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Andy’s Travel Diary

Friday, 09 Feb 2007

Location: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

MapHO CHI MINH - PEARL OF THE ORIENT
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Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam's biggest city. Another bustling asian metropolis, it's streets team with activity at all hours; buying, selling, eating, washing, gambling and occassionally sleeping.

Saigon (which it is still affectionately called by its inhabitants)
was once described as the Paris or Pearl of the Orient, reflecting French control of Vietnam after 1858 for almost a century. The influence of France lies heavy over the city, architecturally and culturally at least. Traditional, quaint wooden shophouses jostle for space with historic, crumbling colonial mansions. Narrow alleyways crammed with noodle shops and stalls lead onto wide, elegant boulevards lined with boutiques. Worshippers flock to Chinese inspired pagodas or neo-romanesque cathedrals and catholic churches.

This mix of spatially separated cultures is matched by an intermingling of temporally wide lifestyles. Scantily clad girls chat on mobile phones whilst perched on flash mopeds. They weave effortlessly between women with conical hats on antique cyclos. Well dressed businessmen frequent elegant restaurants to eat modern, fusion cuisines. Next door workers in traditional dress squat on small plastic chairs noisily slurping down a bowl of noodles from a street stall.

It is truly a city of contrasts.

We booked into a place called My My guesthouse which was down a small alleyway. It was a new place, well decorated, friendly staff, and, most importantly, cheap.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived so we just took a stroll round the streets. I was expecting a game of tag with rickshaw drivers, waiters and shopowners. The Vietnamese get a hard time on the tourist trail; ruthless, rude, in-your-face and persistent. In contrast i found them friendly, welcoming and restrained. A slight of hand to a frantically waving restaurant owner usually sufficed to cease the hard sell. Compared to Sihanoukville this was like walking down a British high street.

So after just a few hours Vietnam was a hit, even before we had seen any of the sights on offer, and HCM had much to show.

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Food of the week:
Pho - a Vietnamese variation on noodle soup. Eaten at all times of the day the Vietnamese are particularly partial to a bowl in the morning. Numerous stalls line the streets with steam rising from the big vats of broth. Its a hearty dish made all the more delicious by the bowl of pum sauce that is added.