So I have to confess a photographic failure. I have no worthwhile pictures of Saigon. I did visit a couple of places, the Catholic Church and the Reunification Palace, and took a few photos, but they are very boring and not worth the time. Mostly, I just felt fairly uninspired visually. City shooting isn’t my forte. Give me scenic vistas any day.
I did enjoy my brief time in Saigon, however. For the curious, while the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) after the wars ended, it’s only referred to that way in official documents and by northerners. In central or south Vietnam, everyone still calls it Saigon; the airport is still coded SGN, etc. I stayed in the backpacker haven of district 1, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Lots of tourists, bars and restaurants. I walked around a bit, saw some sights, enjoyed sitting in a park reading, and so on. At one point, I was sitting on a park bench reading when a young man came up to me and asked if we could talk. Despite my now trained instincts screaming “scam!”, I said sure and it ended up being fascinating. He’s 20, halfway through his sophomore year of college, studying economics. Very interested in starting a business and creating something useful. He’d love to visit America, maybe for graduate school. He wanted to chat just to get an outsiders view of the economy, practice his English, and just to be friendly. It was a great conversation, and I wish him the best of luck! If he stays as enthusiastic about everything, he’ll do well. He also answered some of my questions about Vietnam.
One comment I’ve heard from other people who have not visited Vietnam is, don’t they still have hard feelings about the war? And the answer is, barring one-off encounters, not at all. For them, the war is in the past. There is still some propaganda (at various memorials and museums), but Vietnam is hardly the only country to gloss over their own mistakes at the expense of others. I never once felt concern about being an American in Vietnam. If that’s been a hesitation for anyone contemplating a visit, please don’t worry about it.
To answer a question I’m sure has been on all of your minds – yes, I did try the southern variation of pho. There is also a third variation, Bun Bo Hue, which is different enough that I would put it separately. Very delicious however! It’s hard to choose between north and south…they are both absolutely delicious and I would happily accept a bowl of either. I think it’s more about what you’re in the mood for. Northern style is all about the broth; limited herbs are involved. I would definitely be craving this on a cold day. Southern style has the herbs, making for a different and somewhat lighter flavor. I can’t decide, and since I’m on my blog, I think I won’t! Hah. I also tried banh mi in Saigon, and the one I had, while from a popular shop, wasn’t as tasty as what I had elsewhere. I think they put too much meat in there, overpowering everything else. Maybe that’s what happens when there’s no menu and I can’t understand what I’m being asked…I simply nod and say yes, and they give me something that’s usually delicious.
All told, I was in Vietnam for three weeks. I didn’t go anywhere particularly off the beaten path, but I had a wonderful time, saw some amazing places, met some interesting people, and ate some absolutely incredible food. I’m so glad I visited, and would highly recommend it as a destination.
P.S. I also survived the impressive traffic patterns, or lack thereof. In Bangkok a couple of days ago, I was looking around and thinking “Traffic? This is nothing!”