Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, the city was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However, it’s still commonly and routinely called Saigon.
The city, which is rich in culture, history, and national treasures, was an unusual, but exciting choice for our first vacation destination. We initially discussed the idea of going to New Zealand or Australia (just to get our toes wet), but, ultimately, decided to push the boundaries of our comfort zone and visit a city that’s a little less traveled. We ended up jumping into one of the most enriching and culturally engaging experiences of our lives.
The river, itself, was a great source of entertainment. The ever-changing direction of the river mystified us, the floating foliage provided a unique form of evolving art, and the constant activity of barges, fishing boats, ferries, and floating kitchens/markets bolstered our imaginations.
The sound in the video is muffled because I (unfortunately) had my finger over the recorder. However, if you listen closely, you can hear the captain of a floating kitchen or market using his loud speaker to sell fresh food, fruits, or vegetables to passing vessels.
Saigon is a constant flurry of activity. Motorcycles, cyclos, taxis, tour buses, bicycles, and delivery trucks flood the streets. Pedestrians, tourists, walking venders, and crowded street kitchens fill the sidewalks. The cacophony of honking horns, motorcycles, and overlapping voices of excited street vendors add to the chaos, but it was all part of the cultural air that we breathed.
One of the best things about Vietnam is the food, which is influenced by Chinese, French, and Cambodian cuisines. Traditional Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, and is regarded for its use of light, fresh, and fragrant ingredients. Some common ingredients in Vietnamese food include fish sauce, shrimp paste, lemongrass, mint, coriander (cilantro), and basil.
Traffic defies all logic in Saigon. It’s everywhere, it’s constant, and rules don’t seem to apply or exist. It’s pure mayhem. Just watching the traffic from the safety of a taxi or a sidewalk gave me anxiety.
To get anywhere in Saigon you have to cross streets, which is, often, a death defying act. Cars and motorcycles don’t stop for pedestrians. Instead, they deftly maneuver around them (sometimes within inches of contact).
The first few minutes of watching traffic buzz past us, we were paralyzed by fear. Once we realized that we weren’t going to get anywhere, we followed the three officially regarded rules for crossing Saigon streets: 1. Take a deep breath. 2. Enter the street when you see a small opening. 3. Continue walking in a slow, steady, and constant pace.
The French began exploring and conquering areas of Vietnam in the 1850’s, so there’s a strong French influence in Vietnam’s history, architecture, and food. Some of the most beautiful French colonial buildings in Saigon include the People’s Committee Building, the Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Basilica.
The Vietnam War has permanently scarred the country, and the tourism industry is geared toward reflecting the atrocities of the US military. In fact, all of the tour guides we encountered referred to the war as the “US War Against Vietnam”, the “US Aggressive War in Vietnam”, and, most often, the “American War.” Their views are (naturally) one-sided and filled with propaganda. With that said, we were always treated with kindness, dignity, and respect by the Vietnamese people.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Vietnam. Would we go back? Absolutely!