Saigon for the Senses

Saigon, it’s always Saigon. Never Ho Chi Minh City, a name forced on the city after the war by the victorious Viet Cong.  In a country with a median age of 28, most people don’t remember or care to think about “the American War.”  In Saigon it’s all about the hustle, and making money.  To truly experience Saigon at its best, you need to roll out of bed and out the door early, as the sun is just beginning to peek over the low slung rooftops of the shop houses and dusty storefronts. Put on your walking shoes and hit the pavement, and despite the early hour, you’ll find that much of the city has beat you to the punch and the streets and parks will already be full of people.  The alleyway pho shop will be bustling with customers slurping aromatic broth and rice noodles, flavored with fresh herbs and hoisin sauce as they sit on tiny plastic stools that seem to torture lumbering, oversized Westerners, but which diminutive Vietnamese find as comfortable as lazy-boy recliners.  The parks will be full of young and old, taking in the air, ballroom dancing, playing badminton in groups of five or six, jogging, practicing tai chi, and sitting on benches catching up on the week’s events.  Old men gather at street-side teashops to read the news, smoke, and talk politics and shop.  At Ben Thanh market, fruit vendors are preparing their produce for the day’s sales.  The fruits are exotic and colorful, and rarely seen in the United States – alien-like dragon fruits, pungent durian, massive jackfruits, clusters of longan – and the greatest prize of all, mangosteens, the queen of fruits.  Wrap up your walk before the sun reaches high, and the city turns into a sweltering, maddening rush hour as millions of people begin crowding the streets and sidewalks on their scooters and motorcycles.  Escape quickly back inside to the air conditioning before you melt into a sweating blob on the pavement.
And when the sun sets, and the city cools, and the traffic slows, head back outside, to discover Saigon by night for a whole new adventure.

About Author

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Ted Coley
Ted Coley is a Senior Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. He has worked for the U.S. government for nearly 39 years, including 28 years overseas in Germany, El Salvador, Panama, Poland, Thailand, Iraq, Vietnam, and Honduras. Yes, he also cooks and loves to photograph his traveling adventures.

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