Citizen of the World
We are safely in Saigon, Vietnam, and have been out walking the streets most of the evening. It is a beautiful night, about 80 degrees with balmy breezes. The whole city appears to be up and partying.
The guide who met us at the airport is a twenty-three-year-old young man named Loc. He and a van driver got us to our hotel which is about half an hour from the airport. We are staying in the center of Saigon. It is an amazing place, and I am so glad that I decided to make this trip.
One of the things we read before arriving was how dangerous it was to cross streets in Saigon. I suspected that warning was just for dramatic effect, but getting anywhere downtown on foot is a challenge. There are rivers and streams of motorcycles and motor scooters - I mean thousands upon thousands - some transporting mom, dad, and two kids! Loc told us that there are currently 33 million motorbikes in Vietnam, and three thousand new ones are added to the streets of Saigon every day! I feel certain that we saw most of the 33 million htis evening! Interspersed among all of the cycles and scooters are cars, trucks, and even some bicycles.
Except for Uncle Ho Chi Minh's picture on all of the currency, one would never suspect that this is a communist country. Brand name stores and luxury hotels abound. There are even Santa Clauses out among the tourists. Christmas decorations are up, and we were told that they would remain up until after the lunar new year in February. As we walked by a pretty girl posing in front of a Louis Vuitton storefront, Murphy noted that in retrospect, the capitalist forces actually won the Vietnam War.
Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the forces of the north won the Vietnam War - but Loc told us that most of the Vietnamese still call it Saigon. He said the communists changed the names of many places, but the people still tend to use the historic names. Saigon is home to over seven million people.
Dinner tonight was at the Lemongrass Restaurant, a nice place that serves an international clientele on three floors. Our meal came to 770,385 dong - or $36.69 USD. (Half-a-million dong is approximately $25.00.)
We are staying at a three-star hotel called the Asian Ruby, within walking distance of the Saigon City Center and their famous Saigon Opera House. My room is exceptionally nice. We chose three-star rooms through the travel agency to save money - and it looks as though that was a good idea.
Loc will be here early in the morning to get us started on our only full day in Saigon. There is so much to see and do, and so little time!