterooms - this one has the beautiful lacquered mural, a traditional Vietnamese art form

Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the 19th century by the French - the floor looked familiar

The Central Post Office built in the early part of the 20th century by architect Gustave Eiffel of tower fame

The Saigon Opera House (or Municipal Theatre) was built in the shape of the Opera Garnier in Paris
Street hawker harrassed by two cops

Our guide pointed out the building where the last U.S. helicopter took off with the final load of evacuees - I still remember images of people clinging on, refusing to let go, the faces of those left behind
This iconic photo from the war years was one of many in the War Remnants Museum - be prepared for an emotional couple of hours if you visit

Finally, food...didn't see this kind of street food in Hanoi

Please check Foodsparks for an upcoming post on Food in Saigon.

And with this, our Vietnam trip came to an end.  It was a colourful adventure for us and we enjoyed the subtle differences in culture, cuisine and character that the journey from the north to the south revealed to us.  We came away with a better understanding of the Vietnamese and a natural desire for more.  

Next stop:  Hong Kong

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