When we travel, each night I download our photos to our tiny laptop. We select the best of the day and create a photo collage, and email it off to family and friends, and post it on Facebook – kind of like a newfangled postcard.
This means that I have an entire folder of our trip in a nutshell with pictures and text. All that is missing is the sounds and smells – and I often keep a log of those in addition! So, our gift to you is our 7-day Vietnam adventure and itinerary, in a nutshell, complete with the text we sent home, describing our days.
Sadly I didn’t feel we had enough time in our entire 65-day Southeast Asia Odyssey to venture further north than Saigon. I’m feeling that missed so much of Vietnam. Well, something to save for another day…
Day 1 – Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City from Yangon, Myanmar. Straight to our hotel and on a walking Adventure to find dinner and Diet Dr. Pepper. Only the one picture posted on Facebook from Vietnam. Nothing but mad crazy traffic to see, and a blank wall about 10 feet away from our hotel window. Greg wants to paint a mural there.
Hotel: Harmony Saigon Hotel and Spa
Day 2 – Day trip on the canals and in the Mekong Delta with Les Rives
Ho Chi Minh City canals, Mekong Delta
Hi, We took a speedboat ride yesterday down the Saigon River, across on a canal through the underbelly of Ho Chi Minh City and out the other side into the Mekong Delta. Once into the Delta we stopped several times, at some farms, markets and an orphanage.
We also took a short sampan ride (we didn’t paddle). That’s me in the sampan. Greg got to touch a python. The county people breed pythons for their offspring to sell and for their skins. Each farm we visited had
at least one large python in a cage. Wendy chose not to touch it. It was a great day out and we learned so much about the cultural differences between the people of South Vietnam, the middle of Vietnam and the North Vietnam.
I really don’t like Ho Chi Minh City. It is noisy and crowded, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that it is FILLED with scooters, and the scooters think that any square inch of pavement, including all the sidewalks, belong to them. It is terribly difficult to even walk down the sidewalk to get a Diet Coke (picture shows scooters on sidewalk – the tree is where the road actually begins). What is nice is that the streets are still tree-lined – very old trees and that is very beautiful. Luckily our “walking tour” today which I designed both goes primarily through a park, and occurs on Saturday. Hopefully the scooters aren’t allowed in the park! Here it is not a question of what is allowed and what is not – it’s a question of whether there are police present or not (kind of like everywhere), however here the attitude is “take what you can get ” – either inches of space or other people’s possessions.
Tour: Les Rives, their website and my review
Day 3 – Walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City
War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, Ben Thankh Market
Hi, Today’s itinerary was just us walking around the main center of the city. It was nice that the first half was through some nice parks, shaded, where people were doing their Saturday thing with the kids, etc.
We send to the War Remnants Museum, which was rather graphic, and of course from the Communist perspective, although there was a large gallery funded by a number of US colleges and companies which was a photographic journal of the war from the US perspective.
There were tanks, planes and helicopters on the grounds. Then we went to the Re-unification Palace which is the presidential palace re-built in the 1950s. It was really neat to see an important government building of this scale, done in “Modern Scandinavian / 1950’s style” I felt Gram would have been quite at home there! The pic of Greg next to the tank is from the grounds there.
Then we walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral (we could only see the outside of it) and the Post Office, which was a “French-colonial” style building. We had some decent pizza for lunch which was quite a relief.
Then it was over toward the river and back towards our hotel, passing by the Ben Thankh Market (pic in the collage) which was quite different from the markets in Thailand. We enjoyed the ones in Thailand, but here, there’s a girl sitting at the edge of each stall almost grabbing you, “You want T-shirt?”, “You want food?” You didn’t want to let them see anything catch your eye or they would be all over you. We bought nothing, so you can tell how bad that shopping experience was.
Even though it was Saturday, the scooters were still all over the sidewalk, and we were so glad to get back to our hotel for a nap. We are really looking forward to leaving the city and going on our Mekong River cruise tomorrow. We don’t expect to have Internet for the next 3 nights, but don’t worry, we will resurface after the cruise (that is, as long as we don’t get eaten by a crocodile!)
Day 4 – Mekong River Cruise on the Gecko Eyes
Cai Be, Sa Dec
Hi, To our surprise there is wifi on our little private boat. There is a bedroom and bathroom, a lounge area with two card tables pushed together to make the dining table, and the rooftop with a canopy. We put-putted up the Mekong River in the shade, under the awning and the breeze in our face. It was quite wonderful this afternoon. We were in an area of mixed farming and industrial use; the beehive-looking structure is a brick kiln. We went by quite a bunch of them.
Then we stopped at a town of 130,000 people called Sa Dec and all of them seemed to be on their scooters in the middle of the market this afternoon. It is not only in Ho Chi Minh City that the pedestrian has no value! It is everywhere!
Our guide walked us through the vegetable, fruit, fish and meat market and my stomach just dropped and dropped. The eels swimming in their bowl, the plates of filleted rat, and the unusual vegetables just made me sadder and sadder that I had chosen a cruise with no menu choices. I began to think very fondly of our granola bars and oreo cookies in our tote bag. We continued on our way and just before dusk we got stuck in the mud. The Mekong is a tidal river, and its level is much lower than it was 5 years ago because all the up-river countries built hydroelectric dams and Vietnam is getting a lot less water than they used to. Anyway we got stuck. So we had dinner. Turned out the appetizer was a lovely fish stick that looked like it came from the Gorton’s bag (re-assuring to me that there were no eyes looking at me), and the main course pork ribs and rice. It was an okay dinner.
