We didn't spend nearly enough time in Saigon, but in our two days there managed to immerse ourselves in the city's smells, tastes and legacy. Our hotel, the Continental Saigon, dating back to 1880, was located just across the street from the opera house in an area dotted with architectural vestiges of the French colonial days. The double room I shared with my mother was cavernous and stately with ceilings of church-like proportions and a dainty sitting room area. At the same time, crossing the street away from the opera house brought on aggressively modern skyscrapers, designer stores, locals selling everything from street food to knock-off sunglasses, as well as hip new purveyors like the Gingko concept store. The city's disparate identities is perhaps best reflected in the fact that it has two names: Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon.
Like many other Southeast Asian metropolises, Saigon can best be described as organized chaos. Millions of motorbikes sort of, mostly, obey traffic lights and laws, at night forming an endless, slow-moving sea of lights amongst the honking cars. The bikes congregate ahead of the other vehicles at red lights, surging forward like an angry swarm the moment it turns green.
Despite the many many marks of history on the city's geography, it's also decidedly cosmopolitan - we passed many European designer stores, ethnic restaurants representing cuisines from around the globe, and even a subway project in conjunction with a Japanese company.