Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

We flew into Saigon in the evening, and the city was in a party mood.  It was New Year's Eve, called 'Tet'.  They celebrate the lunar new year, the same as the Chinese, as China used to rule part of Vietnam and are like their "big brother".  Our tour guide told us that China is not progressing towards democracy as fast as Vietnam is, probably because of the internet censorship in China.  Families were out and about, and the city streets were decorated with lights, flowers and other beautiful decor.
Family van!
Birds (pigeons) in the cages

Wave to the Americans on the bus!

The sign says "Times Square"!

FIVE on this scooter!!
I wish I could portray the "party atmosphere" as we drove into town and saw all these families on their scooters going somewhere to celebrate the New Year's Eve.  They were all excited to see us waving at them from the bus, and it was fun and festive.  We checked into our hotel which was in the middle of downtown.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi---Happy New Year---the year of the snake!
We went back outside to join the throngs of people who were walking along Ngyuen Hue Street.  The street was a pedestrian zone which had been filled with lights, floral and sculpture decorations--so beautiful!  And SO MANY PEOPLE!

Saigon Opera House (Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theater)

Intricate balloon figures!

Floral sculptures--beautiful!

Ho Chi Minh City Museum--see the mobs of people?

These three men bring health, wealth and prosperity!  (I mean the gold men!)

New Year's Eve in Saigon

 We just couldn't keep walking and stay outside for the fireworks at midnight.  We were too tired!  So we went back to our hotel and turned on the TV to watch the national celebration as we got ready for bed.  We got a kick out of what we saw!  Our family always celebrates the new year with ABBA!

Happy New Year with ABBA

In the morning, as we got ready to go sight-seeing, we watched the dragons chase away evil and bad luck for the new year from the business next door. 

Tet Vietnamese New Year 

We went to see the Cu Chi tunnels, an underground labyrinth used by the Vietnamese to hide in during war times.  The Viet Cong used them to hide from the American and South Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War.  There were displays of weaponry used during the war.  I knew my sons would be interested in these photos.

M-16s on the right--the kind my brother had
They showed us the well-hidden entrances to get skinny Vietnamese into the tunnel and keep chubby Americans out.  Then we saw some "traps" set up in the area, along with land mines.
Our guide gives a demonstration
Other entrances were larger--it was creepy to crawl inside

A "tiger trap"--the door is on a hinge--see the spikes inside?

These termite mounds were actually air vents in disguise

I saw this trench and suddenly, I could see what John saw.
As we walked through the trees, looking at the trenches, bomb craters and tunnel openings, we could hear guns nearby going off at the firing range.  That completely created the scene of knowing what my brother saw, heard and touched here.  It made me cry, and I leaned over to let my tears drop onto the soil.  I wanted to add them to John's.

Our guide was sympathetic.  His father fought with the American soldiers.
Land mines and explosives

A captured American tank

There was a firing range as part of the Cu Chi tunnels tourist center.  I decided I needed to fire an M-16 like John used.

Firing an M-16 

We also fired an AK-47.

We were given a chance to actually crawl through the tunnels.  They were small!
As I walked through the woods, I thought about John and tried to imagine what he experienced.  I knew I could never know what he felt because those guns at the firing range weren't shooting at me.  We were subjected to watching a video about the "American Imperialists" and their involvement in the war, but as I said, it seems the people are learning the truth and are more sympathetic with the American soldiers.  In the end, I decided this was a good experience to come here.  The good thing was that I remembered and thought about John again.  I miss him still.

I enjoyed watching out the bus windows at all the interesting sights while we drove to our different stopping spots.

Three more men bringing luck, prosperity and health.

 Can you see that the boy in the front of this scooter is actually sitting on a high chair?  What a car seat!
Dragons in front of another business.

Lots of municipal art.

A water park--looks like fun!
This little guy fell asleep on the handlebars.

Notice the street light for scooters--the tiny one beneath!

An orchard of rubber trees.

A roadside restaurant complete with hammocks for a noon-time nap!
These helmets are made to look like Slazenger ball caps!

Outside the school, the balloon and toy salesmen wait for customers.
Two of the most notable French remnants in Saigon are the Post Office and Cathedral they built on the main square.

The phone booths had different time zones listed.
Post Office
Inside the post office

 Stained glass windows in the cathedral were from Chartres, the famous stained-glass city in France.  These showed the virgin birth and the baptism of Christ.  We haven't seen anything like this for such a long time!

Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame
I HAD to record the sound of the bells.  Reminds me of living in Germany.

Church Bells 
Back at our hotel, the dragons were performing, and people held their children up to put money in the dragon's mouth.  Children here and in China are given a red envelope with money inside from relatives and others as a New Year's gift.  Some children make LOTS of money this way!

Dad holds the child up to put money in his mouth

Part of the show--this golden object is an ancient Chinese "coin" called Yuan Bao

Wish I could take this home for a souvenir!
It was pretty hot in the afternoon.  We went to the Saigon River for a dinner cruise.

Another "Rose pose"

There were some interesting sights along the river, including unusual buildings.  There was a big contrast between the modern and the ancient.

My guess is that's a heliport sticking out of this building.

Skyscrapers and modern "junks"

Living on the river

Tennis courts on the river!!  Too bad they're empty.

Back at port, the lights were coming on.

We walked again down the beautiful streets where people were dressed for the holidays.  It was really a big celebration.

Cute family!
More beautiful florals

EVERYONE was taking pictures, posing and setting up their children.  And they smile when they have their photo taken more in Vietnam than they do in China.

She has her fingers in a "V" like they do in China for photos.  Pretty little dress!