Then the tide started to rise and we floated free and we have arrived at our dockside location for the night. It is 8:07 and we are tucked in for the night with no TV, but happily have the Internet…. but for how long?
I’ll attach the collage and say “good-night”.
Hotel / Tour: Gecko Eyes by Mekong Eyes
Day 5 – On the Mekong
Well, good morning, (to Mom and Dad). I went to get my shower this morning to find only cold water. We had been warned this might happen and that we might have to find the crew and get them to turn on the hot
water. Well, it was worse than that – we had no water at all. Now 1/2 hour later they have started various generators and we have brown water. Ooops now we have no lights. That part of the email was written before breakfast. This part is written after lunch. We both finally got our showers in apparently filtered (clear) water.
The chef does know how to make other things than pork ribs – as part of our main dish for lunch we had a broiled red tilapia – complete with eyes staring at us. I tried my best to cover the eyes with the tin foil, and ate some (since Greg wouldn’t eat any) so it looked like we liked it. They seem disappointed by our appetites. We have just escaped into our cabin and are drinking coke-zero and eating oreo cookies. It is lovely to sit on
the roof of the boat under the awning and watch the river go by, but the living and dining conditions are a bit un-functional – card tables as dining tables so we can’t put our legs under them – when we ask for tea we get this weird barely yellow-brown water (at least it appears to have been boiled); there’s a cupboard next to the door over the toilet that both of us have smashed ourselves into. We still have 24 hours more on the boat. It will be okay, and has been an experience.
Hi! (to everyone else)
You can see at last what our boat looks like. This morning we went on an excursion to a forest national park. It was truly the only forest we have seen, but more like a wetlands, with a sampan ride through the mosquitoes. The important thing about this forest is that it was the fortress/camp of the Viet Cong during the war. The sampan ride took us past barracks, command posts, former mine fields, and bunkers, where the Vietnamese people fought against the enemies of Vietnam in Saigon. It wasn’t too easy on the mind.
The giant lily pads were also from the forest park. Greg walked across what they called a Monkey Bridge. But the monkey bridge in the park was modified to have a hand rail, and our guide Dave said that normally there would only be the log on the bottom to balance on.
This afternoon was a kind of lame excursion to a small town with a large Catholic church – it apparently was important during the French Indochina period. This Mekong Cruise has not been terribly eventful, but it has been relaxing, and it was really nice hanging out on the top under the awning.
Day 6 – On the Mekong, arrival at Chau Doc
Chau Doc, Floating Market, Cham Village, Fish Farm
Hello! Our Gecko Eyes cruise is over and we are now wallowing in luxury at the “Victoria Hotel” in Chau Doc, Vietnam. Our morning started with a visit to a floating market, which is not as romantic as it sounds. The
floating markets are disappearing from the Mekong in Vietnam because the roads are linking the villages, and the street markets are replacing the floating ones. The floating market is a “bulk foods” kind of market,
where people buy coconuts or watermelon in bulk, then resell them individually in the local market.
So we just floated through and took some pictures. Then we went to a “Cham” village. The Cham people are Muslim, and have been in Vietnam since the 1700s, first in the Highlands, and some moved to this area (don’t know when). They wear headscarves, even in this heat and humidity. We visited the small village and the mosque, and did some souvenir shopping too!
We visited a fish farm, which looks like just a floating house on the water. The farm also has an underwater structure made of wood and wire/netting to contain the fish. We saw how they make the fish food from rice bran and stray fish parts. It did not smell good! Then we had brunch and they deposited us on-land at our hotel. The hotel has a swimming pool and fancy restaurant. We tried to find other choices for dinner, but
apparently the hotel is where one eats, so we will do so too, in about a half hour.
Our time in Saigon was stressful due to the traffic, but our cruise was very relaxing (almost boring), but we now feel totally refreshed and ready to go. Tomorrow we go on a speed boat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They say things are a little more laid back there, as compared with Vietnam.
Hotel: Victoria Hotel
Day 7 – Speedboat to Cambodia
Two of the pics above are from Vietnam (upper left and upper middle), and the remainder from Cambodia. We’re now in Cambodia! And suddenly it is scorchingly hot! We left at 7am on a speedboat north from Chau Doc, which is a Vietnamese border city, heading north to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The boat had to stop first at the Vietnamese border station, get everyone out, have passports stamped, and then back on the boat. Then the boat stopped at the Cambodian immigration post (Greg is standing in front of it in the pic) where all sorts of strange lines, pictures and passport stampings occurred. Then back on the boat heading north.
The total trip took five hours. The boat was cramped, with airline-style seats in the body of the boat, and two bench seats on the back. It fit 38 people and there were 33 passengers today. The airline style seats were very small, and the bench seats were above the motors so they vibrated horribly. The best seats in the house were on the little deck out front, where two or three people could sort of lay there. I was one of those people, getting out of the claustrophobic cabin.
The views of the countryside from the river continued to be interesting; as we approached Cambodia we saw more and more farms at the edge, with water buffalo in the fields, and playing children at the water’s edge.
Finally we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!