Our stories from Vietnam
(written by Brian, intro by Shelley)
Click here for pictures
Sunday, September 29, 2002
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!!!!
Knowing that we wouldn't get into port too early this morning, Brian and I slept in a little. Ok, Brian woke up sooner than I did and was able to see a welcome committee of Vietnamese women in traditional dress with a sign that said "Welcome Semester at Sea". I later saw the pictures. No band though. The ship was cleared around 10 a.m. or so to disembark the ship. Brian and I hung out for a while and waited for some of our friends to finish with their disembarkation duties. Around noon, Brian, Lori, Michelle (both RD's) and myself headed into Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by the locals). Since the ship docks approximately 20-30 minutes from the city, SAS provides a shuttle to take you into town. It was fairly obvious early on that Saigon was completely different than the huge cities of Japan and China that we had just visited. There were only a few tall buildings and even those were nothing compared to the huge skyscrapers fof the other cities. As soon as we got off the bus though we were reminded that some things were the same. There were dozens of cyclo drivers and people trying to sell you things. Cyclos are like rickshaw's in that they are little carriages on the front of a bicycle. The guy on the bicycle basically pushes you down the street. Each cyclo holds one to two people. The "hot" items being sold by the Vendors in Saigon were postcards (again) and coconut juice. There were much more children selling this time. The kids (and adults) would carry the baskets of coconuts across their backs and walk around selling them for a US dollar (US currency was widely accepted in Vietnam). They would be quite persistent for a while, but were good hearted about it for the most part.
As we got into town, we began searching for a restaurant…we were all starving by now. We were given a few good restaurants to hit, so we managed to find a restaurant called the Vietnam House. As we sat down for lunch, Michelle and I noticed a parade slowly moving past the restaurant. We both grabbed our cameras and went jogging down the street to capture the event. There were approximately 60-70 people in the parade with a beautiful float in the middle. Several people were playing instruments. Michelle and I really didn't have much time to observe the parade and the people, unfortunately, we just had a few moments to capture it by film. We headed back to the restaurant and decided to ask the waiter what the parade was for. I know I can speak for both Michelle and I…we wanted to crawl under the table when we found out it was a Chinese funeral procession!!! This was a true reminder of cultural differences though as any American not familiar with the culture would have never known this was a funeral procession, me included! We felt bad taking pictures…felt like such tourists, but I'm sure they are used to it. At the same time, their ceremonies are more of a celebration of life, whereas our funeral services tend to be more somber. Anyway, we continued with lunch. The menu looked good and we ordered many dishes including "pineapple fried rice" which turned out to be wonderful. Lori and Michelle tried the coconut juice and I (Brian) tried the mixed fruit juice. The coconut juice turned out to be just ok, not great, but the fruit juice was awesome. We had been told that Vietnam was known for their fruit and this proved it! The rest of the meal was fantastic, by far the best food we had eaten so far on the voyage. We had spring rolls, seafood soup, chicken and several other dishes. Many people had told us that the food in Vietnam was the best of all the countries on the voyage and we are starting to believe it!
After lunch we continued walking around town. One of the things they had warned us of was the traffic. There are few cars in Vietnam (generally owned by businesses or the government) but there are a million (literally) motor scooters. Within ten minutes of walking around we realized that the traffic there was best described as pure chaos! All you could see were waves of motor scooters everywhere. There were no lanes either so people would just randomly drive anywhere they could, including the other side of the street. Only the largest intersections had lights or stop signs so a majority of the intersections were just a free-for-all. As you can guess, crossing the street could be quite interesting and dangerous! They told us the best thing to do was just start crossing the street at a break in traffic and keep walking at a consistent pace…people would avoid you because "they don't want to hit you as much as you don't want to get hit". It's kind of like when they tell you that the 500 pound bear is just as afraid of you as you are of it! We quickly learned the secrets of street crossing and we made our way up to the Notre Dam Cathedral and then up to the War Remnants Museum.
We were not quite sure what to expect from the museum. We had a Vietnam Vet as our guest lecturer in between Hong Kong and Vietnam and he said we should experience it and "take it for what it is". As we entered, you could see several old tanks, planes and weaponry that were there. They also had several halls of photos from the war. Upon entering the first hall, you could immediately tell that this was different than the Hiroshima Memorial. I immediately felt strange as the language that was used to talk about the photos was pretty anti-American. Text would talk about the liberation from the Americans and French and how the people drove out the Americans. The first hall was pretty tame though and had mostly pictures and stories outlining the war and some of the journalists who covered the war. The next few halls were much different. The pictures began to get more and more gruesome and the text became stronger as characterizing Americans as evil and barbaric during the war. One of the most graphic pictures was of an American solder literally holding the head and the arm of a dead Vietcong soldier that had been blown up, only being held together by clothing. The pictures talked increasingly of the evil the American solders had performed. The next hall was even more depressing as it talked about the chemical warfare. Pictures of the deformities that Agent Orange had on people and babies was quite disturbing. They had two actual fetuses preserved that had severe deformities. The last two sections were a replica of an American POW camp, which was quite difficult to take in, and some of the propaganda distributed after the war. All in all the experience was a good one but definitely very awkward. The Hiroshima Memorial was presented much differently in that it basically said "here's what happened, here's the consequences, let's never make this mistake again!". This was much more of a claim of victory and depicting the US as evil and barbaric. It also was difficult to process because our encounters with the people to that point, while limited, were very positive. There seemed to be no tension. While I know we did some extremely bad things during the war and I can't say for sure if Americans even should have been in Vietnam, the other side of the story was not told. When I was in the POW replica and reading things about the inhumane treatment, I was thinking back to some the accounts of US POW's in Hanoi and the horror they endured.
