It might be Ho Chi Minh City (or HCMC or Saigon) on your maps, but all but the most bureaucratic of locals still refer to Vietnam’s lively capital by it's older and more widely known name: Saigon. At first glance, it's difficult to see the capital as anything but utter chaos: roads bursting with uncontrolled traffic, clogged up, vibrant and with a total disregard for its own rules, but if you're into your Asian travel, you're probably of the opinion that that’s half the attraction. Either way, you're going to have to get used to it: Saigon pulses with an energy that few other cities worldwide can match.
The motorbike is ubiquitous in Saigon and elsewhere in Vietnam. They shoot past at off-the-wall angles through the tiny back streets, missing each other by inches and communicating in a foray of toots, or swarming side by side through back alleys in unfeasible numbers. Daring to cross the road takes some doing, but when you do you’ll find plenty of attractive oddities: acupuncturists tucked into dirty second floor offices, silk and spices in the bright city markets and ancient pagodas poking their noses up for air amongst the skyscrapers.
Of course, Vietnam is not without its difficult past, and to drop by without checking it out would be seeing things through tinted glasses. For a bit of perspective, head for the History Museum, which is tucked away in a stunning French colonial building, and details the city right back to the Bronze Age. More recent and notorious narration is dug over in the War Remnants Museum, home to tanks and artillery, as well as a heavy focus on exposing the atrocities committed by the Americans and the Chinese during their time in Vietnam. There are plenty of them, and some are pretty shocking, but that is, as we know by now, the American War (as it is known over here).
Back in the present day, the Giac Vien Pagoda is one of the most atmospheric spots in town, serene and rural, and home to more than 100 lavishly carved statues. Then there’s the lively bar scene, often up market and coated with the kind of modern electro music you’d expect to find tucked away in a more fashionable district of New York.
It’s not the most picturesque of Asian cities, or the most party-focused, but Saigon has its own thing going on. Tap into it, and you can find yourself falling hard. Very hard.