When Saigon’s French administrators laid the 750m sweep of Charner Boulevard over a filled-in canal and down to the Saigon River, their brief was to replicate the elegance of a tree-lined Parisian boulevard, and in its day this broad avenue was known as the Champs Elysées of the East. These days, however, Nguyen Hué, as it is now known, is a mish-mash of architectural styles and has little character except on Sundays and at festival time. Each Sunday evening, the city’s trendsetting youth converge here and on nearby Dong Khoi on their motorbikes, to circle round and round, girlfriends riding pillion, in a strange ritual that recreates the traffic jams that they suffer through on weekdays. During Tet the street also bursts into life, hosting a vast, riotously colourful flower market which draws Vietnamese belles in their thousands to pose in their best ao dai among the roses, sunflowers, chrysanthemums and conical orange trees.
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