Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Sooner or later there was bound to be a city I just didn’t take to, and that city turned out to be Saigon – a slightly unfortunate note to leave Vietnam on. I suppose things started badly on the train there, which left Na Thrang two hours late during a flash storm which sent hundreds of cockroaches swimming over the tracks and onto our feet and bags. The train wasn’t much better. I sat next to an old lady who heavily objected to my being there and spent most of the journey complaing to the indifferent conductors. I would have move myself if another seat had been free.
When we arrived I found a taxi, agreed a price, sat for half an hour and then realised the driver didn’t have a clue where he was going. After a few directions we got there and he asked for double the money because of the ‘trouble’ (I didn’t agree of course). Sitting in a grotty hotel room that was terrible value at $7 I’d say I had every right to feel pissed off, but strangely enough I wasn’t. Trouble is bound to happen on a trip like this and you can’t let it bother you too much. Instead I went to an expensive bar, drank beer, talked to a German guy about football and watched the tourists and prostitutes pair up.
The area I stayed, ate and drank in was the backpacker ghetto area, Pham Ngu Lao. If you’re in the right part of it you can take a photo where it looks ok…

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…otherwise, though, I’m really not sure if it is ok. There’s something seedy about it, and not in a good way. I’m used to seeing a fair number of sex tourists in this part of the world, but there’s usually a separation, both from us travelling types and from the normal life of the city. In Saigon, much like in Amsterdam, the red light district and the backpacker area are one and the same, like an underworld safari. In Amsterdam at least there seems to be some sort of regulation.
I wouldn’t be complaining about Saigon (nobody there calls it Ho Chi Minh City) if I’d had a good time there, but I comprehensively failed to. The only successful trip I made was to the ‘War Remnants Museum’, which was staggeringly depressing. There were three main parts to the exhibition. One was a grizly reprroduction of torture and execution chambers, another a collection of photographs by war photographers who died in combat, with captions like “As he stood up to take this picture he was shot in the head.” The final part I visited was the central hall, which was devoted to graphic photos of the victims of US army massacres and napalm, including a real deformed pair of conjoined twins in a jar. It was impossible to leave with a cheery manner.
Another day I went to see the particularly pompous and dull cathedral, hid from the usual afternoon rainstorm in a dedent enough cafe, then went to see the Reunification Palace, which looked like a particularly ugly 1960s hotel.

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On te way back I did manage to see something halfway intresting, though. There are more motorbikes in Saigon than elsewhere in Vietnam – even more than in Hanoi, which I would’ve thought impossible. It was rush hour when I came across a traffic jam which was almost entiorely made of bikes.

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