Saigon, pre-Chinese New Year

Great family ties
"Why on earth is is always so crowded here?", I said above my breath we hurried our way through the airport crowd to the where the hotel car was parked. The weather was a good 32 degrees Celcius and heat from the beaming afternoon sun had crept onto the porte-corche.
Above: The welcome crowd eagerly awaits arrivals at the brand new
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Nguyen, the hotel concierge guy replied with a smirk, "I dunno you call it good or bad, sir... but in Vietnam airport, one arrival, ten family waiting...traffic jam!". He was right, really. Family members eagerly await the flight of their loved ones at the arrival hall, but the so-called arrival hall is right outside the airport and they are not allowed in. Thus the crowd spill over to the taxi driveway.

Sexy city
Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the Communist party took over Vietnam in 1975. It is the largest city in Vietnam with an official population of about 10 million people. Unofficial count of population- according to Saigon residents: 12 million. This city is bursting at its seams, with public infrastructure and amenities in dire need of expansion. The unofficial count difference in population is mainly due to mass migration of country folk to the city seeking better jobs.
Above: Saigon Square, heart of the city
Below: Saigon Square by night, under round-the-clock preparation
for the Chinese New Year. Shot from the 15th floor of the Sheraton Saigon

Below: The Caravalle Hotel and Sheraton Saigon looks majestically
over the heart of Saigon's business and entertainment district
Don't get me wrong, despite the high population, Saigon is still a very well-preserved city, architecture -rich in its colonial-French past. Majority of buildings in the city centre are 2 to 3 stories, except for a few corporate sky-scrappers and low-rise apartments. This city has a resortie feel to it, unlike Kuala Lumpur, which has very little trace of its British-colonial era in terms of building facade. The Vietnam people and its Communist Party, unlike the Federal Government of Malaysia, are proud of their French connection, despite the tough painful Indochina Wars and a few other wars to rid the country of French occupation. The mentality of the DBKL (the Kuala Lumpur City Council) and the Federal Government of Malaysia are worse than Third World. DBKL has always been demolition-pro, destroying buildings without historical regard; and lately, its street-renaming project is drawing more flak than ever from KL-folk.
Below: The Saigon River, shot from 12th floor of The Renaisance
Riverside Hotel
Below: The Municipal Theatre
Above: Right in the middle of Saigon Square. This place was
off-limits. Barred from access because of Chinese New Year
decoration works, I managed to sneak through to snap a pic
before being ordered to go away.
Watch your bag
My spare mobile was always tucked into a pouch attached to my laptop bag. Once, while I was in a cab, the phone rang, but the ring came from the cab driver's breast-pocket and not my bag. The cab driver had flicked open my pouch and slip my mobile phone into his pocket without me realising. He did this while on the pretext of helping me with my bag.

City of bikes
Saigon roads are chaotic, seemingly lack of traffic lights and traffic police; the main highway out of the city is riddled with potholes. The traffic is crazy- it takes 45 to 60 minutes to get through a 7-km ride from airport to city centre. It's a bike city- with about 4-5 million of motorbikes thronging its roads everyday. Car-drivers horn every 5 seconds, motorbikes are king. Its riders seem unbothered, unperturbed by sudden loud horning which would shock the average Malaysian motorcyclist out of his seat.
Above: Masked-riders throng the city roads
Below: A basement parking lot
Below: Weaving through cars and buses
I had limited time and did not go to any tourist attractions because of a tight work schedule. The shots posted here are all quick point and shoot pics with my durable Sony Ericsson Cybershot C902. Daytime pics were taken while on the way to meetings. The night pics were accomplished by a quick one-hour walk through the city centre.
Above: A street-peddlar persuading me to part with my money
Below: Saigon is a haven for shoppers- it is cheaper than Bangkok.
One can find original premium brands (not knock-offs) sold cheap
in the streets of Saigon. The is due to increasing foreign investment
in Vietnam.
Market liberalization
Over the last 15 years Vietnam has seen incredible market changes to woo foreign investors. For instance its revised Insurance Law (2001) allows foreign joint venture insurance firms and subsidiary branches wholly owned by foreign insurance companies to operate in Vietnam. Its revamped banking system also changed how business is run and made exceptional gains in the progress of its payment system. After gaining entry into AFTA, Vietnam had, in a hurry, committed to reducing tariffs and trade barriers for a 10-year period from 1995 to 2006.
The crunch from its wars have rendered Vietnam least of the developed countries in ASEAN. After going through 3 generations of war, Vietnam, has shed its battle-scars, but is again on the warpath. This time on the road to economic progress and modernization.
Below: Hong Leong Bank's Group Managing Director
Yvonne Chia announcing operations startup of the
bank's maiden branch in Vietnam

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