Saturday, 4/26/14, Saigon (most folks here say Saigon)
Wow! For a moment I thought ‘Times Square’?! Most surprising and exuding excitement! bright lights, large screen outdoor TV’s, high end shopping and, of course, the motorbikes. The population is 90 million in the country and 8 million in Saigon, with 25 million motor-bikes. We spent only a day and half there, though I would have liked at least 4 days. The French occupied the city in 1859 and developed it as the first western city in Vietnam. It was the capital from 1954 to 1975. The capital was moved to Hanoi in 1975 when the north won the war. Prior to this move, the capital was Hue.
The sites we visited included: the Opera House, built in 1900, the People’s Committee Building, (formerly called Hotel De Ville), Notre Dame Cathedral, -built for Catholics in 1880 by the French (the city is 1/3rd Catholic). And lastly we visited the Post Office, a phenomenal building, built in 1886-1891, constructed by Gustave Eiffel. All were impressive.
Regarding the current Peoples Committee Building: Ho Chi Min's communist forces broke through the gates of South Vietnam's government building with two tanks, and that was the end of the South Vietnamese government. We came home!
Final thoughts: On one level the visit reminded me of Cuba in that, the newspapers, internet and people in general are censored. Also, like Cuba we felt safe at night but were warned about pick-pockets.
In Saigon, we were especially warned to be careful in the street and in the open markets. That is a warning for everywhere, correct?
The hotel staff provided excellent service. Their smiles were big and beautiful and they laughed easily. They were chosen well for their hotel industry because they appreciate tourists and, at least in the South, they seem to especially like Americans. Some 8 million tourists come each year and it is growing according to our guide, Tho (Taw).
An interaction: One night as I waited in the lobby for map directions to one particular place, after being lost with travel mates in the heat for 30 minutes, one hotel staff member asked if I needed anything, seeing as I was waiting a while. So he listed a bunch of eateries and their directions as we talked easily. The map came. I then went out to the small crowd awaiting the map and as I gave them the map as Marv whispers, “let’s not go” as we had already made a few unsuccessful circles. So we apologized to travel-mates and went back inside to the hotel’s eatery.
And who comes to the table with menus? --My helper fellow, Trahn, (who had already spent a good bit of time with me to get me out into the city), would be our waiter. He looked up, saw me, stopped in his tracks and exclaimed, “You quit?” and laughed out loud. It was so funny. Now I had to explain why we gave up on the group. We had so much fun with him. About 20 minutes later another in that group came looking for us because he couldn’t take the circles anymore. We all laughed again. My guy (yep, my guy) spent a good amount of time with us that evening. Leaving the city in the morning, we said goodbye. Trahn held onto my hand a long time. I should have hugged him but thought against it.
Capitalism relies on continuous struggle between the established commercial giants and dynamic competitors with improved products. Eventually the giants succumb.
Starbucks needs to be looking to an unlikely source for its next big challenger; communist Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Coffee shops here are the rage and the coffee is excellent. The shops stand-out with their glamorous exteriors and lighting. No major chains seem to dominate but many different companies were present. The result is that I indulged in a lot of great coffee.
At the first opportunity I went to a recommended photo shop to have my camera checked out. Bad news is it couldn’t be fixed in a day or two and it would cost $90. Good news is because of that I got to buy a new camera. Unfortunately, the East isn’t a great place to buy like it used to be. I picked up a Sony RX 100. Time will tell as to how good it is.