There were MANY more tourists than the photo suggests, and certainly many more than my first visit back in 2005. Back then, I also remember my friends and I were almost cheated by a crafty street-side ice cream vendor who originally signalled VND2000 for a cone, then pretended that it was VND20000 after it was served. Didn't see him this time round...
A 7h hiccup-free bus ride from Dalat later, and I was in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon for the romantics who prefer the name associated with its colonial past. This was the first city I'd arrived in on my first ever SEA backpacking trip back in 2005, so coming here again brought back some memories.
I remember staying at the Vien Dong Hotel along Pham Ngu Lao, and eating at a smallish restaurant called Pho 2000 near the Ben Thanh market. I also remember Pham Ngu Lao being relatively quiet back then, despite it being the backpacker's "ghetto", as was the Ben Thanh market. Things have definitely changed since. Pham Ngu Lao and the surrounding streets now bristle with undying neon, Ben Thanh is crawling with tourists, and it seems Pho 2000 has also now become a chain! And the traffic has just gotten even worse, as if it could have even seemed possible seven years ago! There are just so many more foreigners around now -- loads of elderly package tourists being bussed around from attraction to attraction. Back in 2005 when my two friends and I visited the Reunification Palace it was just the three of us
War Remnants Museum
This ironically-coloured section was the Agent Orange exhibit, and believe-you-me you'll be glad I didn't take a closer photo of the pictures...Agent Orange must have been one of, if not the most, ill-conceived act of the US during the Vietnam War.
being led around by the guided tour. This time when I re-visited the Reunification Palace, the guided tour group was about thirty people strong! And I realised that the Russians here could now give the French a run for their money, in terms of their sheer numbers.
So things have definitely changed, not that I hadn't expected this, especially having just been in Hanoi not long ago. But the pace of economic development in Vietnam is just so evident, comparing its two largest cities just seven years ago and now. Vietnam definitely seems to be rapidly headed the same direction as Thailand, with its major cities soon to become undisputedly modern Western-style cities serving as transportation hubs and centres of mass tourism. Just throw in a subway network or two, and I think they're there! This must surely be good for the country and its people, but of course as a (selfish) tourist, one can't help but reminisce over the time when Vietnam evoked (and produced) images of more exotic oriental serenity...
Well I'll be headed through the Mekong Delta area this last week of my Vietnam trip, so perhaps I'll be able to find out for the
romantics, whether there's still some magic left there in this rapidly urbanizing dragon.
Stayed at Kim Hoa Hotel.
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