There was even a cactus garden!!  Love the white sand!

A large sculpture of a rice plant.

Three generations!

Can I take this one home with me?

I just can't leave out any photos because they are all so unique and beautiful.  I hope you have a feel for the fun, family time we spent here.  The only thing missing was my family!

We saw these fun cakes in a bakery window.  Pretty clever!
Goodbye year of the dragon

See the snake on top with the mayflowers?

As we went back to the hotel, people were still coming to walk along the avenue.  One of the shops along the way was offering parking for the scooters inside their shop!  Entrepreneurs everywhere! 
Drive-in parking
The next day we drove down to take a boat trip across the Mekong Delta to some islands where we visited local businesses all set up for tourists.  Along the route there were more fun things to see as we drove by.
Yes, this river (?) is BLACK!

Check out these shoes!

Service station for scooters--there's a tire pump, oil for sale, and you can buy sunglasses, masks, helmets, etc...

This little guy was hanging onto two vehicle toys--so cute!

More crazy shoes--bunnies on the tennis shoes!



This river is much prettier than the black one.

Vegees to go.
 We got to the Mekong River Delta and boarded our boat to cross over.  This is a big tourist area, so the boats were lined up 5 or 6 deep off the dock and we had to climb over one boat to get to the next.  Not really OSHA approved!  The weather was warm, and along the way we saw large clumps of lotus flower plants floating downstream.


We went to the Tien Giang Province to a town called My Tho.  There is a sort of "tourist gauntlet" that we were run through.  We just went along with where we were told to go and what we were told to do and enjoy!  Ha!  After the boat crossing, we went to a village where the people are beekeepers.  They demonstrated the hive and how they collect the honey.  Anyone who dared was allowed to hold the frame full of bees.  Kirk volunteered! 
Beehive frame

 Next they served us some honey "tea" with honey, kumquat juice, bee pollen and some herbal-strewn hot water poured over it.  It was sweet, kinda like cough syrup!  I liked their honey peanut brittle best.  After serving, they brought out articles for purchase.  We got some brittle.
 Next we were escorted to another area with tables and chairs where we sat and listened to some local singers while they served us some local fruits.  It was tasty.  The singers broke into "If You're Happy and You Know It", so we were able to sing along.  After about 4 songs, they went around with a basket, hoping for tips.  Hmmm.  We're from China where they don't do tips.  We didn't bring any small change.  Our guide should have warned us!

Next we walked down a narrow wooden plank sidewalk past muddy huts, chickens and hammocks to a small canal where we were helped into little boats for another thrilling ride in a local vehicle.  It was really crowded with people, but it was a kick.

Canoes to the Mekong River 

Lots of tourists today, so there were so many boats!

Our next island stop was where they made coconut candy, a sort of taffy-style treat.  We were escorted to the shop where they were making the candy and offered us a sample.  We didn't buy any, but some friends gave us a bag.  We still have some, so you know it wasn't that great.

This is apparently the "lunch room" for the candy factory.  Wow.

She's cutting and wrapping the taffy.
Makes me glad I don't drink!!  Scorpions and snakes!

Snake Wine--they offered samples.  No thanks!

 There was a gift shop to buy the candy and other assorted items, including these wines.  Reminds me of the tequila in Mexico!

I tried out the afternoon tradition of relaxing in a hammock, then we boarded our next conveyance which took us down a dirt road to the next stop.

Donkey cart!  And we were supposed to tip these drivers, too.  It seems that entrepreneurs and capitalism ventures are strong in Vietnam.

 I'm so glad I got to try on one of these hats!  

We were taken to a beautiful outdoor restaurant where our tables were set on a thatch-roof covered patio.  It was very tropical and pleasant, except for ditches of water surrounding them where the sink drained into.  But that wasn't nearly as scary as what they placed on the table in front of us for dinner.

Elephant Fish 

It was actually quite delicious.  We crossed back over the river and drove back to Saigon--more interesting sights along the way.

Beautiful home!

Water buffalo

We were served coconut milk on our trip back!

Beans grew up these triangular trellises.

Reverse rickshaw!

Buddhist Monks

Can you believe she's just standing there?  Scary!!

Reunification Museum in Saigon
 We got off the bus at the Reunification Museum, but it was closing soon, so we didn't go in.  We went to the Consulate building where the US Embassy had been during the Vietnam War, where the soldiers were taken out by helicopter from the roof at the fall.  I took a picture, but got yelled at, so I didn't post it.  We also saw a museum that had some leftover war machines on the grounds.

I got confused when the signs talked about "the enemy".

 We wandered over to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens where there was another big celebration going on for the new year holiday.  There were bands playing on a stage, but we looked at the people, the gardens, and the animals.  
Are these little dudes darling or what?

Fun topiary sculptures in the botanical gardens.

Petting zoo

A Buddhist shrine--not your typical site in a zoo!

My skirt from Cambodia has elephants, too!
The people would throw food (and trash) to the animals, and their enclosures were pretty dirty.  That was quite surprising.  This little baby silver leaf monkey was so tiny that it could slip out between the bars!  Hysterical!!

Monkeys at the Saigon Zoo 

For dinner, we found a recognizable place!!  It was terribly expensive, and the milkshake Kirk bought was a huge disappointment, but it was a taste of home!

As we flew out of Saigon the next day, I looked out the window for a last glimpse.  John was on a stretcher in back of a MedEvac plane when he left.  I wish he could have returned to see the people slowly gaining a taste of the freedom and opportunity that he went there to help preserve.

Next post:  Cambodia

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