Saigon: An Archive of Diverse Histories
Saigon is one of my favourite destinations and I have been there a few times. It is the Vietnamese people, so patient, considerate, and welcoming of visitors, that make the experiences memorable.
In my memories Saigon is like a terraced hillside fecund with vistas of history lying one on top of another. The Vietnamese people along with their mixed Chinese culture is at the bottom lying in a labyrinthine swathe of big-city squalor; followed by a layer of colonial grandeur detectable in the pastel opulence of French architecture; overlaid by memories of American infiltration which can be noticed in its museums and numerous battlements, and finally topped with a dose of the modern as can be evidenced from the searing skyscrapers that jostle for space in the blue skies of easternmost Asia.
While there is much to see and explore, sauntering around is the best way to see the city. I can remember a visit to the Binh Tay Market (Cholon – Chinatown) where a fascinating array of handicrafts, textiles and fresh produce are sold in streets next to opulent Chinese buildings.
An early morning visit to largest flower market (Ho Thi Ky) is recommended: a profusion of exotic flowers, fruits, and Cambodian breakfast nooks (mostly) await you. Try the CoCo sweet soup – I won’t play spoiler.
Cathedrals and churches dominate the cityscape. The Pink Church, with its shocking colour and fairy-tale Gothic architecture deserves a viewing. The church that is of greatest importance is Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral (modelled after Notre Dame de Paris): the red colour, the twin white belltowers, and bricks (brought all the way from Toulouse, France) make it a sight that not only beckons the religious (it is the centre for 6.2 million Catholics of Vietnam) but artists as well.
In the evenings people hangout in karaoke bars. This Japanese (karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’ in Japanese) pastime is taken very seriously by the locals. People are quite unabashed about wielding a mic, whether they can sing or not, and there is no fear of jeers or catcalls from anyone. It is simply accepted as a way of bonding, and family members often join in.
There’s a lot more. See Saigon, Part 3.