With a population of 10 million, Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is officially known (the locals use the names interchangeably), is the modern commercial center of the country.
As compared to the other countries we visited, where 80-95% of the populations were practicing Buddhists, Vietnam is much less religious with approximately 70% of the population not identifying with any religion whatsoever. Hence, you won’t see any photos of temples in this post (did we just hear a sigh of relief from our regular readers??).
Energy pulses through the streets at night, with locals of all ages strolling the pedestrian plazas.
As the communist government cuts back on support services and transitions the economy to a partially capitalist model, entrepreneurs are everywhere. From individuals selling baked goods on the street…
(Yes that is a McDonalds in the background, and yes, we ducked in there to enjoy a little air conditioning to escape the 95 degree heat) to an amazing high-rise condo building where each condo is a privately owned business including tea shops, bars, etc…
to these university students who worked part time for a local company giving sightseeing rides to tourists.
We took a 3 hour ride with these two, booked through Saigon on Bikes and saw the city as few tourists do, from the back of a motorbike. They drove, we sat behind and hung on. The traffic was crazy, but we experienced the pulse of the city and saw amazing sights (when we had our eyes open, which was most of the time). And the best part is that we lived to tell about it!
Perhaps the closing photograph best sums up the city, the country, and the region in one image: the prior French colonial era city hall is in the background, renamed the People’s Committee Building displaying the communist national flag atop the central tower; a statue of the late communist leader and president Ho Chi Minh is in the foreground; and a crowd of regular people fills the plaza, just going about the living of their regular lives.
What a great end to a whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia – – 5 countries in 4 weeks. Thanks for following along! We will review the tour company we used in our next post.