Recently in Saigon Category

Jock's Excellent Pictures of Vietnam

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My Thai friend Jock recently sent me an email inviting me to take a look at his new pictures from his recent trip to Vietnam. I have to say that they are really fantastic. If you want to see some beautiful images of Hanoi and Halong Bay, Saigon, and other places, then follow the link.

(By the way, the pictures are all on one page, so it takes a while to load, but it's worth the wait!)

Pictures of Saigon

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ladynotredame.jpgAs I mentioned in my posts from Saigon last November, I really didn't take many pictures while I was there (relative to my usual shutter-happy self).

In any case, I found 19 decent pictures of Saigon and have finally posted them to the website. Enjoy!

Unfulfilled

Now I think I know where all of the motorcycles were going. At least I know that there are a LOT of things happening in Saigon on any given night. On Sunday night we joined our Pop Star friend for more concerts. By the time the night was over, we had gone to 4 concerts and a fashion show. Each place we visited was full of people. I must say I am very impressed with the energy and the nightlife and the lifestyle of Saigon.

But now I am back home safely to Bangkok. I would have loved to have stayed longer in Saigon. In fact, I am scheming how to get back and where I should go when I do. Now, I feel much like I did when I first visited Thailand. I was so overwhelmed with the different sights and sounds and culture that I didn't really have a chance to process what I was seeing. It makes me feel a little sad and unfulfilled and unsatisfied when I leave, and so I immediately start trying to figure a way to get back as soon as possible.

Saigon Impressions

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Ever since I arrived in Saigon I have tried to figure out how to describe it. It is certainly different than any place I have ever been. So far my travels in SE Asia have taken me to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. All three places share many features of their cultures but Vietnam is a completely different animal.

There is a certain energy here -- on the same level as Bangkok, but somehow very different. The city is literally awake 24 hours a day. The other night I just happened to be awake at 4 AM (heh) and the streets were full of old men jogging, young people on motorcycles dressed up for a night on the town, women wearing the traditional triangle straw hats and carrying baskets of food to the market. The market was alive as well with everyone having a job to do: arranging eggs in pyramid piles, lining up sleeping (yet still alive, for now) chickens, chopping up big slabs of pork, setting out fruits and vegetables.

The noise is deafening all day every day, although after three days I have started to not notice it as much. There is always loud music playing or people shouting or dogs barking or sometimes it's just the steady river of motorcycles filling the wide tree-lined French-designed avenues.

And then there are the horns. It seems that the traffic laws require you to blow your horn at least once a minute. Definitely every time you come to an intersection you have to honk, as well as every time you turn a corner, every time you come up behind someone, and every time someone is coming towards you. Considering the streets are packed, you are therefore honking ALL THE TIME.

All of this action and yet I am setting a record for "Least Number of Pictures Taken on a Trip". I have been here three days and I have taken about five pictures. Saigon isn't the most picturesque place, at least not in the postcard sense. The beauty is in the friendly smiles; it is in a block of shophouses all selling pho noodles and all having the exact same sign out front; it is in a line of 50 boy-girl couples snuggling on their motorcycles on the sidewalk next to the park; it is in a young girl reaching into a plastic bag she has been carrying and pulling out a chicken by its feet; it is a grandmother on the back of a motorcycle with the calmest carefree face even as her grandson in front weaves in and out of the traffic.

Speaking of the traffic, Todd and I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out where all of the motorcycles are going. We still have no idea.

Pop Star

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The rain was pouring down on our car as we pulled through the gates of the WaterPark. The boy sitting in the backseat next to me looked up through the rain and up through the soaking wet faces smiling at him to see his own face five times life-size hanging from the gates.

The car came to a stop and we stepped out into the pouring rain. A few minutes later, the boy addressed his fans from the covered stage and launched into an upbeat Vietnamese love song.

Some of his fans were smart enough to bring huge tarps which they were now huddled under. Another few had umbrellas. But the majority of them were just standing there unprotected, yet all were smiling.

On the third song he asked (in Vietnamese) who would like to join him on the stage for a sing-along. Immediately, hands of boys and girls aged 5-20 shot into the air waving frantically, their faces eager to be picked. He chose 6 representing all ages and sexes, brought them to the stage, gave them all microphones, and led them in song.

But it was the second number that was closest to true magic. As he began, he walked down the steps in front of the stage into the rain and into the crowd. He worked his way through the wet kids as he sang, shaking hands and accepting a bouquet of roses from a young girl. At one point a boy gave him his red umbrella.

From our vantage point behind the stage we couldn't see the singer, but we could see the falling rain, the bright white spotlight focused on a glowing red umbrella sheltering the Pop Star, and the crowd of completely drenched youngsters looking up at him with wonder and love.

Motorcycles of Saigon

Todd and I arrived in Saigon safely yesterday afternoon. After being mildly scammed by the taxi drivers at the airport (they all refused to use their meters) we found a hotel in the "backpacker" part of town. I was expecting this area (called Pham Ngo Lao) to be similar to Bangkok's Khao San Road with more white faces than locals, but luckily there is just a sprinkling of foreigners here.

What there is a lot of, is motorcycles. I've never seen anything like it. The steets are clogged with them. Boys, girls, the old, and the young are all driving helmetless through the streets of Saigon. Waiting on the side of the road for safe passage across the street is futile. You just have to start walking and hope that the moto drivers are wise enough to swerve around you.

After checking into our guest house, we hit the streets. Our first stop was a restaurant/bar that was full of white faces (Oh, so THIS is where they have been hiding!). We ate dinner and drank Saigon Beer, then headed to a dance club, where we sweated profusely in an unbelieveably hot and crowded un-airconditioned disco.

The next stop was an upscale restaurant/bar called Vassco's. I think this place is what the owners of the Ana Madera restaurant in San Francisco were TRYING to do. It was in a beautiful French Colonial style building surrounded by huge palm trees and other tropical plants.

We were supposed to meet Todd's roomate's sister and friend at Vassco's. Apparently, they are very well known in the Vietnamese entertainment industry -- she is a supermodel and the friend is a pop singer. In any case, they weren't there (or, as we later found out, we just didn't recognize them) so we headed to the famous Apocolypse Now bar. At this bar, a local we had been chatting with casually mentioned the famous people where were in attendance that night, and it turned out to be our friends!

We quickly decided to head someplace more quiet, so they took us to a small Vietnamese restaurant full of locals. We sat outside on the sidewalk on tiny plastic stools and gorged on noodle soup, BBQ chicken wings and legs, fried chicken feet, and vegetables. Delicious!

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Saigon category.

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