Comming from a mad megalopolis like Metro Manila, Saigon was a welcome repite. I mean, for a city of 7 million, it certainly felt comfortably small. The streets are buzzing with people and commerce. No overpowering flyovers here. And despite the fact that people donned masks while riding their motorcycles, Saigon didnt seem as polluted as say, taking a jeepney ride along Taft Avenue.
Among the city's 17(?) districts, my favorite is district 1, or as the locals call it, Saigon – the inner city. Think the city of Manila in Metro Manila. The historic downtown core of HCM, from which the metropolis sprang, is very much intact and still the center core of the city.
Here's Saigon's charmingly ornate city hall (or Hotel de Ville as the French called it) flanked by Unclo Ho, the father of modern Vietnam. Always the first place to on a stopover in Saigon.
A few steps away, the Notre Dame Cathedral. A touch of Meditteranean shade amidst the hubhub of Indo-China. Unknown to many, our neighbor across the South China Sea has the second most number of Catholics in the Asian continent.
Yet another Catholic church, in a more local, Indo-Chinese style…
Saigon downtown. Im glad that the city hasnt (yet) caught up with mall culture, though I did see one or two, most of the city's streets are still lively, thanks to the commercial buzz and the Saigonese who hasn't abandoned their streets the for the heremetically-sealed, consumer-shoebox that is the mall.
Im assuming that Saigon has a thriving arts scene. This is her Municipal Theater, right in the heart of downtown, a far cry from Manila's Metropolitan Theater…
Saigon's government buildings are immaculately clean. And they're all in the downtown core. Here's the Post Office building (Bu Dien) and its Industrial age Victorian interior.
Unclo Ho looking over a Christmas tree? A sight to behold…welcome to the new Vietnam!
Tree-shaded sidewalks…a rarity in downtown Manila! Now, while Saigon's sidewalks arent exactly the best Ive seen in any Asian city, the fact that they have them and are not used for any purpose other than serving pedestrians (read: parking cars, impromptou karaoke sessions or market stalls) is something to crow about…
More downtown photos. All uncompromisingly modern. Best of all, theyre human-scale!
To cap of my motorcyclo tour of Saigon, my guide Khuc suggested that we visit the new district of Phu My Hung, a Singaporean-built development housing mansions (or villas as they say) for Saigon's expat community. Personally, I would have wanted to visit Cholon (Chinatown) but
Khuc was adamant and told me that it was quite a distance from District 1. As this this wasnt…it took us about 45 minutes to get to this area from downtown!
In any case, it was interesting to see how the other half of Saigon lived. I noticed that the Saigonese have a preference for 3-storey buildings. According to Khuc, he comes here because the 'air is cleaner' and like every self-respecting Saigonese, Khuc also wants to climb up the social ladder and eventually own a home here.
Well, as for me, give me downtown Saigon anytime.