The Gang Has Arrived
Day 4--June 11
Today was the last day by ourselves before meeting up with the other members of our tour group. We used this as an opportunity to travel by motorboat on the river to the Cu Chi District to learn more about a series of tunnels used by the Viet Cong as hiding spaces. The boat ride was a great way to see how people use the river for their livelihoods. We saw various types of boats both oar powered and motor powered used for various reason such as fishing and transporting their goods down the river. We also were able to spy many villages along the river.
We had a hired guide for our tunnel tour. He added a gravitas to the site that the operators of the site did not have. It had a amusement park feel to it complete with opportunities to pose with people dressed as guerrillas and fire military weapons at a gun range. Both were in poor taste. But, our tour guide had a way of impressing upon us the many hardships Western soldiers would have encountered while fighting in the Cu Chi area at the same time highlighting the inventiveness of the guerrilla soldiers.
After a boat ride back to the city, we decided to explore the markets. We were first hit with the many smells wafting through the air. Both the good--foods being prepared and the many spices being sold...and the bad--the chemical smells emitting from many of the junk stalls and the always pleasant (not really) smell of the fishmongers. The sellers were experienced; they were not afraid to gently pull shoppers to their booths to highlight their wares. They were also well versed in the art of haggling starting with giving prices in their inflated dong currency and then masterfully changing to the dollar. I must admit, I paid a dollar for a trinket that I could have gotten cheaper for the first dong price the lady had quoted...live and learn!
After a well-deserved respite in our hotel rooms--I don't know if I have mentioned it, it is HOT and HUMID here--we met up with the rest of our tour group. We are equally split between travelers from the UK and the States. I have noticed that this is a popular destination for the British as well as the Australians. We can already tell we are with a fun group. We can't wait to make new friends.
Oops, I almost forgot the question of the day. What river did we travel on to get to the Cu Chi District?
Motorbikes of Death
Day 3--June 10
I left you at a cliffhanger...did we have to just stay on our block? Were we ever able to cross the street? Well, we were finally brave enough to give street crossing a try, and we mastered it. We soon figured out that cars would stop to let us cross, but the motorbikes would keep moving. They would either speed up or slow down enough not to hit us. The key for us was to keep a steady pace. It continues to be terrifying crossing the street, but doable.
After a hearty breakfast of some of my favorite Vietnamese foods--spring rolls, dumplings, fried rice, noodles, pho, coffee--we were energized to tackle the city. Our first stop was Independence Palace. Independence Palace was where the president of South Vietnam lived at the time of the war. It was like walking into a 70s time capsule; though still used for certain state functions, it is still decorated as it was during the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Just down the street from the palace, is the Notre Dame Cathedral. We attended a mass conducted in English. The choir was amazing...they filled this church constructed by the French during the colonial period with upbeat song. A highlight of the church was the courtyard. A statue of the Virgin Mary sat outside the front of church. This statue was reported to shed a tear in 2005. When we were there it was the meeting place of a group of protesters that we would encounter throughout the day. Question of the day...who can tell me what they were protesting?
We then braved the street crossings once again...we headed to the War Remnants Museum. Along with weapons, tanks and aircraft left over from the war, there were displays that drew attention to the atrocities of war. Definitely a sobering experience. From there we went on another hike to visit the Museum of Vietnamese History. We felt a bit like Indiana Jones as we marveled at antiquities from many different time periods. The most disturbing was a well-preserved mummy!
At this point in the day we were tired and it was HOT and HUMID! We decided to treat ourselves to a taxi ride. Good thing too...we met up with the protesters once again for about the fourth time and this time many streets were blocked. I was glad I could take in the hullabaloo from a nice cool taxi!
That brings us to the best part of the day...our motorbike tour of the city. We each got to tour many of the districts of Vietnam from the somewhat scary back of one of the motorbikes that had been the bane of our existence for much of the day. It was so much fun zipping through the streets while seeing how the people lived in the non-touristy areas and we had some amazing food to boot. The most interesting thing we ate was a fetal duck egg...good luck shall be ours for the rest of the trip!
The Flipside of the World
Days 1-2--Well, we have had two very busy days. We got up bright and early on Friday to take the first of three flights to get us to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. We flew from St. Louis to Houston to Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh for a total of 28 hours in airports or on planes. We were lucky...all fights left and landed on time. We made it to Vietnam at 8:30 PM on Saturday, which is exactly 12 hours ahead of Missouri.
Our first adventure was getting to our hotel. We found a cab and the driver took us on a four mile drive over some of the craziest, busiest streets we had ever been on--motorbikes were everywhere zigging and zagging everywhere. This sometimes included the sidewalks. We were quick to notice these same motorbikes weren't always stopping at a red light. This led us to wonder how we would ever cross the street without getting hit. We decided that we could save that adventure for Sunday and decided to just walk around the block to find a convenience store to stock up on water. We walked the whole block only to find a convenience store just a couple doors down from our hotel.
So, short post for today. More to come tomorrow. Question of the day...we started our trip with 2,500,000 Dongs. We were millionaires for a brief bit. How much was that in United States Dollars? Be the first to respond with a correct answer to win a little bauble.
June 7: Phil and I start our Immigration Exploration tomorrow bright and early...2:45 AM! Our flight leaves at 6:20 AM. We are in for two days of hurry-up-and-wait in four different airports...St. Louis, Houston, Tokyo, and Ho Chi Minh City. I wish I could be Dorothy...oh how I wish I could just click my heels together to get where I want to be! Oh, well, I am sure we will have stories to tell.
We will be using this page to update you on our trip. We will do our best to post each day, but we will need to see what the wifi access is like. Keep checking back though; there will be a question of the day to answer. The first one to post the answer on our Facebook page will get an awesome gift!