After a short flight from Hoi An, via Danag airport, we arrived in Saigon, a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City.
So, the name thing. Let’s deal with that first. I think we can all agree, Saigon is a much better name than Ho Chi Minh City. I know the communists won, but they don’t exactly show a flare for naming. As exhibit B I give you the “American Killer Hero” award given out during the war.
After a quick check-in at the hotel, we headed over to the War Remnants Museum, another marvel of communist naming. I can only imagine that it happened something like this:
– Comrade 1: “hmm, what do we do with all this left over stuff from the war?”
– Comrade 2: “we shall put it in a museum that tells the story of this glorious victory. The Museum of Left Over Stuff.”
– Comrade 1: “I don’t know, that’s kind of boring.”
– Comrade 2: “ok, what about the War Remnants Museum?”
– Comrade 1: “nice, now we’re talking”
Despite the boring name, the museum was actually quite interesting, remnants and all. I was expecting it to be pretty biased, which it was, but not nearly to the degree I expected. In fact, I suspect that many of the facts quoted, many very disturbing, were accurate. What was missing was context. As with most history, I’m sure the truth lies somewhere between the American version and that of the Vietnamese.
After the museum we regrouped with our traveling companions and went off on a Cyclo tour. As was the case in Hanoi, the Cyclos were a great way to see the city at a pace that lets you digest things, but with someone else worrying about getting you through the traffic. We saw most of the highlights of Saigon, once known as the “Paris of the Orient”, from the Cyclo and then ended our tour with a nice dinner in the heart of the city.
Saigon is a very nice city. I like the mix of new and old; it was very evident that this is the commercial centre of the country. I find that the look can be best imagined by combining Toronto’s Chinatown with some of the architecture of a European city.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the traffic. In a city of eight million, there are six million scooters. At times it feels like all six million are trying to get though one intersection, at one time… in all four directions. In short, it’s crazy. The craziest I’ve seen so far, it even makes the Middle East seem relatively tame.
That said, I think another good word for it is “organic”; it’s kind of like a river or school of fish. Therein lies the secret to being a pedestrian in Saigon. Before, I would have described it as a life size game of frogger, but really it’s more like wadding into a river or swimming with a school of fish. The trick is to move in slowly, at a consistent pace and with a sense of purpose. If you do that, the traffic will adapt and flow around you. Well, except for the taxis. Some of those guys are just bastards looking to take people out!
With that many scooters flying around, there are bound to be some accidents. It didn’t take long before we saw one. Here we saw the other organic side of the traffic, survival of the fittest. He went down mid-pack and anyone who wasn’t directly impeded just kept moving along. Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt and was up on his scooter chasing the pack pretty quickly once again. The secret to his safety? Shiny pants. With pants that shiny he just slid safely along on a cushion of shimmer until he had come to a stop.
Today’s lesson: Shiny pants aren’t just for looking good.