Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Hussle and bussle of Ho Chi Minh City

I have fallen in love with Ho Chi Minh City - or Saigon as the locals and I now call it. This is the city that never sleeps. It's crammed full of the warmth, spirit, smiles and humour of its people, wonderful food, a million mopeds, densely populated, with its higgledy-piggledy buildings, the chaos setting all your senses on fire.

It's a city steeped in history and tradition, where you truly begin to understand the tug-of-war ground that Vietnam has been for so many years until recently - with invasions by China, the French empirical rule, the Vietnam War and evidence of the struggle for and against Communism leaving behind a clear distinction rooted between the people in the South versus the North. Reminders of these things are around almost every corner including...

The Reunification Palace, the site of the end of the Vietnam War and fall of Saigon which has been frozen in time since 1975 including it's  Austin Powers' style bar and bizarre collection of hollowed out elephant feet (yes they're real!)...

and ornate buildings like Notre Dame Cathedral and others which remind you of the days of French rule...

and these sit alongside symbols of Vietnam's own cultural roots, for example, the beautiful Jade Emperor Pagoda which is said to be the most striking in the city.

As a tourist, your Saigon initiation is to cross the road across a sea of never-ending traffic. Crossings mean virtually nothing and are few and far between so when you first manage to step out trust that the traffic will simply weave around you all the while heart a-thumping you feel the greatest sense of achievement that you made in to the other side in one piece.

I promise you I'm not kidding. Watch this video and contemplate how you would negotiate this road

Once you've negotiated that, an early morning visit to the lifeblood of the city - the markets - is required and whether you are a food lover or fashion lover this place has it all. Take in the vivid colours (and smells!) and grab yourself some fresh fruit...

then indulge in replica designer Gucci and Chloe bags and Chanel watches and fabulous lacquer wear in the Aladdin's cave that is Ben Thanh Market.

and you need to get your haggle on - it's expected and all done in good humour.

In fact Saigon is replica central. In the backpacker district, you can even pick up a masterfully painted replica of your favourite work - whether it's a Monet or a Banksy - and watch the artists at work in with the bargain...

And then there's the food - wonderful food - including the ubiquitous Pho (the soupy noodle dish), fresh rice paper rolls and Vietnamese beef stew

and bars and restaurants (some more ramshackle than others) where you can watch the world go by perched upon high sipping a Saigon beer for $1.

There is so much to Saigon, so much more than I could ever fit  in this post. Visit it and feel it pulsing in your veins!

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