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When the North Vietnamese conquered Sài Gòn in 1975, they renamed it after their beloved leader, and changed many street names to those of luminaries in the communist pantheon. Still, after 41 years, people in the South as well as the North only refer to it as Sài Gòn, unless they have to make an official or public speech.

From the hazy airplane window, I saw that the city had grown vertically and had also spilled over to the north side of the Sài Gòn river, which was not renamed like the city was.

Sài Gòn from the air.

Sài Gòn from the air.

After we landed at the airport, I had trouble recognizing the old capital. It had grown both in size and in population, from 3 million in 1975 to well over 10 million inhabitants now. There were literally millions of motorbikes and cars competing for space on the narrow streets, and traffic was a nightmare day and night. It seemed impossible that people could ride or drive in such conditions, but they did, and traffic laws were constantly being violated by everyone including pedestrians who climbed over dividers to cross highways because there were no pedestrian overpasses.

Subways, light rail, overpasses exist only on paper in the planning stages. There was a tunnel running under the Sài Gòn river and several bridges were either built or expanded, but nothing seemed to help. Việt Nam has one of the highest highway fatality rates, and it is going to take well into the next decade, or even beyond, before things could get better.

Sài Gòn traffic scene.

Sài Gòn traffic scene. Note mother carrying young child crossing street.

Sài Gòn traffic scene in the rain.

Sài Gòn traffic scene in the rain.

We stayed at a hotel near the Bến Thành market in the center of the city, and from there we walked or sometimes called an Uber taxi to explore the city and find places that we used to know.

North side of Bến Thành market in the center of Sài Gòn.

North side of Bến Thành market in the center of Sài Gòn.

There were restaurants and food stalls everywhere in and around the Bến Thành area, or in the rest of the city as well. You can find people eating and having coffee, soft drinks or beer at any time of the day and night.

Food cart

Food cart selling sandwiches made to order.

Food cart selling beef soup in the Huế (old 19th century royal capital) style.

Food cart selling food in the Huế (old 19th century royal capital) style.

Some buildings had not changed much.

Old city hall.

Old city hall.

Opera house.

Opera house.

Nearby all the hotels and buildings had been rebuilt to be taller and more modern, so you won’t find the looks and atmosphere of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American any more.

Hotel on Tự Do street.

Hotel on Tự Do street.

There were signs that not all had benefited from the economic boom.

Scene on Lê Lợi boulevard, the widest in the city.

Scene on Lê Lợi boulevard, the widest in the city.

The other side of Lê Lợi boulevard. Poster on building wall applauded the

On the other side of Lê Lợi boulevard, a poster on building wall praised the “pioneer [ruling] class of the Party”.

Some buildings hardly changed, at least from the outside.

Sài Gòn cathedral, built in 1880.

Sài Gòn cathedral, built in 1880.

Regina Pacis, Our Lady of Peace, was added to the square in front of the cathedral in 1959.

Regina Pacis, Our Lady of Peace, was added to the square in front of the cathedral in 1959.

In 2005, the statue was reported to be shedding tears on the right cheek. People flocked to the cathedral in great numbers. The tear shedding was not confirmed by any authority.

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