Impressions of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

By: leelefever on July 18, 2006 - 12:58am

Even at a first glance, Saigon (officially named Ho Chi Minh City) reveals a striking difference in transportation. We knew that SE Asia is very fond of the motorcycle, but Saigon takes the use of the motorcycle to a new level.  At any major intersection on a weekday, you might find 100 motorcycles waiting for the light to change.  Outside of nearly every place of business is a group of motorcycles parked and likely blocking the sidewalk. 

 Notice the woman riding side-saddle below- very common.

While there are more motorcycles, there seem to be fewer people per motorcycle than we saw in Cambodia or India.  I wonder if a measure of economic prosperity could be the average number of people (and/or animals) piled onto a single motorcycle on any given workday? 

We’ve learned that if you wait for a chance to cross the street in Vietnam, you will never cross because the motos fill up everything.  The key is to take the courageous step into the traffic and let the traffic move around you. Once you start walking, keep up a steady pace so the traffic can predict your movement.  Look into traffic for a diagonal line between the motos that leads you across the street. It also helps to find a blocker (a local who crosses with you).  See Andy's excellent guide to crossing the street.

Other than the motorcycles, Saigon doesn’t seem to be striking in any particular way form a tourist perspective.  It is a big city (7 million people) and is quite a bit nicer than we expected.  We found it to be cleaner than Bangkok in terms of air quality and street trash. Staying in the Dong Khoi area of district one, we found a built-for-westerners feel that mixed Vietnamese kitsch with real culture and modern convenience.  We stayed in the Kim Long Hotel for US$30 per night, including in-room Internet access and breakfast.

Any American visiting Saigon should visit the War Remnants Museum, which was formerly called “The Museum of American War Crimes”. Remembering that Vietnam was a Communist country and is still Socialist, it should not be surprising that the museum is factual but decidedly one-sided.  It offers a look at the Vietnamese perspective of the war and does a thorough job of outlining American atrocities, including the use and ongoing effects of Agent Orange and napalm.  Being used to a more balanced perspective in most museums, it was interesting to us both to experience a state-run organization that accepted no responsibility to tell any other sides of the story. It left us both shaking our heads at the horrors of war and with a perspective on how the war was perceived by Vietnam, albeit from a propagandist perspective. 

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