Phường 28: The Island of Un-Saigon
Saigon is a city of crazy traffic, constant noise and unbroken swaths of concrete. But there exists a section of the city which is totally different. We spent the day walking around Phường 28: an island that has been almost completely overlooked by Saigon’s insatiable appetite for urbanization.
Phường 28 occupies a small island that has formed in the Saigon River, about eight kilometers northeast of the city center. There are no skyscrapers here, nor big apartment blocks… the land has been almost entirely left in its natural state. A small road, lined by shops and houses, circles the perimeter of the island, but otherwise it’s marshland and ponds. And for someone who’s just come from the deafening drone of Saigon, it’s both literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air.
Without any real plan of action, we simply walked around the island. It took us about three hours. There might not be much development in Phường 28, but we saw plenty of people, and almost of them were here for leisure. On the north of the island, we saw a number of fishing ponds which were quite popular. Each group of fishermen (and women) had a box of beer, and the fishing looked easy; within ten minutes, we saw two guys reel in whoppers. Drunken, effortless fishing? That sounds like a guaranteed good time.
We made a couple of pit stops as we worked our way around the island, pausing once to replenish ourselves with coconuts, and again at a temple in the southeast. This temple looked new and we didn’t really plan on lingering, but the elderly couple in charge insisted we sit down for tea. At this point, we were about halfway done with our journey, and must have looked like we needed a rest.
There weren’t any magnificent sights along the way, but that’s not why we were visiting Phường 28. Here, the nature is the star of the show, and the landscapes are even more stunning with the skyscrapers of Saigon providing the backdrop. A couple times during our walk, we even encountered that rarest of Saigon moments: total solitude. No honking motorbikes, no karaoke-singers, no kids yelling “Hello” at us.
Upon returning to the northern end and the island’s main road, we decided to check out a place which bills itself as the Binh Quoi Tourist Village. This was kind of awesome, although by now we were too tired to properly enjoy it. Basically, it was a cleaned-up section of the island, with manicured lawns, pretty lotus-filled ponds with bridges, and some nice-looking restaurants. It looked like it’d make a fun day out, but we’d already had our fill of nature, and instead headed back into the city. Turns out, a few hours of peace is enough.