hu 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.
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
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!
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.
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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