Stepping into the streets of Ho Chi Minh city – formerly know as Saigon – is like entering a different world. In the hustlin’ and bustlin’ District 1 where vehicle honks could be heard every minute, street vendors could be seen setting up their stall at road side whilst passerbys may stop to take a sip of coffee. Chess games are competed on mini benches and some are even catching a nap by making a makeshift bed out of their motorbikes. All of these in view of roads swarmed by an endless trail of motorcyclists. Initially, the thought of crossing the road was daunting, but once getting used to the faith put in the motorists, getting across the streets feels a lot easier. Put your foot out and take the first few steps, the motorists will squeeze their way out of yours.
The buildings in Saigon have their history traceable as far back as the French colonization in the 19th Century. French-inspired structures such as the Notre Dame church or the City Hall building stands contrasting amongst the more Asian-style shop lots. With the lack of skyscrapers, it seems that modernization has escaped this once capital of the French colony. Though in a few years time this might change as during our visit, there were a couple of tall buildings in near completion of their construction.
As coffee is one of their main exports, it’s only natural that the locals love their own drip coffee. By placing steel filter on top of a small glass, the hot water is let to pass through the coffee beans. While taste good black, some people like to add condensed milk to balance dark and bitter taste of the coffee with the milk’s sweetness. So popular coffee is to the locals that – along with the recognizable Vietnamese dish, Pho – outlets of all classes were aplenty. From the road side vendors to the family operated shops right up to the more pretentious franchised outlets; no wonder Starbucks found it hard to break into the market.
After touching down at the airport, we took a cab to our guesthouse at Pham Ngu Lao street in District 1. To our surprise, the guesthouse is tucked in one of the alleys off the street which leads you into a much quieter setting. Family guesthouses were aplenty and some locals actually live in these small shop lots. Eventually, we arrived at the guesthouse and were welcomed by the warm hosts. Before we could even catch our breathe, the owner was already flipping through a map and showing the places around. That, basically set the tone for the rest of our trip.
This is my 3rd visit to Saigon and throughout the trips, I’ve met some nice people. Indeed, stepping into Ho Chi Minh city is like entering a different world, but the warmth of the people puts you right at home.