going out with a bang....
10/28/2009 - 11/01/2009 72 °F
147 days on the road came to an end with four nights in Saigon. If you read my above entry on central Vietnam, you can understand if I was on a bit of downer heading into the city. The end of any trip is always tough, but central Vietnam did little to impress me, so I really was hoping for good things in Saigon (I just dont like the HCMC name).
Saigon delivered big time. As with Hanoi, I got mostly mixed reviews of Vietnam's largest city with many people citing the traffic, pollution, and sheer intensity of the place as negatives. Well, I guess I just enjoy big cities more than most. I found Saigon a perfect blend of west and east. I stayed over in the backpacker distract near De Tham, and while this particular area ranks low on my list of neighborhoods, it is cheaper than everywhere else.
A key ingredient to my enjoyment was that I met a group of local ex-pats my first night in town. They subsequently invited me to dinner parties and nights out on the town, allowing me to see local restaurants, a rather swanky art gallery opening, and a big club on a Friday night. I spent most of my time away from the De Tham area and felt as though I was seeing a good cross section of the Saigon the locals see. My takeaway is that Saigon is perhaps the most liveable town I saw in s.e. asia outside of Chaing Mai. It is a vibrant place where commercialism is starting to take hold, but still competes with old school Vietnamese markets. I found the residents to be a bit warmer than their counterparts in Hanoi, and I thought Saigon held itself out to travelers as a city that is increasingly aware of its place as a key cultural town in southeast asia. The art galleries were impressive, the food was top notch, and the attitude of the residents was generally welcoming.
I did the obligatory stop at the War Remnant's Museum, a sobering and down right embarrassing place to go as an American. I took a day trip out to the Mekong Delta because I wanted to get out of the city on my third day there. The tour was nice, but as with other tours in Vietnam, it held very little in the way of substance. Lots of stops to go 'shopping' or pointless breaks to eat local coconuts. I mean, this is Vietnam's continual problem = the lack of interesting side trips or excursions beyond the main tourist areas.
In the end, I made some good friends and had some eventful nights out in the city. I left the town on a high note. I strongly recommend it and hope to return soon.