A Night Off in Ho Chi Minh City
“The youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity” – Benjamin Disraeli
Wandering from the hotel one evening after a meal of BBQed buttered scallops, fresh crab and salad washed down with a cold Saigon Red beer, all for a mere three euros, I headed up Bui Vien Street (the trendy backpacker tourist area just a few minutes from the hotel) for a stroll, passing a crowded pavement bar.
The street bar was full of young Vietnamese in their late 20’s/early 30s. They immediately beckoned me over and insisted I join them. They were in party mood, in great form and enjoying a few drinks.
They were friendly, welcoming, well educated, spoke perfect English, were interested and interesting and full of chat and bonhomie. These young people represent the new Vietnam, a country with a successful market-led economy, for example, in 2010, Vietnam’s nominal GDP reached $104.6 billion, with nominal GDP per capita of $1218. They have a population of seventy seven million, 80% of which still live in the countryside. Most Vietnamese businesses are SMEs.
This crowd were having a blast the same way that any group of young Irish or Europeans would do. Positive in outlook, a good sense of humour and with expectations for a good life – this is the new Vietnam – tech savvy, educated, open to new ideas, gregarious, Generation Y, the iPhone generation?
I got talking to Mr Ha, who runs his own gentlemen’s outfitters, the life and soul of the gang. Gay, he cracked jokes, clinked glasses for toasting but was well read, well spoken and interested in why I was visiting. I talked with Jen (28) who is fluent in English and Japanese, who is now considering a career in the hospitality industry and was eager for my advice based on her skill set. There was Tuan with a career in IT, Mi Lan in the fashion industry and Jill from Cambodia, into catering. The group eventually enlarged to include Indian, Catalan, American and German.
These guys gave me a night to remember full of insight and laughs.
I’ve encountered a friendly and vibrant city and people, experienced some revealing moments, ate some great food and now leave for Hanoi just when I felt I was getting an angle on this fascinating city and its people. I leave with a heavy heart (and my $12 Sopranos full series DVD box set).
I stayed in the Saigon Mini Hotel 1 – a group of five small boutique style hotels. My double room cost around $20 a night – clean linen, comfortable bed, WiFi in the room – but the real gem here was the young friendly staff of Ha, Miss Vicky and Christy – they couldn’t do enough for me and made the visit special.
Also Tuan Anh, my Ministry of Foreign Affairs translator who went to tremendous efforts to ensure my trip was a pleasant and successful one. And it was.