Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Indochina - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

"Flowers for Women's Day"
Saigon, March 8

Our long journey to Asia ended after 11 pm on March 7th, 15 hours ahead of San Jose, with arrival in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We were met by our tour director and a local guide who whisked us into the city to the New World Hotel, headquarters for previous US Presidential visits. The late Friday night street scene delights the senses, with families dining on the streets and the street market sellers packing their wares. April tells us that the locals are very social and family oriented. This is a city with over 7 million inhabitants and they love to spend time together.

My Lonely Planet guidebook describes it as "Vietnam at its most dizzying, a high octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the whole country forward with its limitless energy and booming economy." There are teeming markets; people on the street selling vegetables, fish, and meat, families seated on tiny stools at makeshift cafes in front of ramshackle wooden shops that sell all kinds of wares, skyscrapers; large modern malls; wide boulevards and French architecture harking back to colonial occupation; ancient temples, churches, a gorgeous opera house, and government buildings. I was exhausted and on sensory overload.

Our day began early at the hotel breakfast buffet. We were never disappointed with our accommodations and the gorgeous breakfasts. Not only could we have Vietnamese pho, but also American and English versions of eggs and omelets and all the usual trimmings, or select from Japanese and Chinese offerings.  These countries thrive on tourists from other parts of Asia. The fruits and yogurt were delicious, especially Dragonfruit, unfamiliar to us, with a lovely pink outer skin and white fruit dotted with tiny black seeds.

The scene outside the restaurant is Saigon at its finest. A beautiful park across the street encouraged good health with exercise equipment and a Tai Chi class in session. Scooters filled the boulevard, ridden by many people wearing masks for sun and pollution protection, and often whole families or marketers with their wares amazed us with their ability to exploit the scooters to the max. Our first day was International women's day, so the flower sellers were doing a brisk business. From the bus window I captured the scooter with a couple and a basket of flowers buzzing through an insane intersection.
 Off to work
When first observing the scene, it's hard to imagine crossing the street as a pedestrian. There is no such thing as a protected crosswalk, though there are a few crosswalks. I had read how to approach the task and the guide confirmed for us. Walk slowly, do not make eye contact, and be very predictable. The drivers will fly around you. They will try to miss you, but they will not slow down. Actually, by the time we reached Bangkok, we realized that Vietnam has traffic figured out. In Bangkok there are many cars and few scooters or bicycles. It would take us 20 or 30 minutes to travel a few blocks.

After orientation we headed out to tour the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum,  lunch, and the beautiful French influenced former Post Office. That afternoon I  swam in the pool while Bob napped, a reasonable break to allow acclimation. The Museum was an education in the "American War." Travel gives us the world perspective. Vietnam has had many wars, including the French War and the American War.  Our name for the war is not descriptive. There was a powerful photo display featuring works by war photographers from all over the world who gave their lives covering the news.  I could appreciate their view of the war, different than ours.

Reunification Palace - home and offices of the President of South Vietnam during the war
French-influenced Former Post Office

That evening, we went to the garden restaurant at the top of the Rex Hotel where some of our fellow travelers found that they would be challenged eating the local dishes. Bob and I love Vietnamese food which is plentiful in our area. There are differences, though, when you eat it in the native country. I found most of the food delicious.

Saturday night in Saigon


Barbra Joan said...

OMG! Mary !!! Where in the world are you ???????????? LOL
Home yet??? Barbra Joan.

Mary Paquet said...

Barbra Joan, we arrived home last Thursday afternoon and I am still jetlagged. We visited Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. There is 15 hours difference, so night is day.

CrimsonLeaves said...

Wow, Mary! I'd be on sensory overload too! I'll bet this was a fabulous trip and indubitably brought to mind our US servicemen.