Peter, my cousin Frannie and I visited Saigon in March. For Peter, visiting Vietnam is a glimpse into his heritage since his father is from Saigon and his mom is from Hanoi. They fled the country in the 70's and settled in San Diego.
We were in Saigon 9 years ago and we could see the drastic changes. New modern buildings, fancier restaurants, more shops and international food chains (I was shocked to see Marukame Udon here since I had eaten in the Honolulu location a week earlier) and many more cars. Plus I heard that the first underground Metro Station will be built in front of the Opera House.
The city is clearly alive, full of color, vibrancy and buzzing energy...a growing metropolis full of ambitious people driven to succeed. If Saigon was the Paris of the East...Ho Chi Minh City looks like it is transforming into Asia's New York City.
Seeking the best banh mi...Peter, Frannie and I love Vietnamese sandwiches and ate them daily.
Warm light crisp French bread, the taste of pate mixed with pickled daikon, carrots, pork and a dash of Maggi is one of the best culinary inventions.
Crossing the motorbike filled streets was frightening and I constantly felt like I would get run over. Stopping for pedestrians does not seem to be part of the rules. My cousin Eric described the experience as a "human Frogger". Our tour guide told us that the technique was to not make eye contact, stretch your arm then walk across the street. (Which is the opposite of my clutch Peter for dear life and run method). There is a system to the chaos...just as I am sure that we would be hit, the bikes drove around us as we crossed. There is a graceful dance to the madness.
By the end of our trip, I am not completely comfortable about crossing the streets but definitely have improved.
Beautiful hand painted fabric at An Dong Plaza in District 5 (Chinatown).
Late night outdoor dining. The server suggested 2 crabs and the hot pot (lau) was delicious but we were shocked by the $50 price tag since they were sold per gram.
Vietnamese ice coffee (coffee and condensed milk) in Ben Thanh market....the best energy drink to start a long day of exploring.
Seafood pho and fried egg rolls at Pho 2000 which is a popular spot visited by Bill Clinton. The place was crowded but organized and the food was served quickly. I love fresh coconut juice which is the best thirst quencher after walking around in the humid heat.
At the grand and ornate Saigon Opera House
When I think of Vietnam, I have romantic sepia colored visions of French Colonial architecture.
The grand Saigon Central Post Office was designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel. There was scaffolding because it was being repainted. Still quite beautiful.
Bride spotting...I saw many brides posing. It must have been wedding season.
Frannie read about Banh Mi Huynh Hoa and we excitedly went to the spot after shopping at the Ben Thanh market. Our sandwich was meatier than previous ones that we had eaten and a well balanced combination of meat and vegetables. Peter found it too meaty, but I liked the portions.
Pretty dau tree lined streets...
Vietnam Railways building
My prediction is in the next 10 years this view will be full of skyscrapers. I just hope that as the city modernizes, they preserve some of the old architecture and keep planting trees.
Development for me is always bittersweet...as awe inspiring as it is to see shiny new skyscrapers, I feel a tinge of sadness for the old architecture that is destroyed. Here is an interesting article on the changing city.
At the elegant chic R & J Italian Lounge & Restaurant.
It looked like a restaurant that could be in New York or London.
Ending our stay by admiring the rooftop view of the city at Chill Sky Bar
We will be back!