It occurred to me lately, after spending a year living in a new city, that I’d become fixated on its current state. Finding my feet within a new culture had required a leap of faith. All of my energy was focused on catching up, and then keeping pace with the whirlwind adventure I’d latched onto. Living in the present turned out to be an enthralling and demanding challenge. But after becoming somewhat accustomed to the now, I realised I hadn’t had time to stop and appreciate the how. I was oblivious to the events and characters which set the foundations of the Saigon we see today. In order to immerse myself into it’s colourful past, I decided to take a guided walk through the streets which tell the story. I embarked upon the Trails and Tales walking tour, run by expat and English teacher Adam Priestly, to discover a side of Ho Chi Minh I had yet to experience.
It was a particularly sweaty Saigon Saturday. Locals and tourists alike sat guzzling their ice coffee’s in the sticky morning heat. Adam greeted our group with an energising ice-breaker to set a comfortable atmosphere for the tour. He outlined our itinerary and gave a few housekeeping tips to keep us safe along the route before setting out in to the city.
Adam led from the front, his booming voice drowning out the melee unfolding on the streets around us. We ambled at a steady pace through narrow alleyways and along Saigon’s bustling main roads. Wandering through some of Saigon’s most modern dwellings, Adam was able to unravel the layers of time and reveal the concealed history beneath. As he spoke, I was able to close my eyes and place myself into the story, standing in the exact spot, where war and revolution had exploded to changed the face of a city. He told his stories with such confidence and authority that it was as though he’d written the pages of history himself. He pointed out old buildings which nestled amongst the city’s modern make-up. Some of these buildings held global significance but most had faded into the backdrop. Adam used famous photographs to show us how Saigon was swallowing up its own history, leaving only subtle reminders of its dynamic past.
Adam’s skill as a tour leader was highlighted with his ability to improvise in a challenging and constantly changing environment. When one of his key areas was blocked off for repair, he used another location to illuminate his story. It made me appreciate how well Adam knew the city and his desire to accurately tell its stories to those willing to listen.
Throughout the morning Adam was constantly tuned into the welfare of his group. He made a calculated effort to stop in the shade and tailored his path to pass cheap street vendors offering cold refreshments. Through his tour he has built relationships with the locals en-route. The stop at a small sugar cane juice cart was a genius inclusion which offered an interaction with local vendors and a uniquely Saigon experience. This was also a perfect location to practice the three bartering phrases he had taught the group to help us in such situations.
To finish the tour Adam engaged the group with a poignant tale of one of Saigon’s most famous characters. He tied our location to an event which shook the world, even rousing a reaction from the American President. You’d think after a year living not far from this location, I would have at least heard of it. But I hadn’t. Again, Adam held his audience with a story-telling ability to rival the best; letting each detail sink in before divulging more captivating insights into the history of Saigon.
Adam is passionate, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He has clearly researched diligently and presents his facts in an engaging way. The chaos unfolding around him only seems to spur him on. His desire to tell the stories of the city he now calls home is clear and I highly recommend that you spend a morning in Saigon with Adam.
Price: The tour itself is totally free. There are no hidden costs and there is no obligation to pay anything. Adam believes that you, the customer, should decide what the tour is worth.
What You’ll See:
- Ben Thanh Market
- Tran Nguyen Han statue
- Saigon Opera House
- Bitexco Financial tower
- Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Reunification Palace
Where: Happy Life Bar (Opposite Crazy Buffalo), 185 De Tham, District 1
When: Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 8.45am
Duration: 3 Hours
What To bring? Camera / Sunscreen /Comfortable Shoes / Raincoat (in rainy season)