Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Saigon Surprises

Now they call it officially as Ho Chi Minh City, but it has always been Saigon to me. Having heard the word Saigon, the mental gate opened and oozed out dark memories of grim image of a war-torn city. But as we touched down, we were surprised. After having the bitter past experience and cherishing reunification and peace, the Saigonese never look back. They are looking ahead and they have achieved so much. First, we were impressed with their new airport, open about one or two years back. The airport is 10 times better than Manila Airport (KLIA is still the best, though). Having a Malaysian passport, I need no visa, the fact that I only came to know 2 weeks before the trip. The immigration officer was not really friendly, but to my surprise I was given a booklet of places of interest in Vietnam and numerous suggestions on how to spend my money here. Madam Personnel Manager having a dual nationalities and one of them is Canada, had the same treatment. Miss Operation Manager having an Arabic look and an Egyptian passport got stuck for 15 minutes of unnecessary questioning. She grumbled on our way out, "They must've never got to see many Arabs in this part of the world....."

On our way to our hotel we were surprised to see that the streets and buildings on each side were so clean. I am really impressed that they are able to retain tall trees along the streets. Those trees are the left over from once a primary forest and have survived the bombings during their war in the 70s. The limo driver said there are traffic jam but not at the hour we were on the street. But I bet the traffic jam is not as disastrous as Federal Highway in KL and as unpredictable as Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road. The advantage that these roads in Saigon have is there are more motorcycles and scooters on the roads compared to cars. These two-wheelers hit the road like a swarm of bees. The streets look busy but the traffic moves.

We are also surprised with the effort made by the Saigonese to retain the colonial buildings. This makes Saigon sentimentally historical. I like some part of Penang for the same attribute but Saigon is way better. The craze of having hypermarkets escapes the fancy of the city planner and therefore we were surprised to see many thriving small street shops selling not just their goods and services, but also promoting their local identity in the midst of modern Saigon.

The Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

We stayed at Park Hyatt Hotel. As we got out of the limo, three ladies in their ao dai (Vietnamese dress) greeted us at the lobby and each took us to our respective room. There was no front desk check-in. The check-in was done in our room in a brief and personalized manner. I was only asked for my credit card number and I was left alone in the a colonial-themed room with elevated bed and the 2 tall pillars and the view of Saigon streets from the wooden windows. Surprisingly, the bathroom instead of retaining the conservative colonial concept, it has a transparent glass panel on one side that would again serve the sexy ambience as what had been said by this future top architect.

The sexy ambience, but not as sexy as in Manila Shangri-La

The view from the wooden windows

All the surprises we had on our first day were delightful. However, the surprises on the following day pissed us off. The room rate was USD290++ (It's the love-hate thing that the people in Saigon have with the Americans, they hated them and ousted them out of their land but now they adore their dollars and business transaction in USD is very common) and I got moody the next morning knowing that breakfast was not included. Madam Personnel raised her thick eyebrows learning that the meeting room rate is USD400++ for office hours only and coffee and lunch are charged separately. We bitched about the ridiculous charge of USD0.20 per minute for the internet connection in our rooms. So here the Saigonese in their clean, humble and smiley nature, are pretty nasty at ripping off foreigners. Our duty in Saigon went as planned. We met the local recruitment consultants and interviewed 6 candidates. We accepted only one applicant. Language is a great barrier for these young Vietnamese, though they may be very skillful with their hands. There are more meetings with other consultants to strategize the next recruitment plan. Unlike in Philippines, in Vietnam, there are certain red-tape, unique labour export policy and contract terms that we need to get familiar with. After work we went out of the hotel to explore the streets and to shop. Shopping in Saigon was a good experience. Things were bought at very good prices after we had surveyed many different shops and we bargained madly.

A Saigon woman in her china hat selling petty stuffs by the roadside

Miss Operation Manager posing like a Miss Saigon at Ben Thanh Market

A kapcai parked proudly by the roadside. Louis Vuitton arcade stood majestically aross the junction

The pigeon hole houses that tell thousands of stories over the years of sadness, hopes and happiness

The best landmark sculpture I saw in Saigon - the boy playing his flute

Another sculture of a political figure and his propaganda

There are many artists and painters in Saigon. There are many small art galleries displaying and selling paintings along the streets. The hotel itself is a gallery with many exciting paintings. The one below has been my favourite, the faceless Miss Saigon in her white ao dai.

"Dear Miss Saigon, will I meet you again?"

Our work was done. We were one day ahead of schedule. Madam Personnel Manager and Miss Operation Manager called our office in Dubai to reschedule the flight to Bangkok and then they looked at me. I was really tired doing all the shopping with them in Saigon and I could not stand another day of shopping with these ladies in Bangkok. So I asked myself, "What is better than Bangkok?". The answer is home.


Roti Kacang Merah said...

wow so lucky, the trees are retained so brilliantly!

in KL, i learnt from the city landscape architects that trees like that just had to be cut off -- they uprooted easily during windy storms, endangering people and motorists. you know lah how bad it is here during heavy rains.

aiyoh i kalau berjalan pun i tak suka keluar dengan ladies -- letih giler! i lagi suka tengok bangunan and surroundings, sit down quietly, snap pictures, sketch, and just let the surrounding sink into you. shopping would always be the last thing i'd do in my travels...usually, done in a haste. haha

Nite Garden said...

Hi Jumper,
I like the painting ;p

Syamsulfaiz said...

Salam jumper,

What a great experience you had in Saigon. The name Saigon itself is very exotic to me. Yes I am very impressed with the big trees lining the roads. Similar to Singapore. I don't understand why DBKL cut trees in KL. I regret the loss of canopy trees lining the old karak-sentul road last time.

Saigon definitely have potential to be one of the beautiful places to visit in asia. Preserving historical buildings and promoting art and culture, they are already in the right path.

Jumper said...

Yeah perhaps the landscape architects in KL may have valid reasons to ensure our safety. But sad isn't it? It takes years for the trees to grow, and a day or two to decide on cutting 'em off...

You'll make a good travelling companion. Last minute shopping, picking up things in a haste can be fun too.

Have a good day, mate.

In the Nite Garden,
The painting has a grand simplicity. I like the calmness that the lady in white portrays.
Thanks for visiting & commenting.

My friend RKM has mentioned above the possible reason of eliminating the road hazards due to the fallen trees. But I agree with you, Singapore has done a remarkable job to preserve the tall trees along the busy roads like the Orchard road etc. Saigon definitely has the potential to grow bigger in tourism.

Have a great weekend. Thanks for dropping by.

Jumper said...
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