Happy New Year

Trip Start Dec 07, 2004
Trip End Jun 01, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, February 9, 2005

After our stay in Dalat, we headed back to the coast and spent a couple of days in a small fishing village called Phan Thiet. Few travellers stop here, yet the tourist beach town of Mui Ne lies only 20 kms away and is full of backpackers. We had the place to ourselves, being probably two of the only foreigners there, and were received with the same stares and bewilderment as in China. Harsh negotiations with moto-drivers yielded 2 motorcycles & 2 drivers to take us 22 kms for $3.25.

Mui Ne:
This place is exactly what many people expect of Vietnam's beaches: surf, sun & sand with a laid-back pace. Our expected stay of 2 days turned into a weeklong sojourn. Needless to say, the desert-like sand formations and massive dunes made for a good day's outing (see pictures). Suz and I even managed to get in some sand dune sledding. Another morning, we discovered a small creek that bisects the beach and followed it inland. This small creek, despite what it lacks in volume, makes up for it in stunning canyon geography. After our day's excursion, we splurged and both got hour-long massages on the beach for $3 a pop.

We now find ourselves in Saigon. We spent our first few days doing the tourist sights and sounds - the War Remnants Museum & the Reunification Palace, the Hotel de Ville & the Cu Chi Tunnels (the huge maze of underground tunnels that the Viet Cong used to infilatrate the American & South Vietnamese stronghold in Saigon and eventually win the war). The war museum looks at the American-Vietnam war from an interesting perspective. Despite all the anti-American propaganda, it takes a view of the war through the eyes of the war photographers, and pays tribute to the 30-something journalists who died there. The photos are gruesome and it was one of the harshest museums I've ever seen. The museum also goes into great detail on the chemical and environmental fallout from the war and the lasting effects of agent orange, as one of the photos shows. In fact, we are staying at a guest house with 2 rooms run by a Vietnames family who have a son who is extremely deformed and mentally incapacitated. We can only assume that it is Agent Orange-related, as he was clearly born soon after the war.

Our guest house is excellent. Every time we walk through the door they bring us iced tea & watermelon, always delivered with a huge smile. We are here in Saigon just in time for Tet, the Lunar New Year celebration (Chinese New Year). It's been a real treat to be here for this occasion, as we are experiencing the only holiday that teh Vietnamese actually take off from work to celebrate. Tet is a mixture of family traditions and religious superstitions. Each house has several alters where they leave fruit and offerings for the gods and family members who have died, and each family burns paper money 3 times the day before the new year as a further offering to insure their good luck for the coming year. In addition to this, flowers play a huge role. Every home is full of huge yellow flowers and the special tet tree - a cumquat tree shaped like a Christmas tree, but smaller, that they decorate with paper money and small ornaments. To show our appreciation to our idyllic hosts, we experienced Christmas tree shopping Vietnamese-style, and spent an hour picking out the perfect apricot blossom tree for our family. In return, they invited us to spend New Year's Eve dinner with them at their home. The whole evening was wrapped up with an impressive 20 minute fireworks show and then thousnads of honking horns at midnight (but no countdown).

We now prepare for our next leg of the Vietnam tour - the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc Island. From there, we cross the border to Cambodia and beyond.

Hope all is well with everybody - thanks to those of you who are writing me back. It's great to hear from you.

Take care,
Roger & Suz

p.s. More Tet pictures to follow
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