South-East Asia


One  fine day this month, I found myself being flown to Cebu City with chef J.  Gamboa upon the invitation of the Cebu Chamber and Commerce Industry to be their guest panelist/speaker for the Cebu Business Month Tourism Congress.

As I had arrived a day earlier, I immediately set about to explore this southern city which I had last visited more than 15 years ago. First on on the agenda, a walk around  the historic core. My hosts (thank you for your hospitality!) must have sensed this before and they instinctively bought out a brochure and gave it to me.

Ah, right on the spot and just what I would have wanted.

Pasiyo ni Kabilan.

This is Pasiyo Sa Kabilin, Cebu City’s own version of a DIY walking tour.  A project of the Cebu City Tourism Commission, this handy little leaflet maps and strings together the city’s chief historic sites, really a small collection but just as interesting nonetheless.

Similar to Manila, Cebu city’s historic districts is a bit tattered around the edges with ocassional broken pavement and tricycle smoke belchers to give your walk some local color. However surprises abound and old Cebu is showing signs of regentrification. There is newly opened Cathedral Museum, the newly restored Cathedral (small but elegant) the very pleasant Plaza Subu just right beside the Santo Nino Basilica.

For sure, there’s lots to be improved upon but at least this is the first step.

Grab a copy and take a stroll. There’s a story every step of the way.

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.

Hotel de Ville ho chi minh

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.

notre dame notre dame 2

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.

catholic church

Yet another Catholic church, in a more local, Indo-Chinese style…

dowtown

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.

theater

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

post office post office interior

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!

side walk

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…

modern 2 modern 3

More downtown photos. All uncompromisingly modern. Best of all, theyre human-scale!

phu my hung2 phu my hung

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.

From Manila and beyond.The weekend saw me exploring and walking the streets of Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh city as the guys in Hanoi would call it) .

Admittedly, Saigon didnt conjure up grand expectations as say one would have when visiting Shanghai or Singapore(same as what people would probablly feel about Manila) but the prospect of visiting a new city is simply too much to pass up so I packed up and headed to Vietnam's economic heartland.

To cut a long story short, Saigon simply blew me away. It is certainly a small city with a big surprise. Comming from Mega-Mad-Metro Manila, Saigon was an pleasent revelation.

Here's why.

The people. For Vietnam's biggest metropolis, Saigon felt comfortably small. The streets are buzzing and the everything is in human scale. The fact that there were people and shops on the streets attested to the fact the the Saigonese have not (yet) succumbed to American-style cosumerist mall culture. Or maybe old wounds have not yet healed.

In any case, I deemed it was safe enough to do as the locals do so I hopped in a motorcyclo with my trusty guide Khuc and set out to suck-in a full-day Saigonese experience.

saigon traffic

The view from the motorcyclo and my first taste fo Saigonese traffic. Head to the left if Khuc, my trusty driver and guide.

reading

There's no better way to pass Saigonese traffic than reading a good book. Or is he cramming for a school exam?!?

truck

Shades of Manila…this truck was driving at our side of the lane heading towards us!

xmas tree

It's beginning to look like Christmas…this is, after all, Vietnam , the second most Catholic Asian country after the Philippines…

Frame guy

Motorcyclo balancing act…

Chit chat

And these ladies thought they were cycling in the park! My guide told me that this is one of the causes of traffic slow-down in the city, people chit-chatting on the streets!

More Saigonese delights in the next post…