Saigon Street Scenes

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

April 22-24, 2008

Hell’s Angel, Siagon Style

Every tourist should get out of the insulated confines of their tourist buses and walk the streets. It is on street level that a foreigner can feel the hustle and bustle, the soul and pulse of a city, its attendant dangers notwithstanding. Capturing street scenes on camera is akin to taking portrait photos; it preserves the look of a city at a certain age. These are some of the images I have captured with my Leica lens on the streets of Saigon:

Marauding Motorbikes

Mo-Town Saigon

Saigon is a mo-town – a motorbike town. Vrooming at rush hour, motorbikes occupy 90% of the road; other vehicles are relegated to virtual car lanes! Crossing the street could be a challenge. Good thing the stop lights have timers. Otherwise, pedestrians would be playing Russian roulette with these unstoppable motos.

Downtown: District 1

Quyen Thanh Hotel, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Quyen Thanh Hotel, which we found in the internet, is located in District 1, a busy downtown teeming with street hawkers, moto drivers, tour operators, streetwalkers, Caucasian backpackers, and an assortment of shady characters. The streets are alive with all sorts of action. As for the hotel rooms, Quyen Thank has the 3Cs crucial to budget travelers: clean, comfy, and cheap (room rate: $12 per day) with a spacious bathroom. Take note, though, that the hotel closes its doors before midnight. If you jet in at night, you might be rendered homeless, as we were (see  previous post). On the up side, Sa Sa Cafe, home of fantastic fruit shakes, is just a stone’s throw away.

The Heat is On in Saigon

Vietnamese Vendor

We had been warned. April is the height of the hot spell in Indochine. On our first day, I peeled off the stuffy khaki pants I had just worn and frantically changed into my shorts. It was HOT and HUMID, like majorly, despite the teak trees providing a cool canopy over parts of the city. The  locals didn’t seem appropriately dressed, though. I wondered how the Vietnamese-on-the-street, even coconut juice vendors, could comfortably wear long-sleeve shirts despite the humidity. The sartorial preference in Saigon seemed to be tailored clothes. There were many haberdasheries and many a man-on-the-street garbed in slacks and shirt.

Cam On, Vo!

A Camwhore and a Cabbie

Even the cabbies were well-dressed. The first cabbie we had for the day was a charmer named Vo in his uniform: a pristine white shirt and a red tie. Eventually my girlfriends engaged him in a tete-a-tete, despite his minimal English. Ayee asked him about his plans that night. We were not sure how much of the sentence he understood, but he let out a chuckle. Ikin imagined it was because of the word “tonight” and started flirting with the clueless cabbie. Before spilling out of his comfy cab, we sang our thanks: “Cam on, Vo” (cam on means thank you in Vietnamese) to the tune of Madonna’s Vogue.

Wedding by the Way

Married to his Moto

As our cab cruised past Notre-Dame Basilica, we saw a couple dressed in white having a pre-nup photo shoot beside the church. It was rather odd that even in wedding white, the Vietnamese still have their motorbikes (also painted white!) with them. Funny how the groom seemed to lovingly hold the moto while his bride was fumbling with her dress unattended. I pronounced them man and bike.

Tryst under the Trees

Under the Stately Sao Trees

Teak trees (sao) tower over the city, dwarfing even some buildings. I had never seen such rainforest-size trees in an urban area. I remember that even the sequoias in California were well beyond the city limits. The park by the Notre-Dame Basilica was one such place where the trees can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Clearly, the cool and shade invited people for a stroll or long talks on park benches.

Night Lights

Spotlight on Saigon City Hall

By nightfall, the city morphed into resplendent elegance, its well-preserved French colonial buildings beautifully bathed in light. But not all was glittering and gentrified. Somewhere near the statue of Ho Chi Minh, I was propositioned by a Vietnamese teenager, which I politely declined with a smile. Despite that disconcerting experience, the place still presented itself as a charming nocturnal promenade. We were traversing the well-appointed avenue in search of dinner. We found visual delight instead. I think we stayed hungry that night.

Saigon Opera House
Saigon Intercontinental Hotel

This was the face that Saigon left with me: dynamic and chaotic, laid-back and elegant.

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7 thoughts on “Saigon Street Scenes

  1. love the pic of hotel continental, reminded me of my trip there. worst part was that a lot of my pictures got deleted because of some stupid thing, anyways, still have the memories of the place. grand grand grand.

    1. Thanks amigos, Erich and Cacho! Too bad, Cacho. Ngayon pa naman, di na valid ang memories kung walang digital documentation, hehe.

  2. “Somewhere near the statue of Ho Chi Minh, though, I was propositioned by a Vietnamese teenager, which I declined (with a smile, of course).”

    Hahaha, haba ng buhok hanggang sa Vietnam!!! 🙂

  3. I have asked many natives and nobody knows those towering trees are teaks/Sao. Thank you for sharing your information. Could you please let me know the source of your knowledge? Thanks Vert

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