Pearl of the Orient

Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

Built by the French in 1859, after they first destroyed the original citadel that was here before (destroying cities is a bit of an age old trend here it seems), it was called good old familiar Saigon up until the Americans were run out of town, after which, instead of destroying it the Vietnamese just changed its name to Ho Chi Minh City (they really do love their Uncle Ho). Everybody in the South still calls it Saigon though, but heaven forfend you should use anything but the official name when talking to Northerners or government officials. Ho Chi Miny City, HCMC, Saigon, Sai Gon or Pearl of the Orient, call it whatever you like, just as long as you go there at some point in your life.
Since all the guidebooks bemoan the fall of beautiful old Saigon to some very dedicated property development (it would seem that Saigon will be destroyed after all, and not by the communists, but by communists turned keen capitalists – this is called doi moi or new thinking, apparently), I was expecting a beautiful city full of cancerous property development growth (my stint as an architect in Queenstown, NZ has convinced me that the main talent required of property development is a horrendous loss of taste and aesthetics).

Thankfully, Saigon is still beautiful. Its looks still owe more to baron Hausmann than to Feng Shui or the real estate market. A glorious city of tree lined boulevards and immense areas of greenery everwhere, with beautiful and grand old french houses it is more Paris than Paris itself. Granted, there are skyscrapers going up everywhere, and while none of them will win any major architectural awards, they are nonetheless more varied than the standard homogenously lacking in imagination fare that passes for skyscrapers in the West. True, the immense Sheraton hotel absolutely dwarfs the old french houses in its vicinity, but then again, the sheer width and scope of the boulevards around it make Saigon better for skyscrapers than any other city I’ve ever been to.

Until the skyscrapers take everything ove though, its still got heaps of old colonial style architecture, a chinatown, a modern and posh downtown area, a river, plenty of colourful markets, and even a backpacker ghetto where you can see what Bangkok’s Khao San road probably looked like 20 years ago. Cyclos and scooters crowd the streets, noodle and bia hoi stands line the streets, there’s shops everywhere you look, but it’s still one of the most laidback and relaxed cities in Asia.

One Response to “Pearl of the Orient”

  1. Tina Says:

    Živjo, Martin. Tole bo kar v slovenščini pa še s tem postom nima veze, zato dvakratno opravičilo. A lahko prevedem tiste tvoje oznake na Mareli, ki jih znam prevesti? Škoda bi se mi zdelo, da jih slovensko govoreči uporabniki ne bi mogli zlahka najti. Mimogrede, super blog.