Saigon

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
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11
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Trip End Mar 21, 2013


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We arrived at our hotel in Saigon at 5:30 a.m. -- thanks to the “timely” airline we flew from Da Nang.  The hotel staff was asleep in the lobby but jumped into action when we walked through the door.  They gave us a temporary room that was no bigger than our walk-in closet at home, but it was clean and it had a bed.  We were able to sleep for a few hours before getting up to see the sites of Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City.  Or, Ho Chi Minh City is aka Saigon.  It’s all political, you know.


Saigon is divided into Districts.  Our hotel is in the 1st District, which is also where most of the historical sites are located.  We walked around inside the Post Office, tried to enter the Cathedral of Notre Dame but it is only open for a few hours in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.  Realizing that many of the tourist sites close during lunch time, we decided to have lunch.  We happened upon a restaurant that was filled with locals -- always the best for finding good food.  We then walked over to the War Remnants Museum for our fill of propaganda.  Although 50,000 Australian soldiers were involved in the war and, although the Vietnam conflict began with the French, only the Americans are blamed for all the woes of Vietnam.  We later met an Australian couple who were offended that the Australians were not mentioned in the propaganda!  


After an hour of touring the War Remnants Museum we were hotter that HOT.  We have discovered the Vietnamese iced coffee.  Even Tom likes this fru-fru coffee that is known as a Frappacino at Starbucks.  Very yummy!  We found a coffee shop that served iced coffee and had air conditioning -- sort of.  We have discovered that the Vietnamese idea of air conditioning is that the temperature is lowered by a few degrees, not really cool by American standards, but better that sweating outside.  After a cool drink and a cooler climate, we walked back to the Cathedral.  It is my experience that Catholic churches always have unlocked doors, but not this one.  Only open for a few hours a day, and tourists are stopped at the back of the church.  Only those who want to pray are allowed past the gate.  Definitely not typical of any other Catholic church I have visited.


Our hotel told us when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. that we would be upgraded to a suite and it would be ready about 2.  It wasn’t.  But, we were able to go back to our temporary room to clean up and rest; we were in our big room in time to get settled before meeting our tour guides for the most fun evening we have had since arriving in Vietnam.


XO Tours picked us up about 5:15 -- on motor scooters.  People who know me, know how much I HATE motorcycles.  I have cleaned and dressed more road rash than any mother should ever have to.  Needless to say, I was a little hesitant, although, after being in country for a week, we had mastered crossing the street without incident.  So, I was also a little excited.  I have to say, after an entire evening of touring Saigon, seeing seven of the 17 districts, I am ready to learn how to drive a Vespa scooter!  Patrick -- don’t faint! ;-D)  
 
Our girls -- Chi and Dhung -- were as cute as could be, both dressed in traditional Vietnamese attire.  We had paid extra to be filmed so there were two young men -- the driver with a camera on his helmet and the rider holding a very small digital video camera.  They filmed the entire night and it will be edited down to about 10 minutes, burned onto a DVD and sent to us in about two weeks.  Stay tuned . . . .


Our first stop was where we met the rest of the group and where we experienced Bun soup and we learned the difference between that and Pho.  There were about 17 people altogether -- A group of 10 South Africans who we never had the opportunity to talk with, two Australian couples who did not know each other until that night, one Canadian, and us two Americans.  At least we all spoke English!  At each stop we were told where to sit and we were always paired with the Canadian, which makes sense.  He was from Vancouver and was very nice -- his wife is very understanding and allows him to travel to exotic places without her.  He had been on a bike tour that started in Bangkok and ended in Saigon.  Being retired, he also had spent time in Nepal teaching English.

Hopping back onto our motor scooters, we took a long ride to our next stop, detouring at the Chinese Market to take pictures.  Stop #2 is where we sampled grilled goat, shrimp on a skewer, grilled frog -- which does taste like chicken but the tiny bones grossed me out because I knew what I was eating -- and other delicacies including monkey wine.  The monkey wine was served in a shot glass, 35% alcohol and burns all the way down.  We learned that Yo is Cheers in Vietnamese.  Yo!  Karaoke is big in Vietnam and we were serenaded from a guy on his motorcycle singing with his boom box -- 70s style boom box.  We also played a chopstick/peanut game where our guide would put a peanut on our chopsticks and then we had to drop the peanut into an empty water bottle.  First up -- Tom and our Canadian partner, Steve.  Steve said he’d go hungry if he had to eat with chopsticks.  Tom won that game.  Next up, Steve and me.  I won!  All winners got XO Chopstick Champion buttons that we wore the rest of the evening.  (When we returned to the hotel, the desk clerk commented on our buttons!)


After touring the city some more, stopping in District 7 to see how the wealthy live.  District 7 is very modern -- looks like any American city.  Cleaner, sidewalks that can actually be walked on, electrical wires are buried, expensive cars and not so many motorcycles, high rise condos.  Bn, the XO guide told us that most of District 7 is occupied by ex-patriots.  Time to take more pictures with the girls switching places with us on the motorcycles -- we got to “drive.”  Keeping in mind that is illegal for anyone to drive in Vietnam without a Vietnamese driver’s license, and keeping in mind that most of us would not be crazy enough to tackle the traffic, you know it was just a photo op.


Our last stop was in District 4 -- the poorest district in Saigon but where the best seafood is served.  I was told when Chi and Dhung picked us up to take off my necklace; before coming to District 4, Bn told all the women to remove their jewelry and to keep their purses close to them or secured in the seat of the motor scooter.  I have fallen in love with my cargo capris so I haven’t carried a purse at all, except when we are flying and I use it as a camera bag.  So freeing to not worry about a purse or have it strain my shoulder.  Anyway, at this stop we had shrimp, clams, and crab.  A delicacy that neither Tom nor I tried, was an egg with a duck inside.  A real duck.  It was a fertile duck egg that had been hard boiled.  The top comes off and the duck is scooped out.  Sorry.  Ever since a 10th grade biology lab, my eggs must be well done -- no jiggles -- and if I crack open a fertile egg, it finds its way down the garbage disposal.  No thanks.  To have an undeveloped baby duck inside an egg was just too gross.  But, our Canadian, Steve, did give it a try.  He said it was tasty -- tasted just like duck.   Go Steve!


This was our last stop, so we said good-bye, wished everyone safe travels, and Chi and Dhung took us back to our hotel, arriving about 10 p.m.  Five hours of FUN and delectable local food.  No where did we see Caucasians except for those in our group.  Everywhere we stopped was a place where the locals eat.  This is how to experience the culture of a foreign country!!


Yes, Patrick, your mother rode on the back of a motor scooter for five hours and she survived!  And, had FUN!





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Comments

John Brodie on

When I was there in 2007 they were in the process of digging up all the side walks to install underground wiring, electricity, as well as fiber optics. It looks like the job is completed I didn't see any telephone poles strung with wires in your pictures. It appears that they have caught up with technology or at least have a good start. It looks like you are having fun. It is sure a beautiful country. I don't think I would have any problem living there.

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