Saigon is Asia’s most dynamic boomtown, said Peter Jon Lindberg in Travel + Leisure. Officially this “epitome of the Wild, Wild East” goes by the name of Ho Chi Minh City, but everybody—including the Vietnamese who live here—still calls it Saigon. Vietnam is now “the world’s top-ranked emerging retail market,” and its economic growth rate outpaces those of India, Russia, and China. Long the home of entrepreneurs, hucksters, and trendsetters, Saigon is the engine driving a swaggering resurgence. Its population has soared to
8 million. “Traffic is certifiably crazy.” As for the war that ended in 1975? Young Vietnamese are sick of talking about it. They want to move on. In fact, “‘moving on’ appears to be Saigon’s mandate.”
Saigon was once known as “the Paris of the East.” Its architectural diversity is remarkable—the legacy of numerous foreign occupations. Though the stock of colonial buildings does not quite rival Hanoi’s, many fine examples dating to the French occupation survive—the rococo Hotel de Ville, “the moody Fine Arts Museum,” and many generously scaled residences now occupied by the rich or “reborn as restaurants.” Sadly, the remnants of Saigon’s history are all too quickly disappearing. Dong Khoi Street, a narrow, tree-shaded promenade running from Notre Dame Cathedral to the river, was once known as Rue Catinat. Here were the favored haunts of colonial society—Café Brodard and the grand hotels. Today the street “is lost beneath a forest of slab-like high-rises.” Café Brodard is now part of a coffee bar chain.
Saigon, it sometimes seems, wants to be Singapore. “For God’s sake, why?” Saigon is something better than Singapore. Its youthful vitality and “extraordinary food and nightlife” are virtually unmatched anywhere. Every city has its few high-end restaurants, “but only a great city can sustain a thriving street-food scene as well.” Saigon’s “highly syncretistic culture” is a mixture of Catholicism, Taoism, and animism. Virtually every block seems jammed with art deco cafes, modernist apartment buildings, “brutalist police stations,” and the very skinny, very tall, iconic “tube houses” that resemble a Giacometti sculpture. “I adore Saigon”—and so will you.