Monday, January 2, 2012

Vietnam I: Christmas Night In Saigon

Saigon Centre
by Pa Rock

My friend, Daniel Murphy, and I flew into Saigon, Vietnam, on Christmas Day, 2011, for an eight-day whirlwind tour of the country.  Our first two nights were in the historic city of Saigon (now officially called "Ho Chi Minh City" - though the Vietnamese still refer to it by its traditional name of "Saigon") where we stayed at the Asian Ruby Hotel within easy walking distance of an a park and shopping area called Saigon Centre.  (I discovered another Asian Ruby Hotel in Hanoi the following week - so it must be a chain - the Vietnamese equivalent of a HoJo's!)

Santa and the security man
Vietnam is officially a socialist country, so I was surprised by all of the commercial trappings of Christmas that adorned the city, from the giant tree in the lobby of our hotel, to the several Santa Clauses roaming the streets downtown, to the Christmas music being played on the streets.  In fact, I could hear Christmas music from the streets in my hotel room most of the night.

Our first night in Saigon we walked downtown to the Saigon Centre past a lot of high-end department stores and well dressed locals.  We had been warned ahead of time that it was dangerous crossing streets in Vietnam, but yet we were surprised by the thousands-upon-thousands of motorbikes that seemed to be coming continuously, and in waves, from every direction.   (Our guide had told us earlier in the day that there are 33 million motorbikes in Vietnam, and three thousand are added to the streets of Saigon every day!)   To complicate things even more, there were almost no traffic signals or traffic cops.  People just blasted their horns and charged through the melee.

Dinner the first night was in a narrow four-story restaurant called the Lemongrass.  I was wary of the local cuisine, and just had a dessert of banana fritters - which were great, and very filling.  Murphy, who is not afraid to eat anything, dined very well.
Cross that street!
More traffic craziness!
The Saigon Opera House
The Lemongrass Restaurant
Hotel Continental Saigon
A large model sailing ship in a Saigon store

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