Saigon. It's one of those emotive words that captures the imagination and conjures up mental images of faraway lands.
Renamed, Ho Chi Minh in 1976 after the revolutionary leader, it is still widely referred to as Saigon, which I think better captures the feel of this emotive city, known as 'The Pearl of the Far East'.
It has a heavy French influence, left behind from it's time under French rule from 1859 to 1955 and, forgive me if I stray from the facts here, but the feeling I got as we soaked up the atmosphere was that Ho Chi Minh feels like an untamed Paris.
That 'rough around the edges', crazy, chaotic, rebellious nature of Paris in the days of Picasso, Hemingway, Miller, the 'crazy years' (Années Folles) and the 'age of enlightenment'. It's streets paved with gold for the dreamers, the drifters, the writers and painters.
The area we stayed in was, in my opinion, much more interesting than the smarter areas in the city and it is this area which gave me my first impressions of Saigon as I mentioned at the start of this post. The centre of the city around the Notre Dame Cathedral (that's about as real as a 'French influence' can get!) is smarter, cleaner and overall nicer. But to capture the raw, real life feel of Ho Chi Minh city head to the streets around Bui Vien walking street. Here you will have your emotions accosted and your senses assaulted as you wander through the maze of alleyways, catching glimpses into people's living rooms (tv, chair, motorbikes), dodge the fish washing in the markets, weave around the ladies who appear to be burning fake US dollars on little street fires (I've yet to google that and try to find an explanation!), soak up the party atmosphere of street cafes whilst sitting on a tiny plastic chair, eat a banh mi chay (veggie baguette) from a street stand, have a bowl of Pho (noodle soup) and be amused and bemused by the array of random-ness that welcomes you to the streets of Saigon.