Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is a city built strategically on the mighty Saigon River. It is a major shipping area where goods are moved down river and into the South China Sea. There are many tributaries and canals that feed the river which not only transport goods to the city’s residents, but also act as a natural gathering spot for the city’s eight million plus Saigonese.
The people’s attraction to the river is not any more obvious than by night. In a city that is so hot and humid by day, the waters that run through the city bring an aura of coolness and relief. I myself experienced this many times and was able to observe just how important the river is to residents on multiple occasions. I recall an unexpected evening down by the Ben Nghe Canal which serves as a natural border between District 1 and District 4 of the city.
I rode my grey and black, vintage Honda Super Cub motorbike south across the bridge into the neighboring district. As I passed over the bridge, I could see the remains of slums built on stilts that lined the waterways which the city’s leaders seemed to be demolishing in a hurry. They disappeared from sight as the bridge descended into a tightly packed intersection brimming with motorbikes at the early evening hour.
After meeting my friend for ice cream inside a recently renovated apartment-turned café, we walked away from the packed interior to the relative margins where the river appeared amongst the backdrop of the towering Bitexco Financial Building. We walked alongside the river and I was amazed to see the diversity of people and activities taking place.
There were men and women selling savory snacks. Saigonese twenty somethings walked their dogs drawing the attention of almost every passerby. There were families with small children sitting on the grass having dinner. There were teenage boys and girls sitting cross legged in small circles on the walkway and on the adjacent bridge laughing and joking while playing card games and enjoying conversation. Music also filled the air with young men playing guitar and other stringed instruments unidentifiable to me. Walking further, there were small benches facing out towards the river where young Vietnamese couples sat close together hand-in-hand.
It was a walk immersed in energy and potent life. The river brought out many types of people across Saigon and it wonderful to take it all in. Eventually my friend and I took our seats at one of the benches. Across the river the looming business district was alight with neon lights. It stood in stark contrast to the night sky.
There are many tributaries and canals that snake through the numerous districts of the city, but some of more accommodating to residents than others. Escaping the commercial center and going to an adjacent district, you can observe the life of both young and old Vietnamese as they all gather together by the river. The riversides are a thriving area of the city for recreation and relaxation. The waterways serve as a place of exuberant life, connecting people to one another and the city to its residents. It makes for beautiful scenery that should continue to persist for many years to come.