We judge a city based on a few critical factors: cuisine, transportation, museums, nightlife... and the cuteness of its street cats and dogs. And that last one is a category in which Saigon scores high. Check out some of the creatures we've met during our 91 days in the city. Which ones would you take home? You can only choose one!
What do you get when you cross foreign hipsters, the newly-wealthy, and regular Vietnamese folks? Probably something that resembles the neighborhood of Thảo Điền, in District 2. We spent a day walking around this weird section of town, constantly finding ourselves surprised by the abrupt shifts in style, around every other corner.
Occupying a set of three colonial-era buildings in the heart of Saigon, the Museum of Fine Arts is packed with ancient sculptures, classical paintings, and contemporary canvases. It's all worth full attention, but we found ourselves moving too rapidly through the rooms, because there was simply so much to see.
You might think that, somewhere in the metropolis named Ho Chi Minh City, there might be a good museum about Ho Chi Minh. But you'd be wrong. There's a museum, alright, but in no way could it be described as "good". A visit to the neighborhood is worthwhile, however, thanks to the delirious street of Đoàn Văn Bơ.
Our apartment is found right across the Thị Nghè Canal from Saigon's zoo, allowing us to watch giraffes and elephants from the balcony. So despite the fact that the zoo doesn't have a sterling reputation, it was just a matter of time before we would be paying a visit to our new friends.
In our neighborhood, there aren't many supermarkets. Even that's an overstatement; there actually isn't a single supermarket anywhere near us. So we've had to become familiar the local market, or "chợ". And the market's vendors have had to become familiar with us. Trust is a two-way street, people... and Saigon's markets are worlds unto themselves.
Every city worth its salt has a Chinatown, but the award for World's Largest Chinatown (at least in terms of area) goes to Cholon in Ho Chi Minh City. This district was actually its own city for a long time, until eventually being swallowed up by its bigger neighbor to the east. We spent a day navigating its busy streets and visiting its markets.
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.
For the uninitiated, the chaos of Saigon's streets can be intimidating to the point of paralysis. The first time I had to cross the road, I stood still on the curb for minutes, with my hands held in front of me like a mime hitting a glass wall. I'm not even sure I blinked. My mind was stuck in a panicked loop of "Now! No... now! No... now! No..." but my body (instinctively wiser) refused to obey its orders.
At 262 meters in height, the 68-story Bitexco Financial Tower is the tallest building in Saigon. We ascended to its sky deck, to take in a 360-degree panorama of the big city.