We've had a delightful stay here in Saigon- the people are very friendly. But with 18 million people and their 9 million motorbikes, the traffic is really, really bad. We kidded earlier about the death-defying feat of crossing the street but with so many bikes, it really is dangerous and the drivers pay little heed to traffic lights!! Even the sidewalks are parking lots for bikes and not very walk-friendly. At times, we had to walk on the road as there was no space on the sidewalks:
We also noted that there are very few McDonalds, Starbucks, Subways or other Western fast food chains here. There is a huge network of many sidewalk restaurants, even makeshift restaurants:
Our host mentioned that McDonalds didn't come into Saigon until a few years ago as the 'income level' did not warrant a major footprint. We saw maybe half a dozen Starbucks and they're competing with thousands of Vietnamese fast foods and coffee shops that sell for less than half the price:
One of our guides mentioned that the younger generation will spend the $5 for a Starbucks coffee (money from their parents) as they really like the western influence. It will be interesting how much market share these North American companies will get.
As a city, Saigon is not religious and there were few temples and shrines. The reality is that the country is communist and only 25% of the people identify with any religion. A noticeable difference that we did find here is the form of their Buddha compared to other countries. Here in Vietnam, Buddha is shown as a full-figured guy:
One explanation/ theory is that before Buddha existed, there were many years of famine and when he became 'the Buddha', there was plenty of rain and good harvests and he is shown as very content. Beyond that explanation, it's just interesting that the physical form and shapes of the Buddha are different going from country to country.
The Vietnamese food is exquisite and very affordable. We've had wonderful dinners that didn't go past $30 for the two of us. For drinks, they prefer beer and there is very little wine; only one restaurant served sparkling water as they offered only soda water (so I had that).
One final comment- we went to their Art museum and saw some dazzling work pre and post communism. This one painting sums up the mood quite nicely:
Ho Chi Minh is revered here and and the people strongly feel their good economy is a direct result of his efforts. "Uncle Ho's" legacy will live on for generations.
Next up- Cambodia