Communism or capitalism or does it really matter? Step out into the street in front of the Rex Hotel in Saigon and you cannot believe that you are in a communist country. Dior fights with Channel for prime shop frontage. Saigon is a seriously glamourous city these days with the biggest fashion statement being the amazing scooter helmets. Scooters, as with Hanoi, are everywhere. Saigon in rush hour is a revelation on how a city works. Where there is a will there is a way. But Saigon, Vietnam's economic miracle, with its wide tree-lined boulevards, modern high rise buildings and colonial masterpieces is a different world from the narrow streets of Hanoi.
After flying from Hoi An to Saigon we hit the metropolis with mixed feelings; the spectre of the big city grated with the aura of relaxation enveloping our group after Hue and Hoi An. But the glitz and glamour soon seduced us and when in Rome, etc.! So as I sat on the balcony of the Rex Hotel, sipping my Miss Saigon Special, where 40 or so years ago, the world’s correspondents clustered around the tables to catch the 5 o’clock bulletin from the US military news agency, I looked back at my experiences of the last 10 days and wondered, was it all worth it? Vietnam seems a country totally at ease with itself; proud of its past and hopeful for its future and to my uninformed eyes and ears, it looks like the kind of country anyone would want as a friend, communism or not.
Next update from Cambodia....
Charlie Hopkinson, Director of Imaginative Traveller is currently on our Best of Vietnam & Cambodia tour (in reverse).