Ho Chi Minh City (which everyone still refers to as Saigon) is the most energetic place I’ve ever been. It just has this relentless pace that’s impossible to not get swept up in it. Everyone is on the move. At night, the parks are filled with people exercising, skateboarding, skating, playing soccer, and dancing.
The traffic is insane. Thousands of motorbikes buzz down the road, flawlessly moving like a school of fish or flock of birds. Well, almost flawlessly. We have seen four motorbike accidents in the past week, two here and two in Phonom Penh. Crossing the street is quite the adventure. You just slowly walk out, keeping an even pace, and the motorbikes all part around you. If someone honks at you, it means you should stop or move out of their way.
With all the frenzied activity, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we were as busy here as we were in Singapore. We had a great time walking around and taking it all in. Despite the heat and the traffic, it’s much easier to walk here than any of the other Asian cities we’ve visited. For some reason it doesn’t seem as polluted or crowded. The sidewalks are maintained pretty well. There are big trees along many of the boulevards and quite a few shady parks. There’s even some interesting architecture, both modern and colonial.
We had some very interesting and strange experiences. First we visited the War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes, where we learned about all the horrible things the Americans did during the War of American Aggression (as it’s apparently called here). It had many tragic and disturbing displays and I found myself feeling very guilty, even though I wasn’t even born at the time. Of course, it was all very one-sided and, curiously, Charlie never did anything wrong. At least they did include a section about the anti-war protests in the States, showing that not all Americans are horrible imperialists. What I found even more interesting, though, was that the South Vietnamese were barely mentioned at all. From this museum alone, you wouldn’t even know that they were involved in the war.
We met quite a few locals as well. The first was Quynh, a computer science student we met through couchsurfing, who took us to a delicious bun moc place for breakfast. Later on we met another nice university student who wanted to practice her English in the park. And then finally there was six-year- old “Adam,” who ran up to Brad and asked, “Are you Justin Bieber?” What followed was like an international version of Kids Say the Darndest Things. Adam asked us a billion questions (Are you twins? Why are you in Vietnam? Do you live in a house? What’s your favorite food?) while his mom, who didn’t speak much English, kept trying to pull him away. At one point, he said, “Hey! You guys should come to my house! Oh, never mind, it’s too small and dirty!” and his poor embarrassed mom shook her head and said, “No, no, it clean!” It was really funny and we even agreed to meet up with Adam and his mom the next night, so she could record a video of Adam talking to us. He also loved math and we couldn’t believe how smart he was. At six, he was able to solve multiplication, order of operations fraction problems and explain it all to us in a foreign language. Pretty incredible.
So to sum up, we loved Saigon and I honestly can’t figure out why some other travelers and expats have such a negative opinion about it. Maybe all of the theft and scams have something to do with it, but the same could be said of any major city. And as far as the claim that “The Vietnamese are not nice,” I would have to say it’s not true at all. Maybe as we get further north we will encounter more rudeness or anti-Americanism, but so far we’ve met super nice people. This has been a great introduction to Vietnam and I’m really looking forward to seeing more!