18: Vietnam > Saigon

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I did a quick trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon, a name I find more endearing, for some reason) on March 7-9, 2007.

All ready to go, but where’s my green pen?

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Our KUL-SGN transport for the day is Malaysia Airlines Flight MH758. A Boeing 737-400, reg. 9M-MQC. Earlier in the day another Boeing 737-400 (reg. PK-GZC) belonging to Garuda just crashed at Yogyakarta airport – many died.img_6797.JPG

Off the coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the South China Sea, Redang Island is looking good. A terrific place for bumming, snorkeling and diving.

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Actual path of the flight, in red. Note the plane adjusting its course in the middle of the South China Sea.
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Less than 2 hours after leaving KUL, we swoop over the northern suburbs of Saigon. img_6807.JPG

Mighty Saigon River winding through the huge plain.img_6809.JPG

Amidst the concrete jungle, a mosaic of lonely paddy-fields. But how long will they last?
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High-rises on the horizon are in downtown Saigon. img_6815.JPG

Approaching Runway 25L at SGN. Back in ’93 when I first came to Saigon, the only tall buildings in downtown were 2 hotels – Rex and Caravelle – just 10 storeys tall, I think.img_6819.JPG

Boxy, well-painted buildings make a pleasant sight. img_6818.JPG

At the gate, and a Boeing 777-200 next to us prepares to leave. No more Russian planes for Vietnam, like in the old days.img_6834.JPG

Saigon Tan Son Nhat airport, a historic and famous airfield.img_6832.JPG

Welcome to Saigon!
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Ladies in graceful ao-dai, the traditional long dress, huddle together along Le Loi Street in downtown Saigon.

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Next to the famous Rex Hotel (extreme right) along Nguyen Hue Blvd, visitors take photos in late afternoon sunlight.img_6850.JPG

Rex Hotel is synonymous with Vietnam War – a favourite place for foreign correspondents to hang out (and some say, the CIA). The roof-top restaurant is an ideal place to observe military operations taking place around Saigon.img_6857.JPG

In front of the Rex, Uncle Ho beckons.img_6847.JPG

And behind him, the majestic 100-year-old French-built City Hall.img_6858.JPG

Truly beautiful, this building. To me, even rivaling those in France itself.img_6854.JPG

With the flag of a proud nation fluttering atop it.img_6856.JPG

Next to it, one of the many ‘galleries’ … img_6861.JPG

… where for a fee, any artwork is faithfully reproduced, intellectual properties notwithstanding.img_6862.JPG

Along nearby Dong Khoi Street, a major Malaysian investment gets lit up for the evening.img_6864.JPG

Dong Khoi Street has come a long way since I first saw it in 1993, when it was like a dark alley, with street vendors and beggars, and potholes, run-down buildings, and vacant untended lands. Everything was for one dollar, and they loved US$, and they called Russians ‘white men with no dollar’. Those were the days. img_6865.JPG

Another famous Vietnam War-era hotel – the Caravelle. The original building is the small 10-storey building, to the right. Now the huge building on the left is The Caravelle. In front of Caravelle Hotel, the gorgeous Opera House stands, built by the French about 100 years ago.
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In 1993, I stayed at a decrepit hotel behind it a couple of times. The Opera House then was also a derelict building. On weekend evenings locals would sit on the wide stairs to watch processions of bikes passing by. Still a local pastime, I believe, for spectators and bikers alike.img_6869.JPG

Lunchtime the next day, and in this rather fashionable part of Saigon …img_6888.JPG

… we find ourselves at a hip seafood joint.
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In this little pond, you may choose whatever poor critters you fancy for the meal table.img_6885.JPG

Inside, it’s a bit busy, thanks to International Women’s Day lunch crowd.
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And this is the star of our show. Vietnam is indeed famous for its fresh seafood.img_6879.JPG

Neatly-parked bikes at Saigon Software Park in District 3, my next stop.img_6891.JPG

Near SSP, and a well-done kindergaten ends its session. img_6895.JPG

On the street, a car windscreen transporter whizzes by.

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Sidewalk parking and kite vendor.
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A bit of an overkill, I guess, having your plate number plastered everywhere. Spoils the paintwork. img_6912.JPG

Motorbikez Rulez! Anybody can buy and ride one, helmet optional. I’ve ridden one in Hanoi – see story HERE.
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Modern highway to Quang Trung in District 12, northwestern Saigon.img_6911.JPG

View of upcoming Quang Trung Software Park, one of many new IT parks sprouting in Saigon to exploit Vietnam’s competitiveness in the global IT outsourcing business.img_6915.JPG

End of office hours, and traffic builds up.
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Motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, all jostling for space with huge trucks.img_6923.JPG

English is big business here. In 1993, I could hardly find any English-speaking Vietnamese, but now even the mall security guy can give you directions in English.
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Some sort of little fruits, and a couple of visitors eager to try them out. In ’93 I saw many vendors hawking live snakes kept in cages at the back of their bikes. Choose your slithering favourite, and the guy would calmly skin it alive on the spot, to be chopped up it into cute, little round steaks.
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Final day, and for lunch we have been invited by our gracious friends at Global CyberSoft, one of Vietnam’s foremost software development houses.img_6949.JPG

Glorious Vietnamese cuisine everywhere. This is serious stuff.img_6954.JPG

Shellfish and escargots. These I gotta try.img_6956.JPG

More chow.

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GCS has 300+ staff in Saigon, and they are all here in this restaurant for their monthly get-together. img_6967.JPG

Chairman Kevin cheerfully opens the show …img_6965.JPG

… and after a couple of short talks (including mine), the feast begins. Hmmm … I prefer the shellfish to these escargots.img_6981.JPG

And we top the whole thing off with these exquisite watery desserts.img_6983.JPG

We have something similar in Malaysia. Cendol? img_6984.JPG

I have had something like this in Malaysia too. Which goes to show, Vietnamese and Malaysians do share some common cultural items. And what about that famous fish sauce – nuoc nam? Isn’t that a less cloudy version of the Kelantanese budu? Smells the same, tastes the same, and I should know – I’m Kelantanese.
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Done with lunchtime festivities, we go to the airport for trip back to Kuala Lumpur, and along the way a mosque shows itself. I remember this mosque, used to be run-down, but now well-presented in green and gold.img_6987.JPG

One thing I notice about petrol stations here – they are not keen to invest in better driveways. And in most cases, they are overwhelmed by bikes, naturally. Well, maybe that’s the reason. 🙂
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As the sun sets, our plane is pushed back. We are riding on an Airbus A330-300, reg. 9M-MKC. Flight # MH759.img_6990.JPG

War-time relics. I’m not sure what for. Maybe hangars?img_6991.JPG

A non-stop flight from Frankfurt arrives. In the background, construction of new international terminal under way. img_6995.JPG

And soon we are airborne. img_6996.JPG

As the sun sinks below the horizon, I am in the middle of the South China Sea, half-way home.img_7003.JPG

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Kevin, Chi, Vuong, Thuy and Quynh for extreme hospitality extended to us during our short visit to Global CyberSoft Vietnam. Much appreciated, my friends.

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