Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why I love Ho Chi Minh City

Sometimes I think the world's population falls into two types of people: those who love Ho Chi Minh City, and those who don't. And you know, it is almost impossible to pick them. I am often taken aback by some quiet, shy, pollution-hating person who returns from Vietnam and says, "Wow! I really loved Saigon!"
You see, I grew up in the country, and from my youngest days I have been fascinated with big cities - the bigger, smellier and more crowded the better. And Ho Chi Minh City wins on all those fronts.
Much of Destination Saigon takes place there, because it is always my base, and I can never bear to be away from it for long.

It is a city filled with cafes, and the cafes are full. In the heat and humidity people are constantly seeking some respite, and these smoky, dimly-lit and often hyper-air-conditioned little cafes offer some shelter to the weary. Everyone in Ho Chi Minh City has their own favourite cafe or two, and they operate as extensions of their own living spaces. Once you begin frequenting a cafe you quickly become a local, and often find yourself embroiled in the personal lives of the waiting staff. I love this dimension of Saigon living.

It's still a motorcycle city, and many years ago I fell in love with climbing up onto a motorcycle and zooming through the insane traffic. There's something immensely liberating about motorcycle travel, as any number of dull films from the 1960s will attest. Sadly, several years ago laws were introduced in Vietnam that made the wearing of safety helmets compulsory, and the Ho Chi Minh City police are pretty vigilant about enforcing this particular law. This means that these days you arrive at your destination with your head a little sweaty. But still it's worth it, despite getting soaked in afternoon storms, and smelling exactly like a service station after travelling for 20 minutes or more.

And it's a religious city! It is jam-packed full of temples, chuches and shrines, and you see monks and nuns wherever you go.

Supermarket culture is quite important in Vietnam. Large-ish shopping malls are still a relatively recent phenomenon, and the people of Ho Chi Minh City view the visiting of a supermarket as a leisure activity of the highest order. Normally people will say, "I'm going to the supermarket to play."
What else do I love? The food, the endless possibilities for exploration, the great beauty of the people and their cheeky, affectionate attitudes. I was certainly a Saigonese in my past life.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails