Saigon : Some city-chaos calm after the storm

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

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My final full day in Saigon.  A city in many ways unexpected to me that I have quickly grown to appreciate.  Mostly fast-paced neon, wire and traffic drenched charms.  But charms to me on this occasion nevertheless.  Following the events of the last two days it is a rare occasion where I can firmly profess I am relieved to have returned to the City from the more rural (if that’s the right word?) scenery of the Mekong River Delta.

I’m still in possession of a most untrustworthy immune system at the moment so have to be a little bit careful about what I decide to do and to eat in all the chaos and heat.  I take things early in the morning.  Purchase the open bus ticket that will take me point to point north through Vietnam from Saigon eventually to Hue.

  A farewell lunch with Mario before he leaves for home (Portugal) via Kuala Lumpur and Macau.  A beautiful big bowl of Pho Ga (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup).

A quiet afternoon ahead of me.  Gray’s taken himself off for one day to the Mekong Delta, not having the benefit of Mario and I’s return before he booked, to inform him “DON’T GO!” it’s dull, painful, predictable, tacky… oh and incidentally two of our company lost their lives!!  Upon his return he too evinces deep displeasure at a day wasted.  I decide to risk a stroll 3 - 4 kilometres to the west and back to visit the Cholon District (District No.5) or Chinatown of Saigon.  I load up with water and emergency toilet paper and head off into the street and the heat.

Temple incense sticks.

I have an enjoyable afternoon of it and my body is mercifully well behaved.  I keep feeding it cans of Coke (apparently good for stomach upsets if nothing else).  All along the way moto-taxi drivers attempt to engage me and procure my business.  The usual conversations.  They look shocked and exclaim that Cholon is “seven!”, “ten!”, “twenty!” any number of kilometres away to scare me onto the back of their bikes despite the fact I’m patently aware of the fairly small distance in question.  Bless ‘em!  They gotta make a livin’ in this city somehow I guess.  It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day you take a hike through this city (although things intensify around traditional rush hour of course) your constant companions are the endless brightly coloured, helmeted and masked hordes of bike and moped drivers that flow like so much churning, swirling and swelling water along the tarmac river beds of Saigon’s streets.

Once in Chinatown I do a fairly quick hour or so circuit of some of the main Chinese temple pagodas that are notable in the area.  The day is getting on and they may be closed fairly soon.  The Quan Am Pagoda, the Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda, the Thien Hau Pagoda.  They are all of interest to a tummy-troubled soul with their peaceful, serene ambiance.  All suffused with the aroma of countless numbers of burning incense sticks and curious, giant incense prayer coils that are lifted up on long poles and suspended from the pagoda ceilings by those wishing to make special obescence to their gods.  Late afternoon light cuts beautifully through the veil of smoke that these offerings lace through the air.  Beautifully carved and painted images and pagoda architecture.

  Chinese characters, such a linguistic mystery to the untutored tourist eye, serving no greater meaning or purpose than beautiful aesthetic arrangements of form and colour.  But this is appreciation enough of some sorts I guess?  Outside one of the pagodas two boys possess a cage filled to exploding with captured sparrows which for a certain amount of Vietnamese Dong (VND) one can clasp a sparrow in your hands and set it free as an offering.

I stroll back into town, declining the moto-taxi men yet again every step of the way.  Another Coke.  “Stomach, behave yourself!”.  The traffic, the urban enchantment I personally find in Saigon, is intensifying.  I stroll on.  In the precincts of a sun-dappled church I am propositioned by a lady for “Boom boom?”; she holds two fingers up.

Somebody more culturally enlightened than me can maybe explain what these are in pagoda temples?
  What 2,000 Dong ($0.10)? Of course not, I jest... but  200,000 ($11)?  2 million ($114)?  To ask is to show interest, so best not to ask.  I smile and politely decline, moving on whilst deploying responses almost as reflexive or instinctive now as those flung out to ward off moto-taxi drivers, tuk-tuks or gum-selling kids.

After the strains and calamities of the last few days I’m in need of one good old hit of Normality tonight.  So following a pleasant market dinner with Gray, we part company and I take myself off to see ‘Nguoi Hung Bao Thu’ or ‘Watchmen‘, just released and showing at the Galaxy Cinema.  70,000VND ($4) for a ticket.  A bargain for a little, much needed slice of what I consider home comforts.

  It proves an excellent and exceptionally faithful adaptation of the Alan Moore masterpiece of comic book legend.  A palpable shiver of discomfort sweeps the auditorium in the one or two graphic scenes where Dr Manhattan and The Comedian main and eviscerate NVA soldiers in the Vietnam ‘Conflict’.  It’s late.  Time to walk home.  Bed time.  I walk through midnight Saigon streets.  I feel safe enough.  ‘Who’s watching…’

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Temple incense sticks.
Temple incense sticks.
Somebody more culturally enlighten…
Somebody more culturally enlighte…
That is a lot of hat! :)
That is a lot of hat! :)
Bountiful fresh sea foods on Saigo…
Bountiful fresh sea foods on Saig…
Prayer coils.
Prayer coils.
Market snails.
Market snails.
Rotating electric, neon buddha ico…
Rotating electric, neon buddha ic…
Tuk-tuk? :)
"Tuk-tuk?" :)
The sacred and the profane : Boom…
The sacred and the profane : "Boo…
crabs on ice.
crabs on ice.
Tree Print (Saigon)
'Tree Print' (Saigon)
Preparing fish soup at the market …
Preparing fish soup at the market…