Sunday, January 15, 2017

Saigon, Vietnam

1/8/16 Vietnam first stop

3:00pm after two days at sea, we arrive at our first stop in Vietnam. At Phu My (poo-me) port. Sunset approaches, but we venture off the ship and catch a shuttle bus to a nearby town (Hua) to explore for a while. The ship is staying here overnight.

During the long ride there I'm given my first glimpse of Vietnam. There are lots of motorcycles! And the first thing I see is someone on a motorcycle with a 6 ft ladder attached to it. Second thing I see is a motorcycle with a full size mattress balanced on it driving next to us on the road.
 I notice a lot of Christian churches, pretty elaborate ones with what looks like parking lots just for motorcycles in front of them. Since I have no internet I'm not able to research anything while I'm here, but I'm curious of the history/influence of the churches...was it France?

The bus stops in a bustling area, but since it's now dark and we're a bit overwhelmed, we stay at this super grocery store and look around. It seems weird, but looking around at grocery stores and seeing the different names and foods is one of my favorite things to do while traveling.

Cashew fruit once the cashew is taken off.

Green tea kit kats

My favorite, white fungus drink! (???)

Outside there is a public open karaoke performance. Because Asia.

And lastly, I found a book area and a bunch of books I recognized, in Vietnamese! So naturally I bought Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. (I couldn't get all of them.) but when I went to check out, the lady started talking rapidly in Vietnamese and called someone else over to help and talk to us. Eventually we figured out she wanted to tell me the book wasn't in English. It took a few minutes for me to convey that yes, that's why I wanted it, really, it's okay.


Ho Chi Manh city or Sai Gon.

Our big city exploring day!

Met our tour guide at the dock gate and set off for a two hour ride to Saigon. On the way I learned some language things so I'll share: many Vietnamese words are short, they split up the word. Even Vietnam is technically Viêt Nam spelled most places. My keyboard doesn't have all the correct fancy symbols, unfortunately. Anyway, Sai Gon, now known as Ho Chi Manh city. Named after a former leader. That's where we were headed. It's one of the most well known cities because of the war, but the capital of the country is Hanoi, or Ha Noi. Viêt Nam means people from the south; Nam is south. The country is informally separated by north and south territories.

Small facts I also learned:
-How to say thank you: Com ung (englishified)
-they celebrate the Chinese New Year but call it Tet. Complicated Chinese influence, but they try hard to retain their own culture and history, despite all the people trying to conquer them.
-there are 6.5 million motorcycles in Saigon, and only about one million cars. They even have Uber on the motorcycle, which we snapped a picture of:

During the long ride to the city the along of the road and freeways were fields and fields of rice crops and water coconut trees. At a glance it looks like fields of grass until you realize it's all water and not much actual land. The homes of the owners live in small structures semi balanced in the water and land.

First stop is a's one of the main temples in the city. It was really interesting and all the statues inside are made of paper mache from about a thousand years ago. 

(All these are the paper mache)

Next stop is the Military Museum. We learned a lot about the Vietnam War. I'll readily admit, my brief exposure to this country and the war is basically the movie Good Morning Vietnam. I literally knew nothing else, it's embarrassing to admit. A couple days ago I started a book called the Lotus Eaters (fiction) which takes place during the whole war, about a few LIFE photographers and living in the country in general during 1960s-1970s. It's a wonderful and sad book, I highly recommend it. So far it's felt incredibly real now that I've visited the place in person. Conveys the feeling of the place so well.

Reading all the stuff about the war in the museum is pretty horrible. It's sickening to see how we helped the side we did, and what we did to this country and its people. I'm very glad this museum is here for a younger generation to learn about, and from.
I did not take more than a couple pictures.

One of the US fighter jets displayed outside the museum is the one that dropped the bomb on their Presidential Palace. The bomb hit correctly, but everyone important was in the bunker and made it.

Besides beheading Louis the Somethingth, this was also the demise of key traitors in the war. More research is needed..

After the sobering history stops, we headed to the central city market to get a feel of current local culture. It's the main market, one kilometer in area. This is the kind of market that most people picture when they hear 'Asia local street market,' and I reached the edge of my comfort zone at this point....

It's an amazing sight, the bustle, noise, smells--amazing but also a bit overwhelming. Our guide led us through it all and explained the food stalls, translated things, and found fresh fruit for us to try. Roshani has a few favorites that aren't found in the US too often, and they were here so we tried new fruits!


