Cinemagraph Saigon: District 1
Cinemagraph Saigon: District 1
Saigon is a city with plenty of stories. With an accounted population of almost 10 million, the city is vibrant, diverse and full of energy. People from all walks of life from across Vietnam, and the world, have come to this city seeking opportunities, resulting in a very diverse, cosmopolitan society.
District 1 is perhaps, the most widely known district in Saigon. With a majority of hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and other tourist attractions in the vicinity, this district is also where most tourists and expats can be found. Most stories about District 1 focus on the attractions, but beyond that, there are other aspects that make this area interesting.
One of the largest markets and earliest surviving structures in Saigon, and a prominent landmark on its own, Ben Thanh Market is full of colours, and a place tourists can find handicrafts, textiles and local cuisine. Originally established by the French colonial regime in 1859, the market was destroyed by a fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become the city’s largest market. In 1912, the market was moved to a new building and renamed the New Ben Thanh Market; it was renovated in 1985 to the structure people visit today.
The area is a tapestry of colours, chaos, noise, good food, curious tourists and locals hawking random goods.
Ubiquitous across the city, and more so in District 1, people descend upon these streets to check out offerings like banh trang nuong, banh xeo and other delicacies from not just the “official” stalls in the area, but also street vendors selling treats from their personal bikes.
With a public transport system that’s still developing, residents in this city rely on personal transportation to move around. As of 2016, the number of registered motorbikes stood at 7.6 million and this is fairly evident because no matter where you are in the city, you will hear the sound of a motorbike zooming by, honking at something or will feel one just narrowly brushing past you on a sidewalk. And in District 1, the sight of rows of bikes parked outside a cafe or restaurant on sidewalks is as common as daylight.
Due to the high population density of the city, open spaces are few and far between. Besides the few parks scattered across other districts in the city, there are spaces within District 1 where locals and expats like to gather and stop for a breather. One such space is the walking boulevard, colloquially termed “Nguyen Hue”, sandwiched between Nguyen Hue and Dong Khoi streets.
42 Nguyen Hue, also known as “the cafe apartment”, is a distinct structure in the heart of District 1. Originally developed as a residential apartment complex, it somehow evolved into a home for small businesses such as cafes and clothing stores. Popular among young locals and tourists, the building stands out in the area with its colourful appearance and, of course, the variety of cafes and boutiques people use to escape the weather and to find a range of locally designed apparel and accessories.
The building made the news last year as authorities announced plans to evict the tenants, as according to Vietnam’s law on residential spaces, businesses cannot be held in residential apartment units.
Urban, Yet Natural
District 1 is full of roads, buildings, construction sites, more roads and more buildings — it’s essentially a concrete jungle. However, little specks of green can still be found, scattered around. Although trees are being uprooted and relocated for new infrastructural projects, there’s no stopping a few random specks of green from existing to remind us all that they still matter.
Modern, Yet Traditional
The most prominent observation about District 1, and what makes it unique, is how it smoothly integrates tradition with modern living. From street vendors in non la walking past a skyscraper, to ladies clad in the ao dai sipping a latte at a coffee place to bicyclists sharing the road with motorbikes, buses and a random Ferrari.
If you like this series, let us know. Next up: District 2.
Banner image source: herry.site