We have had China and Vietnam on our wish list of places to see for a while now, and we found a ship leaving Singapore that would take us to both places. It was a chance to sample them and decide whether we would enjoy returning on our own while experiencing shipboard life for the first time as a couple instead of as a family; so off we went on our tour of Eastern Hemisphere Communism, which just felt strange for this pair of baby boomers.
We boarded our ship on Saturday, March 5 and headed off for nine days in the China Sea.
It was really strange to be headed for Vietnam more than 25 years after Ted ceremoniously shredded his draft card- at that time, I couldn't imagine it as a place anyone in America would willingly visit, ever. But here we were, on our way.
First stop, Saigon. The official name is now Ho Chi Minh City, but none of the Vietnamese we met called it that, and when we corrected ourselves once, the Vietnamese woman to whom we were speaking snorted and laughed and told us not to worry- they all call it Saigon still. The North Vietnamese make a big deal of "reunification" but the South Vietnamese don't really care- they just carry on, like always.
I woke up the morning we arrived in port to check out the view and here it was...
We were slowly making our way up this river (good luck finding a name for it- we were there and couldn't get a straight answer- closer to the city it is the Saigon river, but it changes name in the Delta...) in part of the Mekong Delta.
Very soon after I snapped that picture, boats of all kinds started showing up...
A lot of them were anchored for the night and just starting to get busy with their day, and some of them were already moving- most of them sounding like the African Queen.
We kicked up all kinds of mud in this very shallow harbor, and wondered briefly if we would find ourselves aground and tilting before the day was out...
In any case, we made our way to Saigon and found what has become a standard designation in our family: Another Big City in Another Foreign Country. This was Cooper's comment many years ago when we were in some European capital expounding on the coolness of being there. He looked at us, sighed, and said, "It's just..." and the rest is history.
Obviously, even ABCinAFC's have their attractions, but we have kind of come to see his point over the years. All too often the work of finding more than a McDonalds with some weird food on the menu is exhausting because in large cities it's hard to get past the more commonplace steel, cement, traffic, and international brands.
We did finally manage to find a market mostly filled with crap for the tourist trade, but it also contained some seriously creepy food items in a central "Food Court" that was 100% occupied by locals.
The smells were beyond smelly, and although we enjoyed looking, we opted to eat elsewhere. Our enthusiasm for local foods pretty much depends on our sense of smell.
Saigon's 'attractions' are things we just couldn't get excited about. They love their copy of Notre Dame cathedral, and they practically shove you into the 'Reunification Hall', but we are not big fans of places copied from other places, and North Vietnam's homage to the country they reunified under a communist government wasn't really the stuff of which our leisure time dreams are made. Propaganda from either side is boring, at best.
So we just wandered and found new...
and much older...
This is Ho Chi Minh City Hall. It was built by the French more than a hundred years ago for whatever, but now it is the "Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Head Office" and don't you forget it!
It isn't open to the public and you are NOT allowed to take pictures of it. So don't tell anyone you saw this picture.
We also found a lack of understanding when it comes to infrastructure...
Wires like this were all over the place. Sometimes bundled at the intersections, sometimes just hanging. It's a modern city with a distinctly clueless approach to a lot of things.
All in all we weren't terribly impressed, and we dragged our hot, sweaty selves back to our boat thinking "not so much with the Vietnam".
But then, further up the road (or sea as the case may be) we stopped at Da Nang. Now there is a city we could spend some time in.
Da Nang is a lot more in touch with its cultural self. Or something.
We just felt more like we were in Vietnam there. And we saw the best houses (none of which I managed to get a picture of)- they are very very narrow and three or four stories high and one that caught my eye was for rent!
Ted brought me back to earth very quickly by pointing out that we didn't know ANY of the language (and it's a tonal Asian language- we couldn't even manage 'thank you' without accidentally saying a completely different phrase) and reminding me that it would never get any cooler than it was right that second (sweaty hot and humid).
But in any case, it's a fun place.
Still a pretty big city, but it has a lot less of the schizo and a lot more of the local. This is the local.
|(none of the tall skinny houses made this shot, unfortunately)|
We also stopped at a tourist trap called "Marble Mountain" which has some really nice marble pieces made from stuff they mine right there. As a cultural attraction, it has a lot in common with Ruby Falls and Little America, but there were some fun and interesting marble sculptures.
Here's a guy we just liked...
and here's my scale model with a laughing Buddha...
This is the temple on Marble mountain.
After that we high tailed it to the beach, because that was our actual goal. We spent the day on the very southern end of China Beach- the place American GIs came for R and R during the war.
It was easy to see why...
This is the view to the south and north from our umbrella chairs.
The bad news is, this whole area is the scene of a race between at least five international resorts to build big fat gated horrors in Da Nang. This may be the first time we've gotten someplace before it was well and truly 'discovered'.
Cool surf, golden sand, good food.
|Dragon fruit, shrimp and something we still don't know what it was, except good to eat. The little blob under the little thing is wasabe mayonnaise- yum!|
We wandered up the beach to get a closer look at the local boats.
Vietnamese boats are round.
They have one oar that is attached to the front of the boat and the person in the boat works the oar back and forth in a way that looks easy, but has to be a workout, and more importantly we are sure if we tried to do it we would end up spinning in circles and never moving an inch.
Here's two shots we got of people actually using them (they're everywhere, but catching them on camera isn't easy!).
And just for grins, here's some random scenery from what really is a beautiful country if you get past the history and sadness.
Finally, back at the boat, getting ready to leave... it's also forbidden to take pictures of the army guys.
So of course, I did.
This was one of the guys they assigned to make sure none of us tried to stay in Vietnam without permission.
I had to wait until he wasn't looking.
So now you've also seen an illegal photo of an army guy. Shhhh.
Next time: We're off to China!