Le Petit Paris à Viêtnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Formerly known as Saigon) Part 1 – The People

I realised how different I have become traveling these days as compared to my first time. We all grow up, hopefully a better person and through traveling, it is easier to see where we stand in this world (if it even mattered at all). So through this blog, I’ll see where/when/what and how my perception changes in every place I go while writing about it. 

The thought of being ‘bare naked’ for the world to see me is a little intimidating. Oh well. If one out of billions of people can learn something from my journey, it’s all good.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things
– Henry Miller

In a way, this was the lesson I learned when I went to HCMC/Saigon.

The #1 thing I learned about traveling that I carry around with me is to never have (or have as little as possible) expectations about the places you will be going. When I have this in mind, I’ll be guaranteed to have the time of my life no matter the outcomes I’ll be getting. It just makes it that much more easier to appreciate what you have and accept things the way it is and not the way you want it to be.

When I was getting ready in my seat to HCMC, I really don’t know what to expect (even with the materials I read up about the city) except to capture as many photos as possible and..

to cross the roads of Saigon! 

Yes, it was in my To-Do-Before-I-Die list. A true testament about how little expectation I had.

The journey is about 2 hours from KLIA to HCMC. There are over 20 airlines with direct flights via this route. Malaysia Airlines(MAS) offers low fares (RM180 per way) and it sure as heck worth the money + 20kg (It never hurts if you do shop a lot).  🙂

South East Asia’s essentials are the sun and rain, but different levels of humidity. In Saigon (I’m so used to saying this than HCMC), the weather is somewhat similar to KL, not as humid but I was told it can be just as hot certain time of the year.

This is the view of HCMC from the top. Compact as compact can be.

When I saw this from my window, I was taking away but it’s density yet you can still sense the French town planning. Like a kid getting a lollipop, I was excited to land and go crazy with my camera. Oh the many visuals I had in mind.

Superfragilisticexpialidocious!

The people are great, friendlier than I could have imagined. Always one to smile back at you, one to say hello. Heck, one of the motorist on the road near Notre Dame church who was planting a kiss on his son’s forehead, waved at me when he realised I was taking his picture. He even greeted good morning to me too. That was simply the icing on my cake.

The guy who made my trip sweeter.

I have come across many friendly faces while I was traveling but that particular one easily stood out among the rest. Thank you for making a permanent mark in my mind whoever you are 🙂

So the moment I sat my foot on the ground, I asked Tom who was my guide during the stay what would be his advice for me to cross the street. He simply said – Just cross the road!

Right, in theory; that sounded so absurd, it was just not possible.

Being the scaredy-cat that I am, I took a second to close my eyes and prayed that I’ll be able to cross the street in one piece. Even if it was just one street. Took a deep breath and crossed.

Holy mother of all things crazy, Tom was right (obviously) and it was really about just crossing. The road users will stop/slow down for you. So this was what it must be like for Moses to part the Red Sea back in the days huh?

In a way, I could relate that concept with driving a car. When you are driving, just drive. Once you feel hesitant in overtaking, pressing the throttle or making a turn, you will be dangerous not just to yourself but everyone around you too. In other words, being confident makes a big difference in saving your life.

After that, I’m a pro at crossing the roads 🙂 Day or night. One more thing less to do before I die.

During my unfortunately short stay, I knew the best way to get to the heart of HCMC is through it’s people. And it pays to just be yourself, happy and smiling like you know them. I can’t tell you how effortless it is to break the ice with them just by smiling, as if their walls come crashing down.

Despite the war, the wound is still very much open and in recovery mode. It’s so raw, it makes you realised where you come from, how lucky you have been and above all else, the fact that they can still carry on with their lives, put a smile on their face and welcome people as their own is one that I find humbling most. I can’t imagine the pain they have to endure with the side effects of Agent Orange, made a million or so victims deformed.

I could still remember the feeling as I type this like it was only yesterday I was there. Devastating indeed.

I can’t imagine being in the photographer’s shoes when he witnessed all this behind a lens. I really can’t.

So in reality, this city is walking with sorrow and motivation to move forward hand in hand. Not an easy task I must say but they are making it work, building up the people and city one step at a time. All I can say is that, they can move further as long as their good heart remains intact. They have a big heart. They truly do.

Ok, this entry turned out to be longer than I expected it so I’m breaking it into two parts – The People & The Art. I have so many things to say about this wonderful place but no words will do just therefore you people have to go there and experience it 🙂 There’s always a good reason to travel.


*A month later I got to know @Vietnam720 from twitter. Had I known his existence way before, I would’ve gotten a lot more out of HCMC but that’s ok 🙂 I shall make a return someday. For those of you who haven’t, add him up. He’s a cool guy who knows a lot about Vietnam.

Till the next post 🙂 Make the most of what you have around you!

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