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Portrait of a Jubilant Saigon on the Precipice of Tết in 1992

Tết in 1992 was an especially fortuitous time to be a foreign arrival to Saigon. 

At that time, the country was just reopening to western tourists, and those lucky enough to have been amongst the first to come did so when the city was in a celebratory mood for the approaching Lunar New Year. Travel writer Mark Hodson was one of those blessed individuals. He spent a week gallivanting around the city along with other foreigners, chatted with locals and aimed his camera at striking street scenes.

"That week in Saigon was, and remains, the most thrilling experience of my traveling life," explains Hodson. He recently published a chronicle of his adventures describing how he found himself in Vietnam at the time with the awareness that "we knew how lucky and privileged we were to be in this astonishing city at this unique moment in time."

A cart selling Tết cards and decor in front of the Central Post Office.

Hodson penned a piece based on his trip for the Financial Times in 1992 that many of the below photos accompany. Amidst some observations and descriptions that he now admits were "embarrassingly gauche" or naive are some incredible glimpses into the city at the time. For example, he recounts: "Overcrowded buses, some built in the 1940s and converted to run on charcoal-burning stoves, clatter down wide boulevards past faded French courtyards."

Some details, such as streets devoid of cars and air without pollution, seem like they are from an alternate universe, but some are just as true today as they were then including the observation that: "The Saigonese are charming and exuberant, and they are everywhere: laughing, shouting, waving, hustling, buying and selling. Many will invite tourists into their homes to share bowls of pho, the meat and noodle soup eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Check out some of the photos that Hodson shared with us below:

Families going around town on their bikes to immerse in the festive mood.

Crowds of revelers in front of a temple.

Firecrackers go off in front of a house on Hai Bà Trưng Street and workers at a restaurant kitchen. These bombastic pyrotechnics, however, didn't last long. Due to fire risks, Vietnam imposed a nationwide ban on firecrackers from 1995.

A xích lô of joy.

Vintage Renault taxis parked on Nguyễn Huệ Boulevard.

"Hmm should I bet on fish or crab?"

A bò bía cart in Chợ Lớn.

A man showing off his MGA sports car.

The Đồng Khởi Hotel at the corner of Ngô Đức Kế and Đồng Khởi streets (now Hotel Grand Saigon).

Homeless Saigoneer sleeping on the pavement.

The photographer (second from right) enjoying a coffee with new friends at the Majestic Hotel.

Sleek French cars in front of a colonial estate.

A kind Saigoneer (far left) invited the photographer to his home for a meal. This photo of his whole family captures incredible fashion details from the era.

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