Editor’s Note (Such that there is one): If you subscribe and receive this in your “inbox” I recommend you open up a separate browser to read it. Sometimes the format and or photos are a bit messed up reading it as part of an email.
Our last three days in Vietnam were spent in Ho Chi Minh City, hereafter, Saigon. I would have thought that since that was the name from the “bad old days” when it was a French and American military outpost of western debauchery and decadence, the name would be on modern-day Vietnam’s “ash heap of history.” As it turns out, all over the city, you see the name, often in lights. The only thing I can think of is that “Ho Chi Minh city”is a mouthful. It’s simply easier to say “Saigon.” Either way, in three days it became my most favorite city I’ve visited in all my years. OK, that does mean as long as I don’t count Florence. That’s because, well, um, in a word: Florence! Sure, Paris is far more beautiful and NYC is the “crossroads of the world.” Venice felt more exotic. But there was an energy, a vibe, an excitement that is completely absent from any other city I’ve been to. I can’t adequately explain it. But, I join the late, great Anthony Bourdain when he spoke about Vietnam in general: “… It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever.”
I very much enjoyed Hanoi but Saigon is something else entirely. Hanoi, by comparison, is muted, with people going about their business, with quiet dignity. The people and vibe in Saigon openly shout exuberance with a public display of joie de vivre. People there seem to be in a hurry. The energy wherever I went, was on a completely different level than the other places I visited in Vietnam (China is like the New York Public Library, by comparison). Certainly, in the tourist industry, this is a city that “knows how.” There appears to be a genuine liking of tourists here. The people in hotels, restaurants, bars and even taxis all go out of their way to help visitors. If they’re angling for a tip, they aren’t showing it. It’s as if they really want to make sure you’re happy. I find it quite striking in comparison to other tourist destinations.
I also didn’t see any dodgy areas or feel uneasy walking anywhere. If anyone had us “targeted” when we took out our wallets or held out cell phones to take pictures, I had no sense of it. And I’m the type of tourist that maintains “situational awareness” at all times when traveling somewhere unfamiliar, knowing that we may be targeted for some type of rip-off.
Anyone reading this, contemplating a trip to Asia but unsure of where to go, go to Vietnam. There’s a very good reason that tourism is up 22% over last year. None of us had a bad meal whether it was the proverbial “hole in the wall” or a top-rated restaurant. Taxi rides here are even cheaper than China and that makes it not even worth calculating as a factor in going somewhere. It seems everyone speaks English. Sophie laughed about going into Zara (“better overseas clothing choices than in America.”) and slowly asking for something and the clerk answered in perfect English. Anywhere in China, you would never, ever assume someone in any clothing store could speak or understand English on any level. And- always a “crowd pleaser”- obtaining weed is as easy as the blogs I read, claimed it was. And then there’s the fact that the government doesn’t block any websites. No need for a VPN like in China but even with one in China, there’s always connection problems because the government, 24/7, attacks the VPN’s. Whenever I travel somewhere with unfettered access to the internet I feel completely liberated from the hamstringing here. A somewhat odd but true feeling I get is that I feel as if I’m “out on parole” and can do anything I want in terms of internet access. I download apps because it’s even difficult downloading in China, never mind the fact that the online app stores are edited to remove apps that offend the government. So, this heavy-handed approach is why I feel liberated when out of the country. In fact, I began writing this on New Year’s Day and it took me an hour of nonstop “clicking” to connect with either of my VPN’s ( you need at least two here in the hope that if one of the VPN’s is under attack, the other might not be.)
If I don’t get my work visa renewed to continue teaching in China I have found the next place I want to teach: Saigon. If I have to leave China, I think I would be happy living in Vietnam and although I would probably be comfortable anywhere there, Saigon is where I’d rather stay. Now, all I would then have to do is convince a school to hire a 61-year-old. On the plus side, apparently, Vietnam doesn’t have an official age limitation on foreign workers.
So, enjoy the last Vietnam entry of this blog: our three days in Saigon. I will review the many, many photos the three of us took and perhaps if I find more worth posting, I will write a post-script entry.
In the meantime, let me tip my hat to my travelling companions. In eleven days of travel, we got along, nothing disastrous or even negative happened. We all left with a very positive attitude about Vietnam.
On our first night in Saigon we met up with our friends from Phu Quoc who were on their way back to the States. Zac had pho at this restaurant previously and proclaimed it the best pho, So, why not? Was it the best? I couldn’t really say. I will say I didn’t have a bowl of pho in Vietnam I didn’t like.