Saigon was the capital of the former Republic of Vietnam, therefore of South Vietnam, until 1975. After the end of the Vietnam War and the reunification of North and South Vietnam, the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, which actually refers to the entire metropolitan area with about 7 and a half million inhabitants – the inner part, the center of the city directly on the Saigon River has kept the name Saigon as a district.
This city is the pulsating and vibrant centre of Vietnam and for me it is the most impressive place I have ever come across on my journey through Asia. Compared to Bangkok, tourism is low, most tourists and travelers meet in the 1st district along a few streets in the countless cafes, restaurants and bars. A little bit aside, in the side streets you can find street kitchens and small pubs, which are mainly frequented by locals. I was lucky enough to join a group of expats – foreigners living in Saigon – in one of these small beer and schnapps taverns, who met every evening for a few beers. Americans, Scots and Australians – some spend their retirement there, others work as English teachers. The drinks are very cheap, the conversation interesting and never-ending. A series of long nights in a group of casual guys who have roughly the same attitude towards life and travel make saying goodbye difficult. Unfortunately, I lost my mobile phone in Saigon – I’m not sure if I lost it or if someone could use it better than me. In any case, the photos I had taken on those evenings are gone.
Of course, there is enough opportunity to do some sightseeing in extended rambles through the city. The appearance is a mixture of European – mainly French – and Asian architecture, of colonial past and emerging present. Although Ho Chi Minh City is very large, the interesting buildings and monuments can be reached by foot.
The restlessness of the city can be seen most impressively in the traffic, especially in the legions of motorcyclists. From a subjective point of view, there are thousands of people at every junction or who pass the road when you want to cross it. You need good nerves and some experience to get to the other side of the road within a manageable period of time.
A little south of Ho Chi Minh City, about 2 hours away by bus, the huge Mekong Delta begins. The river, coming from China, after passing through 6 countries in a distance of thousands of kilometres, pours its waters into the South China Sea. The Mekong Delta is famous for its mangrove water landscape and the countless islands, so it was supposedly the best to get a closer look at this natural spectacle in an organized tour. Through one of the travel agencies a day trip was quickly booked, but unfortunately my choice was a grasp in the void. The aim of the organizer was to combine mass tourism with sales events, to offer normal products like honey or coconut sugar to tourists at inflated prices. Nevertheless, one could at least get an idea of what it would be like to chug through these mangrove labyrinths with one’s own boat over several days.
Well, one thing is clear for me – I will definitely come back to Vietnam, buy my own motorcycle there and will ride through the country for several months. Then there should be the possibility to sail extensively through the Mekong Delta with my own boat.