Saigon is different. Having started our journey in Hanoi and then gone into the more remote SaPa before moving on to Hue and Hoi An in the centre, then down south to Saigon my impression is, I am sure overly influenced by what I saw first.
Saigon is a stunning city with many of the attributes i have seen on the journey. It is much more westernised, has more money, more new/status buildings, more in the way of consumer goods and the same level of poverty. It seems that the gap between the comfortably off and the poor is greater. There are certainly more cars, but more of that later.
The thing that struck me most (and I know it is very selfish of me to think like this) is how, once we met up with Jonathan and Jill the pressure dropped. Traveling is such fun and so rewarding in so many different ways but, it is also exhausting, confusing and at times a little worrying. It was so nice to be looked after and shown around in a way that took all the pressure off but left all the fun and with the sort of companionship we have not had on any other part of the trip. Absolutely wonderful. Thank you.
The “shock of the new” was in the buildings. New buildings. Shiny buildings. Buildings that shone in the night. Buildings that, like trees in a rain forrest, were racing their competitors to the sky. The winner, at the moment at least, is the Betexco Financial Tower. At 262.5 Meters tall it seems to grow out of the rough undergrowth of a street market like some genetically modified steel Lotus Leaf.
It is open to the public, the view is superb and the information boards do say that the original concept of the building was based on a Lotus flower. The locals call it a CD Rack.
You can see how well the rivers are used even in a city that is growing so quickly. The Vietnamese pragmatism is in evidence when looking down at the river. The big barge in the middle of the picture is being pushed along the river by the nose of the tug boat. There is no connection apart from the front of the tug pressing on the corner of the barge. It is a remarkable feat. The river has a number of quite sharp bends as it passes through the city. The river is also tidal. These things must combine to make it very difficult to know in which direction you should push it. It makes reversing an articulated lorry easy. If you could enlarge the photo enough I bet you would find that the person in charge of the Tug was steering with their feet and talking on the mobile at the same time.
These changes sit alongside traditional labour intensive activities. When I saw the people on their knees in the local park ( top picture) I assumed that they were weeding. I fact they were planting the grass like plants that form the greenery. Each one ( in this case at least) is planted, close together and in a line, by a row of workers who then shuffle backwards to plant anther row. The whole park has been done like this to provide an expanse of green.
The parks are used well for exercise and relaxation. On popular game consists of kicking a shuttlecock from person to person in the same way that people kick a football around in a park. One obvious difference is that using a shuttlecock uses less space, a second is the complicated way the shuttlecock is kicked. A straightforward kick will not suffice.
I mentioned earlier that Saigon had more cars and it does. It also has more motorbikes. The roads are wide but not wide enough for the volume of traffic as people go home. I think the width of the roads just allows people to go faster. When everyone is in a hurry to get home, when the roads are full to bursting the motorbikes take to the footpath. There is a clear heirachy in these things. Lorries trump everything except the poshest of cars. Cars are next, followed by motorbikes then bicycles. The person on foot is last and it takes a strong nerve, or a high level of “pissedofness” to stare down a motorbike when you are walking on the footpath and make it get out of your way.