Monday, August 27, 2012

HO CHI MINH: 01 - Why Saigon is Just Like Manila

In as much as I do not want to be controversial or anything, I just have to say this because according to my observations, it is true. Let me argue my case by starting at the airport. We could always say that any airport around the world would be infested with opportunistic cab drivers trained by Lucifer himself. They would tirelessly try to call and usher you into their taxis, after which you would realize how you have been charged with an astronomical amount faster than you can say SCAM! This was what welcomed me in Vietnam, and if you are a tourist in the Philippines, wait, scrap that, you do not have to be a tourist in the Philippines to be scammed by taxi drivers, so yes, it would also happen to you. The difference is that I live there and I know their game. It is my first time in Vietnam, and this incident just makes me feel as though I never left my country at all.

The overall feel of Saigon is really similar with Metro Manila in many aspects. Climate aside, let us describe the different areas of interest. Ben Tanh Market is just like Greenhills, where shopping is just as good as gambling depending on your haggling skills. As mine proved to be amateurish, I ended up buying one set of souvenirs for double the price, after “haggling” for it because the price was originally double that double price. FML, but then again, I am no shopper. Those souvenirs are not even for me. The good thing is that I was able to catch up with the haggling game when I bought t-shirts. So yeah, very Greenhills.

What about the motorcycle invasion? Surely, we do not have that in Manila. Are you serious? If the Vietnamese have a swarm of noisy motorcycles, we Filipinos have an army of loud jeepneys. While they do differ in size, they do give you the same level of annoyance, and you also have to play patintero with both of them if you want to cross the street. The Vietnamese MMDA has not discovered the pink Bawal Tumawid Nakamamatay slogan yet, which means that the level of highway patintero here is much more advanced than ours. Adjust accordingly, theirs is the professional division, and you do not want to go back to Manila as roadkill.

What about the Vietnamese tambays who wait on the sidewalks and call out people to ride their motorcycles? Well, you find such rent-seeking individuals of the same breed in the Philippines, those barkers with loud baritone voices who derive minimal income from jeepneys. The difference here is that the Vietnamese version is actually the owner of the motorcycle, which gives him every right to make money from it. The Manila version is more of a parasite leeching the income of the jeepney driver for doing something that does not really make sense. If they do not announce the destination of the jeep, would people refrain from riding it? No. But the jeepney drivers pay them anyway. It is a stupid practice, really.

Notre Dame! They have that cute French-inherited church called Notre Dame! Manila Cathedral! We have that cute Spanish-bequeathed church called Manila Cathedral! Do not even begin to highlight Saigon's French flavor. Arguably every country in this side of East Asia has vestiges of colonial architecture, perhaps even Thailand despite their non-colonization, so whatever French architecture Saigon has, Manila would obviously have a Spanish version. The post office opposite the Notre Dame? Well, for this one you have to walk out of Intramuros and head towards Ermita. The Manila post office offers the same glimpse of faded grandeur. If you look at the Metropolitan Theater nearby, that would probably be Manila’s closest match to Saigon’s Opera building, although the state of maintenance is incomparable because Ho Chi Minh has made enviably good steps in preserving their colonial buildings. In Manila, we usually just demolish them.

The Reunification Palace would be Malacañang. They have many museums here too, which I guess would equate to our very own National Museum. I could not make a comparison regarding the art and history collection though, as I have not really visited many museums here except for the War Remnants Museum, which was quite depressing, but let us leave that for another blog entry.

I guess what Manila should envy about Ho Chi Minh though is the way this city seems to be preserving its colonial treasures. While the said remnants of the past invoke a rather negative sentiment given how they serve as reminders of past oppression, they also serve as good rallying points for nationalism among the populace, mementos reminding all of us that we should not allow such subjugation to ever happen again.

Saigon’s tourist draw should also be envied by Manila. It is rather common to see backpackers here, mostly Caucasians (not the expats in suits), with lost expressions in their faces. This makes one wonder why, despite the similarities in terms of climate, layout, and taxi scams, this city receives more tourists than we do. The possible answer I guess would be its location in peninsular Southeast Asia. Tour buses to Cambodia and Laos are not uncommon here, and that is a good thing for backpackers, not like in Manila where even domestic inter-island travel has to be done by plane or ship given the archipelagic nature of the country. Oh well.

4 creature/s gave a damn:

Ian | GoingRoamingWandering said...

Another difference why HCM has more tourist than Manila is because it has low crime rate and tourist are safe to roam around the city without threat to their security.

ihcahieh said...

@Ian - I have to apologize because I do not know if your reply is supposed to be sarcastic. If it isn't, then we definitely differ in opinion, as I did not feel that safe in HCM, and that sentiment was shared by around half a dozen Westerners I met all the way to Hanoi.

Ian | GoingRoamingWandering said...

Its not. Well, I felt safe during my HCM visit and a lot tourists were roaming the city which just means that it doesn't only offer cheap places to visit but its also safe... just my opinion only. Was it a different experience in Hanoi?

ihcahieh said...

Thanks for making that clear. Ewan, maybe biased na rin yung akin, e kasi naman airport pa lang e. I thought the Wikitravel warnings were exaggerated somehow pero normal na pala yun. Sa Hanoi I liked it better there, maybe because I did not have a bad experience whatsoever.

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