Saigon, the modern image and postern child of capitalism and westernization in the modern-day Vietnam, is a busy lively city with chaotic streets and scotching heat – the two things it is famous for. Before visiting, I had so much expectation from Saigon, partly due to the fantastic time I had exploring Hanoi but also because I had many friends who came from Saigon.
At first, it was difficult to fall in love with Saigon, to be honest. The food scene here is rich, diverse and flavorful – all the necessary ingredients to allure travelers like me who love to eat. Yet, I felt something is missing, I just couldn’t make sense of the city – it felt like there were many makers behind the city with each having their own opinion about the city should be and while they trying to figure this out, the people decided to grow the city as they saw fit.
To describe Saigon in one word, it would be ‘chaos’. Many times I was enthralled; it seems almost natural that everyone do things in their own ways and no one seems to care that there is no systematic approach. It sounds messy when there are ten people in front of you and they are doing the same thing in ten different ways but I enjoyed single occasion because it was one of the things that made my experience colorful.
One amazing observation was how the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the house are being used, rather the opposite of the western understanding, the motorcycles are kept inside the house and the cooking is done outside. There is a pavement, it is either used for motorcycle parking or street vendor; almost as if it was never intend as a pedestrian walk.
Visiting attractions weren’t a priority in our trip as we spent most of the time hunting down the next food stall. Perhaps, that was what allowed us to see the city from a rather different angle.
While there were many attraction places to see: the reunification palace or war museum, we pretty much skipped most of them as we didn’t feel that was the way we want to explore Saigon but instead spent most of our time walking and finding food places and exploring our way around the streets.
When you are in Saigon (or any Southeast Asia cities for this matter) you need to eat the street food; sit by the roadside on a plastic stool and join in the crowd. Hygiene and cleanliness probably are not high on priority but this is one of the most memorable experience that we have.
This scene really reminds me of my home city, Yangon because there are similarities in our daily lives. Breakfast is a big part of our culture – people raise up early in the morning to make their earn of the day and having a heavy breakfast is how we start the day. It continues into the lunch hours as well, eating at any street places along where the work take them. Dinner is another story altogether: it is the meal with the family. You don’t really eat out, unless it is an occasion to celebrate. This culture forms the backbone behind how the shops operate throughout the day. As the sun goes down, hardly we find a ‘local’ shop where the locals come and have their dinner.
Ben Thanh Market
Visiting fresh markets was one of my absolute favourite activities when I travel and I could literally spend hours getting lost inside the market or observing people. Maybe because the markets always are a riot of beautiful colors and allow me to observe what sort of food the locals cook for their daily meals. Fresh Markets always have great vibe of energy especially early in the morning with people compete to get the freshest vegetable or fish for their home.
Ben Thanh market being in District 1 of Saigon, I imagine that many locals might shy away as it caters to tourists more than anything else these days but it was a great visit nonetheless. The outer section sells groceries like fresh fish, other seafood and vegetable while the inner hall houses the food market, snack shops, souvenir shops.
Co Giang Street Market
We discovered this by accident when we were searching for our breakfast place on Co Giang street where the entire stretch of the street was a wet market. How lucky is that, coincidently I was starting to think that Saigon is dull and I stumbled upon this colorful market.
The locals there were not used to having tourists around, so when I took pictures of them, most of them were fascinated at me for being interesting in their daily affairs at the market. Some of them were clearly feeling conscious getting their pictures taken but none refused or object.
All in all, I really enjoyed spending time in Saigon. I could foresee that I would visiting again and make small observations through the random explorations. Perhaps, I would be hard pressed to look out for unique experiences far out from the well-walked paths of the travelers.