Travel: ‘How I fell in love with Ho Chi Minh City’

(From the Guardian)

By David Vann

On the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the American novelist receives a surprisingly warm welcome in Vietnam

I wanted to escape the Beijing winter. The air so thick with pollution I couldn’t see four skyscrapers away. Like London during the industrial revolution or a world of ash after a nuclear holocaust. Post-apocalyptic movies can be filmed here without any special effects. Sidewalks broken to rubble, dark bundled figures emerging from what look like demolition sites, all the apartment complexes that are never finished and always grey unpainted concrete. No birds, no animals, no air or water but only cold and survival and speakers everywhere blasting triumph.

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Ho Chi Minh City at night

There’s something I love about communist/socialist countries, though, so I didn’t go to Thailand or the Philippines. I went to Saigon, known now as Ho Chi Minh City. I planned to spend only one night and then go to the beach, Mui Ne, about five hours away by bus, to kitesurf and watch sunsets over the water.

But I stayed in Saigon for about six months, even though I generally don’t like cities, and here’s why.

My first week I was up until 4am or 5am every night, dancing for hours in clubs. The only similar experience I’ve ever had was the Turkish coast in summer in the late 90s; the outrageous outdoor clubs then with their dance shows and dry ice, warm air and lit-up crusader castles and views over the Aegean. Saigon is better, though, because there’s no attitude. Absolutely everyone is friendly and wants to dance and share a drink. And they don’t care about age. I’m 48, and it didn’t matter if the crowd was in their 40s or 30s or 20s. It also didn’t matter how far I went in the dancing. I could crawl on the floor or hang from railings or hump a table, and they’d only laugh and join in. So much less worry about looking cool, and also no worry about gender. I danced with as many men as women, and there was this oddly innocent and pure sense of joy. I haven’t felt joy like that in years. It was like being a child again. Read more


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