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Day 43 – Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Day 43 – Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Our third visit to Viet Nam, and our second visit to the port of Phu My, which is a container port, used for access to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), since the Saigon River is not navigable for ships of our size. While we are considered a small ship (at 30,000 tons, compared to over 150,000 or 200,000 tons for newer, large cruise ships) we are still a little too large to go up the river – so here we are at Phu My.viet1

It is March 8, 2015, exactly 50 years to the day that the first American combat forces landed in Viet Nam. Just a coincidence – but an eerie one nonetheless.

The options today are somewhat limited – we can’t stroll around the port area on our own, even if we wanted to, the Vietnamese Soldiers in the area seem to limit free roaming.

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The blue arrow highlights our approximate location. It is a two hour bus ride into Saigon, and we have already seen the city on a previous visit. There is a tour that takes you to some of the caves used by the Viet Cong during the war that might be interesting, but it is a three hour bus ride each way. We opt for a visit to Ba Ria and Vung Tau, considerably closer, and the tour offers visits to some local home businesses.

Our guide, with the anglicized name of Anthony picks us up with the bus and we head out for the day’s adventure.

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Anthony speaks good English and on the ride to our first stop he is quite informative on Viet Nam’s history and its people. He is the first Vietnamese guide I have encountered who openly discusses the war – but does so without judgment. He mentions that his grandfather and great uncles were “guerrillas” (translate as Viet Cong?), but then discusses how Viet Nam after decades of war with the Chinese, French, Americans, and Chinese again until 1992 – finally put wars behind, joined the nations of the world and are working to grow their economy.

Our first stop is at the first of two temples for today. I always have mixed feelings about these stops. They are invariably beautiful on the inside, but not understanding the language or the religion, I am at a loss as to what I am seeing.

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In any case this Buddhist Temple is full of beautiful imagery and has a heavy incense smell. They mostly worship their ancestors.

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viet7These signs are placed to honor local people who have gone to the U.S. and sent contributions back to the Temple. I love the spelling of “Texas”.

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At our second stop, a family home, we are treated to a demonstration of making rice paper, as used in spring rolls.

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viet10 Our next stop was at a local market. Each town has their own market like this one.

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Making sugar cane juice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We next had a brief stop at another home which operated as a “truck farm” growing bananas, papayas, breadfruit, pepper, coconuts and a wide variety other marketable crops. We got to sample some unusual fruits that we had never seen before. Quite yummy!

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Our next stop was at a family home for a demonstration of making Rice wine.

This is the still in their outside kitchen. The still was right next to the pig pens. An interesting contrast in aromas! They feed the used mash from the wine making to the pig.

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We sampled the product (very potent) while grandmother relaxed and supervised the process.

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This wine making demonstration for tourists is the primary business of this family and according to our guide, provides substantial income for them. A great majority of businesses in Viet Nam, whether they are motorbike repair shops, small restaurants or small retail shops operate from people’s homes. The homes are constructed to allow the front room to house a business, and most are constructed with 3 stories, accommodating 3 generations, and allowing all family members to support the business.

This family had a portrait of uncle “Ho” in the living room. On this trip we have noticed a significant increase in both national flags (red with yellow star) and Communist Party Flags (hammer & sickle), both in front of homes and on the streets. Not sure what that is all about, but it is obvious.

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Having finished our “home tours” which were in the suburbs of Ba Ria, we headed to Vung Tau, about 15 miles away, for the second part of our tour. Vung Tau was a fishing village on the tip of the peninsula, which was a favorite R & R destination for American soldiers during the war, and in the past 20 years has become an extremely popular beach resort for Vietnamese – particularly from Ho Chi Minh City.

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We enjoyed lunch at a very nice beachfront resort restaurant, before continuing on the tour.

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One of the highlights of Vung Tau is a statue of Christ, built by the Americans in 1973, and fashioned after Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janiero. This one is supposedly 2 meters higher than its Brazilian counterpart but is not as dramatic since it is located on a drab hill several hundred meters lower. Those little bumps on the shoulders are people who have hiked up and gone to the top for the view.

One of the highlights of Vung Tau is a statue of Christ, built by the Americans in 1973, and fashioned after Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janiero. This one is supposedly 2 meters higher than its Brazilian counterpart but is not as dramatic since it is located on a drab hill several hundred meters lower. Those little bumps on the shoulders are people who have hiked up and gone to the top for the view.

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We stopped at this modern, upscale mall for a restroom and air conditioning break. Shopping many of these ports is interesting due to the expected negotiation. In Viet Nam, it is further complicated due to currency conversion. The currency in Viet Nam is the “Dong” and currently trades at a rate of about 21,000 Dong to the Dollar. So a price of 1,500,000 for a carry-on suitcase may be startling until you calculate that it is about $70.

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The second of our Temples for the day, is the “Whale” Temple, the Thang Tam God Temple, which was founded in 1820 at the site that a whale washed up on the shore. The whale was initially buried and then 3 years later it was decided that the whale was a “god” which was sent to guarantee good fishing, and the bones were dug up, the Temple built and the bones located inside. Since then, this has been the Temple of fisherman in the area.

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After leaving the temple, we began our trip back to the ship. At this point, I should mention the local vendors. When one visits several different sites in a day, there are different vendors selling tourist “stuff” at each site. We visited about 10 locations today, covering well over 20 miles. At about the third site, I began to notice that the same vendors were at each location. Observing them, I discovered they all had motorbikes nearby, and when we boarded the bus (which normally ends the sales pitch) they simply piled their goods on the motorbike and raced along with (and sometimes ahead of) the bus. They obviously knew where we were headed and usually beat us there and were selling their goods when we arrived. At this, our 10th stop, one of them successfully sold Sally a silk robe – but Sally had negotiated the price downward at each stop with her.

We took a different route back to Phu My, which passed through several rural farming areas.

Rice fields.

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Oyster farms.

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Salt farms. These farmers are the poorest of the poor.

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Every time we come here, I am amazed at the use of motorbikes by the Vietnamese.

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They really bundle up on these bikes – I suppose to keep road dust, fumes, and heat at bay.

Returning to the ship, we made our way back to China Sea and headed to Bangkok.

Sunset over Viet Nam.

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