31 minutes ago
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Ho Chi Minh City
I love big cities.
Most people despise places like Bangkok or Taipei, but I adore them. The more unwieldy and congested the better, in my estimation. I think this is a reaction to growing up in the bush. I spent most of my life dreaming of the city, and when I travel that's mostly what I'm interested in.
Now, most foreign visitors to Vietnam come away adoring quaint little places like Ho An or Phu Quoc or Hue. All nice places. Or they rhapsodies about the faded post-colonial charm of Hanoi. Agreed, great city. But for me, the truly wonderful part of Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City - that vast, heaving, polluted metropolis, a Gotham gone mad.
Yes, I know that it's filthy, hot and dangerous. I know that it's almost impossible to get around in - and increasingly so. But it's so charming!
For starters, the people are beautiful. Boisterous and outgoing, Saigonese love going out and being out, and their frank curiosity and love of the new make them irresistable.
And they are crazy about religion. Ho Chi Minh City is jam packed with temples, churches and shrines. This alone is enough to render it endlessly fascinating for me. Every single suburb can boast of dozens of hidden-away and quite beautiful houses-of-worship, and after 15 years of exploring I'm still nowhere near having discovered them all.
The crazy architecture and the tall, cool cement block houses are constantly diverting, and you never know what will be created when a construction begins.
Every third home is a restaurant or cafe, and dining-out options are endless.
Anyone who fancies him or herself a good cook can simply chuck a couple of plastic chairs out onto the footpath and voila, a restaurant is born. These places are frequently delicious.
Food, religion, noise and beauty - all these things combine to make Ho Chi Minh City the perfect metropolis in my eyes.