Back in Ho Chi Minh City or as I prefer to call it: Saigon. I must say that coming back here was a bit like coming home. It’s definitely my favorite city in Asia so far. It’s hard to explain why, as it isn’t as metropolitan as Tokyo or as culturally rewarding as Beijing. It doesn’t have the charm of Hanoi or the atmosphere of Ubud. But Saigon to me is magical. It is an enormous city with a population of 8,4 million people, 2,7 million more than the population of my entire country! And as such it is incredibly diverse. There are modern skyscrapers next to rickety three story apartment blocks and breathtaking pagodas alongside huge catholic churches.
You can see Vietnamese women in designer clothes chatting happily with old ladies selling street food along the sidewalks. Scooters are everywhere and there are next to no street lights, but somehow traffic still moves along in a blitz of honks and hand signs. I haven’t seen any road rage incidents even in countless near misses! The other night my Uber driver actually hit a guy on a scooter! There was a huge crashing sound followed by a crunch and I was certain the guy would be severely injured. But he just lay dazed on the ground for a few minutes, then got up (cigarette still in his mouth), dusted himself off and rode away like nothing had happened. I was deeply shocked, but my driver was unfazed. This to me embodies the soul of Saigon. As long as no one is hurt there’s no reason to get excited! After all the point is to live in the here and now and not worry about what could have happened!
Also I have felt more safe in Saigon than in any other big city. I have strolled happily around in all sorts of places after dark and not once have I felt threatened or unsafe. My favorite area so far is Hoang Sa Street which runs along the Nhieu Loc channel. It’s a small distance from the centre of District 1 but walking along the channel you can admire the beautiful landscaping and watch the locals eat dinner, exercise, fish and play with their children. I have loved every minute I have spent in this area.
My last night in Saigon and I am filled with happiness. This trip has exceeded my expectations in every way. I started out with apprehension, having never traversed a foreign country on my own. But along the way I have felt my confidence and independence grow. I have revelled in the natural beauty of Vietnam and the wonder of it’s remarkable people. I have laughed, hugged and exchanged stories with countless strangers and I have cried into my pillow and let myself feel sad without guilt. Honestly I can’t remember ever feeling more true to myself or more free than I have in this wondrous place.
When I went to Bali I was heartbroken and expecting some sort of epiphany – a metamorphosis from sorrowful to adventurous and alive. This in no way was what happened and coming here I had no such illusions. In fact I had no expectations, other than to do my best at being brave and to enjoy and be thankful for the opportunity to explore a new culture. But sitting here five weeks later I feel I have changed a lot. I am braver, stronger and more humble than I was before and to celebrate that feeling I spent my last day in Vietnam at Tadashi Tattoo getting a wing tattooed on my ankle. The wing is symbolic of Hermes, Greek god and amongst other things protector of travelers.
Tomorrow I go back to the people I love knowing that I would be joyous to return to Vietnam and that if I am lucky I will soon be able to go on my next adventure!
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
Hans Christian Andersen, The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography