Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hoi An and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

"Saigon.  $#!+. I'm still only in Saigon..."  ~ Captain Benjamin L. Willard, the opening lines of "Apocalypse Now" (1979)

Our drive to Hoi An took us through Da Nang.  It was this place that I had heard so much about growing up during the Vietnam War.  They don't call it the "Vietnam" war, obviously, in Vietnam.  It's just "The War". It was sort of eerie seeing the harbor where so many troops began their journey, "in country", as the U.S. vets used to say.  So many landmarks, so many memories.  I must say that I have a new view of things now that I have actually walked around in Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia)...met the people, ate in their homes...heard their personal stories. I'm a firm believer in the theory of a "just war".  I'm not sure what we did in Vietnam was very "just".  Here endeth my political rant.!

Hoi An is a peaceful village.  Probably the most "touristy" place we went on our whole trip.  Lots and lots and lots of shops selling...well...just about everything.  Amy found some cool t-shirts, we got some fancy chop-sticks (I'm still determined to learn how to use the darned things!)...

We found the most delightful restaurant right on the river with an outdoor patio/seating area, called Brother's Cafe... the food was incredible and the ambiance was...well...pretty special.  They had a beautiful fountain with frogs that croaked throughout was lovely and not-too expensive...

The place we stayed at was nice...our room had a patio as well and a view right on the river.  Hoi An is a walking town.  Many of the streets are blocked-off for shopping and walking and no cars and no taxis are allowed.  We walked a lot...we even found ourselves walking around town looking for an ATM to grab some dong for shopping (the Vietnam currency is called dong and one U.S. dollar is worth about 21,000.00 dong!!)  Tired of shopping, we headed back to Da Nang for the short flight to Saigon, or, as it is now known...Ho Chi Minh City.

Our guide in Saigon (call it what you like, the locals still call it Saigon!!) was a trip!  Young and energetic, a bit of a "motor-mouth" ... but very funny! We were nearing the end of our journey to Indo-China - and we told him flat-out that we would be needing some "down time".  Well - we hit the ground running (literally!) because we had time before we could check-in to our hotel...we saw the former Presidential Palace which was beautiful and a pretty good teacher about The War and other cultural things. It was sort of a living museum. As the palace of the former President of South was sort of a command-center for the South Vietnamese government during The War ....and there were bunkers and original radio-equipment throughout.  Very cool!

We stayed at the venerable Caravelle Hotel... one of the grande dames of hotels in the Saigon area... a nice place overall - but - getting a little shop-worn.  We had trouble with the toilet from day-one...and they shut off the water completely for "plumbing repairs" on our last day.

Our second day was truly memorable - a fairly long drive down to the Mekong Delta for a all-day boat cruise!!  This was one of the highlights of the whole trip...the floating market and the transportation of goods up and down the Mekong River probably have not changed much in 200-years! We stopped at a local village and watched the entire process of making coconut candy and a sort of "Rice Krispy treat" kind of local delicacy...and got to sample the wares!!  We made another respectable hike through the canals and streets of the village and came upon a most interesting local restaurant.  It was more of a converted also had an outdoor dining area (it was as humid as hell!) where we quenched our thirst with "333" Beer - or - as it's called in Vietnamese... "Ba-ba-ba"  The waitress was coming up behind Amy Suzanne and - unfortunately - Amy could not see what was coming as our main-course!  It was a big ugly fish with head-still-on!!  As our waitress put the fish on the table..Amy let out a scream that scared everybody in the restaurant!! A classic moment I will never forget!  Time for a lot more "Ba-ba-ba" !!

After a long (and joke-filled) drive back to the city (we passed dozens of places by the roadside where you could rent a hammock in the shade and buy cold beer!  What a great idea!  I wonder if, with the right business-plan, this would catch-on in the U.S.??)... we had a great dinner at a local place. And then back to the Caravelle for our last full night in Vietnam.

The final day, we relaxed.  There was a local coffee-shop just up the road and I walked up and got us some lattes.  Amy left the hotel for an hour or so and did some last minute shopping - but - it seems that she over-spent her last few dong. She took a bicycle pedicab back to the hotel with her purchases in-hand...and for some unknown reason, the "driver" stopped and asked her how much money she had.  Evidently, when he looked through her wallet, she was going to be a little short - so he dropped her off in the middle of downtown Saigon!!

We then headed for the airport to head back to Bangkok and then back Home to Hyderabad!

Here are the final Facebook Photo Albums from this wonderful journey!! It was truly the trip of a lifetime!!

Hoi An and on to Saigon

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