Milk apple

And we also found the best coconut stall. The lady running the stall had this huge cleaver, found the perfect coconuts, and with precise skill, chopped the top off to reveal the delicious, electrolyte-filled water inside. I'd never had fresh coconut before and it was amazing! After we drank it all with our straws (we each had our own) that wasn't the end of our coconut adventure. I handed back my coconut. She expertly chopped it in half, and scraped the jelly-like "flesh" off the inside edges so I could eat it easier. 

Basically, it was a whole meal.

Across the coconut stall (on our way to it) I must include, was the most squeamish part of the market tour, the seafood cleaning! Yes, all the seafoods! I quickly averted my eyes and nose, and grabbed Braeden's sleeve to stay close. But of course I couldn't help but see: every fish imaginable, in every stage of being cleaned. Prawns. Squid. Crabs. More fish. Shrimp. Big fish. Small fish. Red fish. Blue fish. (Not really.)
And frogs. Yes. I almost escaped this country without seeing something to tip my comfort level (actually that's a lie since we have two more days in Vietnam) but no I just had to glance over when we were almost to the coconut-looking light at the end of the tunnel. Frogs. Or toads, honestly. I'm not sure if they were still alive at that point, but they were all sitting on a kind of pallet close together neatly, looking normal, with a net over top of them. And now I need to stop writing about them because I'm getting squeamish once again. 
At least I didn't see anything like dogs.

Veggies on left, fish on right.

(Pics of fish stuff and coconuts!)

Also there was a prawn the size of my hand on the ground and right when Roshani stepped near it, it started flopping around and squirming and we both screamed since I was right behind her. That was a fun experience.

After the market we stopped for lunch with our guide. I chose some rice and bean sprouts, no tofu left that late in the afternoon. I grabbed that take away and then we set off to have some pho (fuh) for everyone else. There's technically no vegetarian pho because the soup is made with the animal bone itself. We went to this pretty local place, one of our guide's favorites. I'm not personally familiar with what the heck pho is anyway, but apparently it's like noodles and soup. They served it in a bowl, then there's fresh mint and coriander to break into it, and also some sauces to add if desired. 

(Pictures of pho!)

We walked by the City Hall, along Freedom Avenue, and also saw the Opera House, the biggest in the country. In front of it is a lot of construction. What is it to be? The first subway station of the country! Maybe it'll be done by the time I make it back here. 
Near these are also the Caravelle, the main hotel journalists and photographers stayed in while covering the war.

Opera house

Recognize this roof?

CIA headquarters 

Then, with only about an hour and a half left till we needed to start heading out of the city, two more tasks lay ahead of us.

Internet! We fiiiinally found internet connection after four days without it. I don't think I've been that long without internet since my time in Romania. It's a very weird feeling, to be so disconnected. Freeing, but also if you want to google something to learn about, you have to write it down and wait a week. So, at the recommendation of our guide, we headed to Saigon Cafe, a small chain, ordered "cafe soda" (at least, that's how it was spelled) and connected back into the western world. It was only for about twenty minutes, but I managed to upload my non-proof-read Singapore post, and add a Facebook status. I downloaded some emails and sent some texts, but it was midnight at home so there were not many people available to talk with. It was nice to let everyone know we were still alive though.

Books! Yes there were some half-outdoor bookstores along a street, our guide knew right where to go. They were all new books, but with the exchange rate (explained below) they were very cheap for me. I bought one for a friend as a gift. But contained myself with the HP purchase from the night before. (That book was $7 by the way.) my suitcase wouldn't be able to hold too many anyway....
These were all books in Vietnamese too, only a couple UK editions in sight. I had fun, even if it was just puzzling out the titles and authors.

Then, we had to head back to the port. I had a great day, and there is so much still to see there, so I must go back.

Fun facts I learned:

How to cross a street: picture India traffic! With those tons of motorcycles. Lights don't really mean anything, though I did take a pic of some road signs and lights. I should say, they don't mean anything for pedestrians. I learned you have to walk slowly across. You want them to drive around you, not you playing survival Frogger. It felt weird to cross the street so slowly, but hey it worked.

(Picture of head on traffic!)

Famous coffee of the country: roasted with fish sauce! Oh how delicious! I opted for cafe soda earlier, which is pretty close to a latte. I like my drinks vegetarian, not seafood, like we saw advertised the day before. That sign, "seafood drinks" makes much more sense now.

Money situation: they don't use coins anymore, just banknotes.
Current exchange rate- 1USD = 23,000 dong
Taking out 3,000,000 at the ATM makes you feel like a rich person.
The smallest paper money was 1,000 dong.

Well, at the end of a day, I'll say it's quite a privilege to go back to a cruise ship to clean up. An eight hour tour at 90 degrees out with 96% humidity...a shower sure feels good. And toilet paper. Definitely toilet paper.

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