Saigon: an assault on the senses

April 4, 2012 in Places,Vietnam

In Saigon, even something as mundane as crossing the street turns into a potentially-life-altering adventure. There are no stoplights or crosswalks: instead, there are massive roundabouts with countless, constantly shifting lanes of traffic. Cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, cyclos all interweave on their journeys.

Crossing the crowded street in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The trick isn’t to run across the street; instead, it’s to assume a slow and steady yet confident march. If the never-ceasing front of motorbikes can predict your path—or so the logic goes—they can easily swerve around you. Crossing the street immediately becomes an exercise in trust and grace under pressure.

The south Vietnamese city is formally known as Ho Chi Minh City, but I prefer Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City sounds so sterile and political, suggesting a city of carefully-ordered communism and dull gray suits. Saigon is anything but: it’s a colorful, thriving metropolis that never stops buzzing, eating, shouting.

Bicycle with flowers in front of crowded motorbike traffic in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Just being in Saigon is an assault on the senses: it’s not a city you can drift through, lost in headphones and texting thumbs. You have to be fully aware, or else you’ll either a) get run over or b) miss something. I’m not sure which would be worse.

Banana stand on the streets of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Listen to the groan of motorbikes, the honk of taxis, the whirring of bicycle wheels. The men yelling their services as taxi drivers, the women offering an array of refreshments. Early in the morning, before the sun rises, the silence is almost deafening. The thwap of badminton in the park, the alternating grunts of frustration and restrained cheers of success.

Red flower in front of city hall and blue skies in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

See the blazing sun, the impossibly blue skies after the smoke of Chiang Mai and smog of Bangkok. The constant juxtaposition of rural and city life: a rooster calmly strutting past rows of motorbikes, the conical hats of the riceworkers perched on the head of the cyclo drivers. The exotic flowers next to traditional French architecture, the local culture holding its ground against colonialism and globalism.

Traditional Vietnamese pho soup in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Taste the tang of freshly-cut mango dipped in a plastic bag of chili salt. Slurping up the steaming hot pho, the iconic dish of Saigon: a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, heaping with beef and greens. The icy creaminess of an avocado shake. The crunch of a frogs leg, the sliminess of a snail slathered in tamarind sauce.

Men drinking sugary drinks at a motorbike rest stop in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Smell the constant exhaust from the millions of motorbikes.The stench of garbage floats up from the curbs, intermingling with the aroma of a stew cooking over an open fire on the sidewalk. Vibrant fresh flowers, hunks of raw meat, shiny scales of fish stall-by-stall at the market.

Artifact at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Feel the smooth cool steel of the fighter planes crowding the courtyard of the War Remnants museum. The rough husk of the coconuts being sold on the street. The rush of traffic as it speeds by.

 

  • You do such a great job of making me feel like I’m right there on the streets with you!

  • Oh it takes me back to the days I was there, it really is chaotic.

  • jillacox

    I didn’t make it that far south on my trip to Vietnam. Guess I’ll have to go again!

  • camorose

    Thanks, Amanda! Saigon was one of my favorite cities to visit, such a sensory overload.

  • camorose

    But chaotic in the best possible way–I felt like I had to be paying attention every second just to catch it all!

  • camorose

    You should! It was my favorite city in Asia :)

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  • India is definitely like this.. an assault on all the senses but imes 10! lol. I love this! You’ve really captured HMC – I love every bit of it. Great pictures! can’t wait to head “home” for a steaming bowl of pho when we get there in July!

  • camorose

    Yuuuuummmm eat a big bowl of pho for me! Although I’ve been able to find some decent Vietnamese places in Sacramento, which is making me happy :)

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  • Great stuff…simply awesome photos!

  • camorose

    Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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