Port of
        Phu My, Vietnam

Port of Phu My, Vietnam

Arrival   Hong Kong   Halong Bay   Sanya, China   Nha Trang, Vietnam   Sihanoukville, Cambodia 

Life at Sea   Laem Chabang (Day 1)   Laem Chabang (Day 2)   Koh Samui, Thailand   Singapore  

Phu My, Vietnam

Phu My is the port gateway to Ho Chi Minh City, which was formerly (and popularly) called Saigon. The city center is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, 37 miles from the South China Sea and 1,090 miles south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We had our choice of several land excursions, the most ambitious and expensive one being the 3-4 day trip to Angkor Wat. Some of our group took the tunnel tour of the tunnels through which the Viet Cong funneled arms and troops during the Vietnam War. The best offering, in my opinion, was "The Best of Ho Chi Minh City," which included tours of museums and historical sites and a buffet luncheon. I wish I'd signed us up for that one. Instead, we opted for a jaw-jarring bus ride into the city center and toured Saigon on our own.

Touring the City

After disembarking, we boarded our bus for the two-hour ride into Ho Chi Minh City. The first thing we noticed was that most of the seat-backs were broken, so that you could not lean back in your seat without ending up in the lap of the person behind you. Then off we roared on some bumpy roads toward the freeway. I thought the potholes were bad in Seattle, but in Vietnam they were bone crushing. When we got to the freeway (which turned out to be a tollway), the British guy across the aisle said: "I hope they are paying us, rather than we pay them!" After a two-hour ordeal that just about crushed our spines into dust, we reached the Rex Hotel in central Saigon. The lobby of the hotel would be our rendezvous point in three and a half hours.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the museums were closed for the lunch hour, which extended until 1:30 for some places and 2:00 for others. Since our time was limited, we opted for just visiting the outside of several historical sites. Part of the problem stemmed from the lunar new year that was going on forever. We encountered this problem all the way from Hong Kong on that cold, rainy last Monday morning before boarding the ship, when all the museums were closed. Oh, well, not much we could do, so we struck out on our own to find landmarks we definitely wanted to see.

Our first stop appeared right outside the Rex hotel. It was the former hôtel de ville from French colonial days.

Hôtel de Ville

Dean in front of Statue of Ho with Hôtel de Ville in Background

Next, we walked over toward what we thought was the former U.S. embassy from the Vietnam War era. It's the one where the last helicopters were taking off from the roof as the North Vietnamese army invaded Saigon. Remember the pictures of people climbing the fence, desperately trying to hitch a ride out on a helicopter?  Well, that was the building. Or so we thought. After being kicked out of that complex and pointed to the building in the next block, we finally found the embassy, which is now Freedom Palace.

Freedom Palace, Saigon, Vietnam

Freedom Palace, Formerly the U.S. Embassy

Next, we walked a couple blocks to Saigon's Notre Dame Cathedral, which was a miniature of the one in Paris. From there, we struck off to find Chinatown. Because of the angle of the streets, we got lost. Also, pedicab and cab drivers would stop us and try to talk us into city tours and disrupt our concentration as we studied the map. Often they gave confilcting directions, which I think they did on purpose so we'd purchase their tours. Although we only skirted Chinatown, we did see a number of sights of city life that interested us. For example, we laughed at the haphazard way the city electrical wires were bundled together. If the power went out somewhere, I don't know how they'd figure out which line was down. Check it out and see what you think!

Wires of Saigon

The Jumbled Mess of Electrical Wires

By that time, we'd been wandering around for two hours and were becoming quite adept at crossing the wide streets with a phalanx of motorcycles roaring toward us. The secret is to keep walking at a steady pace without panicking. Then the motorcycles and cars can maneuver around you, no problem. But it was time to find some lunch. Fearing to take a chance on a restaurant, we opted for lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of the Rex Hotel. We split a plate of egg rolls and a good portion of noodles and vegetables. The food tasted great, not too spicy and the large Tiger beer quenched my thirst. In the meantime, some fleas in the carpet were making a meal out of Dean's legs. For some reason, they didn't attack me. I guess I'm not sweet enough!

After a leisurely lunch, we wandered around the town again. We took some pictures of displays to honor Tet, the Vietnamese name of the Chinese New Year — The Year of the Dragon.


Dean Posing with Dragon Display

At the previously assigned time of 3:30, we boarded our bus for the two-hour, bone bashing ride back to the Zaandam. Since we were used to the jarring and discomfort, we occupied ourselves with checking out the sights on the way back. I was amazed at how much garbage lay around, right up close to the shacks people lived in, and polluting the streams. Also, motorcycle riders sometimes carried amazingly large loads on their bikes. In addition to merchandise, they carried their families — four people on one bike — parents, kids, and babies. Our guide told us the drivers were required to wear helmets, but the passengers didn't have to. So daddy wore the helmet and everybody else in the family went bare-headed. Finally, we arrived at the dock and eagerly boarded the cool ship and got ready for another five-star dinner in the Rotterdam dining room.

Next stop, Cambodia!

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Sihanoukville, Cambodia