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[Photos] A Two-Minute Ride on Saigon's Shortest, Most Anticlimactic Ferry Trip

The accelerated urbanization of Saigon has led to the rapid metamorphosis of its landscape. This process, however, is hardly evenly distributed. While residents living in the inner city's center enjoy the convenience of having a variety of transport infrastructures that makes getting around an easy task, the same is not always true for dwellers in the outskirts of the city.

The An Phu Dong ferry terminal is located at the end of Tran Ba Giao Street in Ward 5, Go Vap District. The ferry crosses Vam Thuat River, a sub-branch of the Saigon River, and on the other end is Vuon Lai Street (literal: jasmine garden) which belongs to An Phu Dong Ward, District 12. While it's possible to get to Go Vap and eventually the city center without using the ferry, the travel distance would amount to more than ten kilometers. Ferry transport, seemingly a thing of the past, is still part of the everyday reality of people living in An Phu Dong as a bridge connecting crossing the river is not yet available. 

During the early hours of dawn, the ferry begins its day, carrying heaps of motorbikes and pedestrians from one end to another. The sign, which reads "Kính chào quý khách - Thượng lộ bình an" (Welcome passengers - Have a safe trip), creates a false impression that the ferry trip would take much longer than it actually does. Since the distance between the two ends is just 120 meters, the ride only takes a few minutes. There are often two to three guards present on each ride to assist commuters and ensure safety on the boat.

As the ferry takes one further from the spatial zones that are characterized by high rise buildings and a large presence of economic power, it's quite tempting to aestheticize the experience and the landscape of An Phu Dong-Vuon Lai into a nostalgic vision of the peaceful countryside and the way in which people in the past navigated their lives. However, upon a second glance, it's evident that the area presents itself as more than meets the eye. Beside the abundance of greenery, Vuon Lai also spots an abundance of concrete and makeshift houses. 

According to an investigative feature on Petro Times, after the war, Vuon Lai was actually a jasmine garden as its name suggests. Its riverside location moistens the soil in the area— a perfect condition for cultivating jasmine. Between 1980 and 1990, people used approximately 200 hectares of land to grow jasmine. However, after 1990, the river's water became more polluted, reducing the number of jasmine plantations in the area.  

Perhaps a better way to depict An Phu Dong-Vuon Lai is to borrow anthropologist Erik Harms' words in Saigon's Edge: On the Margins of The City, an ethnographic study of Saigon's suburban district Hoc Mon. Rejecting the dualistic notions of the rural and the urban, the country and the city, Erik Harms describes Hoc Mon and areas on the city's margins as "neither rural nor urban, neither wholly inside nor outside, but uncomfortably both."

Although often heralded as the hotbed of Vietnam's modernity, Saigon is much more multifaceted than many often want to believe. As the city sheds another layer of its old skin, it sometimes risks disruptions and new systems of spatial and social stratifications. 

Luckily, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee recently announced the approval of a proposal by the Ministry of Transport to build a temporary bridge on Vam Thuat River to save An Phu Dong residents the trouble of using the ferry service.

Take a look at the An Phu Dong ferry at the photos below:


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