Once known as the "Pearl of the Far East", Saigon (as it is still popularly known) or Ho Chi Minh City is a cultural melting pot with something to offer every traveler. Saigon is a crowded, fast, noisy, and overwhelming place at first. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find there is an energy and vibrancy to the city that can be very infectious. Yet thousands of expats and Vietnamese immigrants couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. They’ve long since fallen prey to the hidden charms of one of Southeast Asia’s liveliest cities.
Saigon is a forward-looking city driving Vietnam’s economic boom. Investment has led to new crop of lavish hotels and restaurants, with trendy nightclubs and high-end boutiques dotting tree-lined neighbourhoods. Yet the city hasn’t forgotten its past. The ghosts live on in the churches, temples, former GI hotels and government buildings that one generation ago witnessed a city in turmoil.
Visiting Saigon while it passes through a remarkable and rapid phase of transformation will fascinate and delight. The pace of change in the city is staggering - on a daily basis buildings are pulled down so newer, shinier ones can be erected in their place. In around ten years the city went from a city of 3,000,000 bicycles to over 3,000,000 motorbikes, leading the Saigon's very unique brand of traffic. Now car use is on the rise gridlock threatens to set in, but it is yet another reminder of how fast lives are changing in Saigon, and how more and more people are working their way out of poverty.
With a closer look you can find beautiful old buildings as well as striking new ones, cool, calm cafes with gardens that are set back from the road to give you a moments rest from the madness outside, relaxing spas and cool pools to swim in. The Saigon experience is about so many things – magical conversations, memorable meals and inevitable frustration – yet it’s unlikely to evoke apathy. Stick around this complicated city long enough and you may find yourself smitten by it. Above all, the heartfelt warmth and humour for which the Saigonese are renowned will stay with you long after you’ve departed for home