Sunday, January 10, 2016

Don’t take my word for it: I loved Saigon

An ordinary street in Saigon

I read plenty of articles that told me not to go to Vietnam.
I went anyway.
When I got there, I heard from plenty of travelers who told me not to go to Saigon.
I went anyway.
And I loved it.

My neighbor, Totoro
I was afraid to type those words until I reached the Cambodian border. I loved Saigon so much it made me suspicious, paranoid that something bad would inevitably happen to me there and I would soon understand why the millions of traveler’ who passed through the city hate it so much. But to my great surprise and relief. Nothing bad happened. Not even remotely. In fact, while I dealt with annoying peddlers, scamming taxi drivers, and overcharging merchants in nearly every city throughout Vietnam, Saigon was the only place that didn’t give me one thing to complain about. Every cab turned on the meter, and took me the most direct route to my destination. Every food vendor quoted me a fair price when I asked. Peddlers were few and far between, and they mostly stuck to displaying their goods on the street and waiting for someone to approach them, as opposed to harassing customers in cafes while they sit trapped at their dining tables. I was not the victim of any form of crime, petty or serious, but I took precautions to assure this.

But I didn’t just love Saigon because nothing bad happened, I loved it because many good things happened. I witnessed a profoundly moving funeral ceremony in my neighborhood. I met an extremely obese dog. I ate some delicious food, frequented many great cafes, and a spectacular gym. I slept in until noon and didn't even feel bad about it. I ordered food for delivery and spent all day in my pajamas and loved it.

Amazing Thai delivery
Despite all this, I can’t say that Saigon is an amazing city. While it is certainly my favorite city in Vietnam, there are many downsides to being there. It lacks reliable and accessible public transportation and is in desperate need of a subway system. Pretty much the only way to get around is by car or moped, and if you don’t drive  - it’s by taxi. The city is spread out and not particularly dense. I was surprised by how many pockets of nothingness I found in the bustling District 1, supposedly the downtown of Saigon. It could use a major clean up, and perhaps some organization. The disparity between the rich and poor is enormous, and obvious. The museums and attractions are not well equipped to absorb the floor of tourists that come to them in the high season, when the crowds War Remnents Museum rival that of the Mona Lisa.

Overall, I don’t love Saigon...
But I loved my time there.
Every minute felt extremely worthwhile, even when I was doing nothing.

For some reason I have a feeling that my time there cannot be replicated. 
The funeral, the fat dog, night after night of delivery meals and pajama dancing.
I will miss my life there. 

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