Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Saigon- a Buzzing city

Ho Chi Minh city (earlier known as Saigon) is a bustling establishment in the South of Vietnam and it is Vietnam's old capital. On the way to the hotel during night, city seemed to be vibrant. Blinking signboards on glass buildings patronizing the company they belonged too, endless number of helmets swimming through the crowd, cars moving at a slow pace and trying to find a way through the sea of motor-bikes, street hawkers shouting and seeking attention of passersby to sell fruits, cola, spring rolls, rice, breads etc., local families crowding on small stools on the road-side, eating their dinner or enjoying a cold drink.

Next day, a map in hand, I set off to see the city. Every corner a Motorcycle taxi would stop and start shouting at me for the ride or a cyclo driver would ask me where i wanted to go. Determined to do the whole city tour on foot I always ignored them. The streets are full off hawkers and smell of Vietnamese food and there is always someone eating on the side of the street, no matter what the time of the day was. Some locals would just stare at me for a long time and some would greet with a welcoming smile and nod of the head.
A Typical street in Saigon
The weather was nice, odd clouds gave some respite from the tropical sun. Reaching the Independence Palace, which was closed, I headed down the same street to see the famous Church, Notre Dame Cathedral, on the way meeting a Canadian girl. The French era built church is a red structure with a lady facing outward, overlooking a tall modern building. Inside of the church is like any other church. The significance is the age of the building as it was built in a French colonial Vietnam.

French Architecture within

The Church is next to the post office, which is a tourist attraction in itself. As you enter the post office, there are souvenir shops on both the sides. Inside, is a ever moving crowd of tourists and others with a purpose of sending a post or two to their family or friends.

With noon sun just passing over head, we had some Vietnamese lunch before going to the Independence Palace. The palace, also known as reunification palace served as the presidential house of the South Vietnamese government, before its fall at the hands of North Vietnam. The palace is huge and rich with architecture, paintings, furniture and a Mercedes. It has residential complexes where top government officials might have resided. In the basement is the bunker used as a security measure as well as a strategic decision making center, housing numerous maps and offices of military personnel. The top section has a helipad and a replica of a chopper used by the president in those days. The terrace allows the view of the surrounding gardens and the modern Ho Chi Minh City.
Underground bunker in the palace

For rescue missions

From the top of the palace

Palace building
After the palace, we strolled to the river-side. As the evening fell, two streets on each side of the river Saigon came alive, the lights dancing on the river water and head lamps of the numerous bikes racing away. Constant cool breeze from the river helped our tired legs as we headed back to the city center, to the Park 23/9.
River Saigon
The part is one of the biggest I have ever seen where locals from Saigon come to exercise, to sit, to chit-chat, to spend some family time. Park is full of beautiful trees and chirping birds. It has an energetic feel. As we sat there, a group in black started practicing Vietnamese version of Kung Fu, a combination of physical exercises and meditation-like activities. As the practice progressed the intensity of exercise increased too and the flexibility and strength shown by the kids was quite awe-inspiring.
Kung practice, which included walking on hands
We were caught by a group of Vietnamese students who wanted to practice English by chatting to foreigners. Soon, the group started to increase before it became unmanageable. Most of them did not even know each other. It was a different experience to understand what they were doing, their ambitions and their perspective about the outside world.

As I said goodbye to the Canadian friend, I realised what traveling is all about. Meeting new people, spending time with them, bonding with them and then never seeing them again!

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