After our wonderful visit to Angkor Wat, see my previous blog, https://suddenly70.ca/2017/07/06/the-incredible-angkor-wat/,we flew into Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called, and found ourselves in an extremely busy airport. This narrow country has a land area of 128,000 sq. miles, and a population of 90 million people. Canada for example, has a land area of approximately 3 million sq. miles and a population of 36 million. So you get the picture. It is crowded in Vietnam.
Outside the doors of the airport it was packed with people. The streets were filled with cars, buses, bicycles and a vast number of mopeds, and motorbikes, everyone travelling fast, and going in different directions with seemingly no order. We were riveted watching the traffic as if it were a fast video game, from our seats on the bus. Finally we arrived back at our ship, The Sojourn after our few days excursion to Cambodia.
taxi following a funeral van and traffic everywhere
Our plan for the day included the hiring of a private guide and exploring the former Saigon. The city that I grew up to think of as a worn torn, impoverished, but romantic sort of place is now a bustling, high-octane center of commerce, culture, and tourism. It is chaotic, but energetic, as we noted on our drives through the streets. Our guide limped through our day because a moped had struck her earlier on the leg.
giant Charles with our guide
Central Post Office
I just couldn’t believe the plethora of high-end designer stores in the downtown center contrasted to the street markets filled with inexpensive goods. The French influence still prevails in many of the old buildings. We visited the famous Central Post Office, walked across the park with a huge statue of Ho Chi Minh, looked in the cathedral which was filled for Sunday’s mass, and noted all the gorgeous young women in their long dresses, áo daì. I noticed all the different shades of these stunning outfits and was determined to find one for myself, crazy me. Everyone was taking photos and posing and enjoying Sunday strolls. The streets were a mass of colour and excitement.
cathedral above and girls on the street nearby
views in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh
inside the Pagoda
Our guide took us to a wonderful temple Pagoda of the Jade Emperor, Phuoc Hai Tu, filled with incense where I made a prayer on paper for 2017 and left it hanging on a wonderful apparatus for prayers. However, the most touching visit was to The War Remnants Museum. Outside were tanks and other equipment of war and a particularly depressing small cell where the prisoners were kept. In one of these was a model of a man who obviously was tortured and emaciated who somehow looked very real. Charles remained outside and examined the war apparatus and I headed into a fascinating exhibit of photos that were taken by American photojournalists, among them Robert Capa. I stood with a lump in my throat as I looked at these incredible pictures which tell a story in the faces of the subjects.
war equipment and visiting school group
model of prisoner in cell
stunning pictures in War Remnants Museum
It was raining and that suited my mood perfectly as I remembered hazily the Viet Nam War. It was also opportune, given the rain, that our tour guide came with a car and driver. We headed to a store she knew that sold the long silk dresses that I had admired in the square, and I let Charles choose one for me. He is an incurable romantic. I wear a size 6 in a dress, but there I was an X/Large. Those dainty, tiny Vietnamese girls would swim in my size. Nevertheless, I tried on several with their matching satin pants, and finally chose a gorgeous peach outfit.
dressing room with scooter as chair
The dressing room was unique in that there were no mirrors, only a scooter that I lay my clothes on while I undressed. We also bought some souvenirs, and headed off to a lacquer factory where I purchased a vase, much to Charles’ dismay, because he felt it was a tourist trap, and then drove around the different sectors of the city to get a sense of the atmosphere of old Saigon. My dress by the way cost about $25 and is silk crepe and satin. I adore it.
Late afternoon we returned to the ship to prepare for our evening outside on the deck where the crew performed, and great Vietnamese food was served. We were encouraged to wear anything we had purchased that was South East Asian so I wore my new outfit, which turned out to be a big hit. Even the Captain commented.
the new dress and Captain Timothy Roberts
We woke to our usual morning activities of me swimming and Charles working out. Our plan for the day was to be part of a cooking class in Hoi An. This turned out to be a super, organized class, but first we visited a charming village, Tra Que, named for the sweet vegetables that spice up everyday Vietnamese meals, and wandered through the fields and tasted some of the herbs. We also visited a traditional family who are the only Cao Lau Noodle makers in Hoi an. They showed us all the steps and techniques involved in the process of making noodles. Perhaps the most unsanitary conditions I have ever encountered for making food. This activity actually took place on the ground in the dirt with a dog hanging out and no fresh water. The noodles looked very good, but watching them being made was challenging. These particular noodles are exported all over the country and we even used them in our class. Hmm.
village market and veggie fields
Our lesson was on the top floor of a very busy noodle restaurant. We were seated in a rectangle of tables with cooking pots and little stoves. The chef was at the end of the tables with a mirror overhead. All the ingredients were laid out and were ready to use. We made delicious BBQ chicken and lime leaves with lemongrass and shallots; rice paper rolls with prawns, chives and various herbs and the aforementioned noodles; sweet and sour sauce from scratch; mango and tiny prawn salad with mint and sesame seeds with a dressing of lime juice, sugar chilli and fish sauce; and crepes, Banh Xeo, filled with pork and baby shrimps and green banana slices. Of course the best part of cooking classes is that you get to eat your creations. All these were delicious accompanied by Vietnamese beer. I almost forgot about the noodle making in the dirt.
before the class aprons and chef’s hats and feathered friend
the teacher chef
We then went briefly to see China Beach and headed back to the ship for our ‘Welcome Home’ by the crew waiting to greet us with chilled glasses of champagne.
views at China Beach with unusual bridge
Our last excursion day was to the Unesco Heritage site, Halong Bay, and before that a cruise through the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay is magnificent although it was a very steamy drizzly day. Please check out the hyper link on Halong Bay as it goes into greater detail than I. This is true of all my hyperlinks. They enhance my descriptions and offer explanations. The Halong Bay story goes that a dragon charged towards the coast with its flailing tail gouging out valleys and crevasses. The geological explanation of karst erosion is not nearly as poetic. The site is spectacular with many islands, and grottoes, and is a vision of ethereal beauty particularly the foggy morning when we sailed it. We went in a small vessel with some of the other guests. Our new Aussie friends were aboard and this guaranteed many laughs and much camaraderie.
boats in Halong Bay
foggy ethereal views in the bay
selling pearls aboard the small boat in the Bay
Back to the ship, a long nap and then a nice dinner with some American friends who had spent time in Vietnam after the war. Then a nightcap with the Aussies and much laughter when one of them asked the question was there any one among us who was not taking Imodium. After all the spicy food everyone had some form of Turista.
invites inboard during cruise
We docked in Hong Kong the next morning and headed back to The Four Seasons Hotel where we decided to leave our bags for the day before we headed on our long flight back to Vancouver. I had booked the 3 Star Michelin Chinese restaurant, Lung King Heen, at the hotel for lunch. It was delicious dim sum, but we both almost had heart failure as we had forgotten that one Canadian dollar was equal to five in Hong Kong currency. After our shock and relief that we didn’t have to mortgage the farm to pay for lunch, we went for a walk, took in some more sites, and then parked ourselves in the striking hotel lobby. Charles read and I watched the gorgeous young trendy Chinese women of great style, and obvious money, parade around. I love people watching and wasn’t disappointed.
We soon found ourselves at the airport, then on our long flight to Vancouver where we spent a few days visiting our newest grand daughter, then to Toronto to check on our house, and finally back to Orlando after a month on the road, in the skies, and best of all cruising South East Asian seas.
Hope you join me next blog when I talk about family affairs and our 30th anniversary.