Friday, June 01, 2007

Saigon, Out and About

by Saigon Charlie

I have a ton of notes I need to type up but I have been so busy exploring and talking to people, I haven't been able to find the time!

But today finds me sitting at a Highland's Coffee shop in downtown Saigon using my laptop with free WiFi listening to Jazz! Life is truly wonderful and the more I see and learn about both Saigon and Vietnam, I wonder what the hell I am doing living anyplace else.

Even this morning as I strolled down the streets, walking into shops, talking to people, I am continually amazed at how 'tuned on' people are. A case in point was with several very bright young ladies I talked with at the Tourist Information Center on Le Loi Street downtown in District 1. We talked about Vietnam's growth, education, other nations including Thailand and where is Vietnam headed. They knew about Vietnam's entry into the WTO....

“If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
-- Lord Byron

…and visits from the CEO of Goldman Sachs and the German President last week in Hanoi. They also seemed very interested in my opinions about the differences between Hanoi and Saigon and stated very clearly how big a difference there is between those in the north and here in the south. I let those comments slide by!

Everyone asks me where I am from and to each that ask, I clearly state, “I am an American”. Without exception, people smile and ask where from? At no time, anywhere, north, south or in between has anyone been less than very polite and in my opinion, genuinely friendly. If any American reads this and is considering a visit here, they have nothing to fear as the people are not ‘looking back’ and only care about the road ahead of them. Just look at the towers that dominate Saigon and if you stare skyward, you will see the names ‘Citibank, HSBC and Deutsche Bank’. Interesting group isn’t it?

I have moved from my hotel on Dao Thang to a hotel closer to the ‘action’, on De Tham street right off Duong Tran Hung Dao in District 1. Once again, I got really lucky and have managed to find a super clean, super nice room with air conditioning, fan, hot water (in both the sink and shower), toiletries, cable with over 100 channels, mini-bar with breakfast included….all for $12 a night or about 9 Euro! If you are heading this way, the place is called “The Orient”. I HIGHLY recommend it.

I also can’t help but reflect on the changes underway here and when I stare out and watch the multitudes on their Hondas scream by think that within 5 years those Honda 2-wheelers will be Honda 4-wheelers. The roads are being built to support this growth and transition and it is inevitable. Once again, this country is about the same size in population as Germany, all far younger and hungry for change and growth. Scary in some ways, with today's article from the Vietnam News pretty much telling the story....

Good night Vietnam!