Escaping the Chaos in Binh Quoi
I woke up feeling nostalgic for trees, green grass, rivers and lakes and open spaces. As much as I love the beautiful chaos of Saigon, it is a concrete jungle in the truest sense of the term. The air in the city is far from fresh; people or motobikes and buses can be found in every direction you look. While there are lovely parks in the city, they cannot provide a true escape.
After two failed attempts at locating an open swimming pool (all are closed for the TET, ie Chinese New Year, holiday), we decided to check out a spot I had gotten a glimpse of, while subbing in a public school; in a far off, less developed part of the Binh Thanh district, in an area refered to as Binh Quoi.
As we crossed the bridge onto the Thanh Da Peninsula, a large land mass created by a loop in the Saigon River, we immediately felt the vibe change–the tall, cramped buildings replaced with smaller shack-like structures and palm trees. Big busy streets turned into a single, less populated road.
Approaching lunchtime, we stop at a classic Vietnamese seafood restaurant; a large, open-air structure with fish tanks and plenty of stainless steel tables with accompanying plastic chairs. We take an unusually long time to order, as we must attempt to decode the menu, which is only in Vietnamese. We settle upon two noodle dishes, one with squid and one with egg and a variety of meat. Each dish costs $2.50. We wash our food down with the ubiquitous unsweetened jasmine tea found at nearly every local restaurant.
After lunch, It takes us a while to find the place–Binh Quoi Tourist Resort–but when we did we were rewarded with a nearly empty (with the exception of the typical Asian couple taking wedding photos) park. Though technically closed for the holiday, the guard let us enter so we could “take pictures.” We wandered around the park’s lush, palm tree covered grounds, past empty thatch cottages, along a little creek. After making our way through the park, we come to the banks of the Saigon River. There is a dock where apparently you can catch a boat to attractions further along the river. From what we can gather, the park seems to have been built to mimmick the scenery and nostalgia of the Mekong Delta. I’m able to look past the kitchyness of the place, because I too had woken up that day craving a more peaceful, simple place. And from here, the air is a little fresher and you cannot hear the constant buzzing of motorbikes.
Upon further research, I learned the place was built by the government; and when open holds cultural and musical performances, has a restuarant and offers a weekend buffet featuring Southern Vietnamese cuisine, plus rooms to rent for the night. Apparently water-skiing, fishing, tennis and swimming are also offered. Though a tad strange, true Vietnamese style, it’s defniltely a beautiful place which feels much farther away than it is.
Very likely we wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite as much had the park actually been open, though I definitely plan to return–if for nothing else than to use the swimming pool. At just 30 minutes from the district one, this could be an easy escape from the chaos.