After the museum, the four of us continued walking around and came across the Reunification Palace which was the former presidential palace of South Vietnam. Michelle and Shelley stayed outside the gates at a small park to people watch while Lori and I went inside. We got roped into taking a guided tour of the palace which turned out to be very interesting. They talked about the history of the palace and the roll it played. The whole time they talked though, there was an obvious slant that the South Vietnam government was oppressive and corrupt. They talked about how the leaders lavished in wealth, yet the common person was left behind is S. Vietnam. They told us about the South Vietnamese pilot who was actually a North Vietnamese spy. During the last few days of South Vietnam in 1975, his mission was to bomb some North Vietnamese camps. Instead, he broke away from his squadron and dropped his bombs on the presidential palace and then landed his plane in North Vietnamese territory. He was considered a national hero after the reunification and is currently head of Vietnam Airlines (that was interesting to hear the day before we flew). We saw the helicopter pad where the last South Vietnamese officials fled and the first two tanks that broke through the palace. All in all it was quite a good tour.
While we were in the palace, Shelley and Michelle (mostly Shelley) wound up playing with some kids in the park. There had been a small boy and girl following us for several blocks trying to sell us postcards. As Shelley tells the story, the kids continued to follow Shelley and Michelle over to a park bench in the park. Shelley bought some postcards from the little boy and then got him to take a picture with her. She found out he was 8 years old and his name was Lum (not sure on the spelling). The little girl was his sister. Her name was Lun (again, not sure on spelling) and she was only 5 years old. They were extremely cute kids. An older kid (probably 16 years old) selling coconut juice also joined the group by the park bench, as well as a very nice middle-aged man who had a cyclo. Shelley started filming the kids on our camcorder and then would replay the footage back to them. They absolutely loved this! Shelley said they just kept giggling. She then started taking digital pictures of the kids and showing them the photos. Again, they loved this. Holding on to the strap of the camera, Shelley even showed them how to use the camera, which they really loved. They even took some pretty good pictures! After a while, Shelley said the kids' mom (who was also selling postcards and other items on the street) even came over to see what was going on. She took the postcards from the kids, smiled and walked off, almost as if to say "you kids are having too much fun, stay and play and I'll sell the postcards". By the time Lori and I joined Shelley and Michelle at the park, a small group had gathered around them, all laughing and smiling from ear to ear…even the boy selling coconuts and the man with the cyclo. Shelley kept saying how much that experience with the kids and the Vietnamese people meant to her…she really seemed to have a very memorable experience.
We walked around town a bit more and then decided to do some clothes shopping. Vietnam is renowned for its tailors and apparel makers. We were told that we should have some clothes made for us while we were in Vietnam. We started walking around looking at shops and tailors. Most of the stores had some examples of clothing they had made and then an assortment of fabrics that you could choose from. Our primary goal was to find Shelley some dresses, but we were not having much luck. We decided to go back to a place that caught Shelley's eye earlier in the day. We went back into the store and Shell began trying some dresses on. She really liked this black and red traditional dress, so decided to have it made in addition to a second dress. After we got Shelley measured, we went next door to a place that made suits. Since I had not bought a new suit in almost ten years we decided to get me a couple of suits. It is pretty amazing that we got two handmade tailored suits for less than a single one in the States.
We had lost Michelle and Lori by this point, so we went searching for a restaurant for dinner as it was now about 8:30 pm. We tried to go to a highly recommended restaurant, named Lemon Grass, but they were full (of course, with SAS people), so we began walking around. We actually lucked out. We found a great restaurant with outdoor seating and excellent food. There was even a little fish pond next to our table in which we could feed the fish with some of the peanuts they gave us. Eating out in Vietnam was great because not only was the food spectacular, it was also cheap. Our dinner, which included two beers each and enough food to feel stuffed, cost us a whopping $18 US. It is kind of funny though…as the exchange rate in Vietnam is $1 = 15,000 dong, you can get a bill totaling around 200,000 dong, and it sounds like so much money!
After dinner we caught the shuttle and headed back to the ship as we had an early morning awaiting us.
Monday, September 30, 2002
We had an early wake up today as we were scheduled to leave the ship at 5:30 am for our flight to Hanoi. Our trip was much smaller this time as we only had a total of 20 people, including us. We got everyone organized and headed out to the airport. The bus was playing American oldies music, which we thought was funny. We also noticed that there were a ton of people out and about for 5:30 in the morning! Much different than back home. The airport experience was much smoother than the previous trip in China! We cruised through security and actually had extra time to kill at the airport. Our Vietnam Airlines flight left around 7:30 am and we were on our way to Hanoi.
We arrived in Hanoi around 9:30 am and met-up with our guide Tuan Anh (pronounced "Ine"). We were still in store for a four-hour bus ride to the village we would be visiting, so we hustled through the airport and got on the bus. The airport is a bit outside of Hanoi so we got a good view of the outskirts of town as well as a glimpse of the city. Like Saigon, Hanoi was nowhere close to the magnitude of our previous trips and is actually smaller than Saigon (Saigon has roughly 5 million people, whereas Hanoi has roughly 3.5 million people). The landscape outside the city was tremendously green and rice fields seemed to be everywhere. There were a few tall buildings, but the city was definitely spread out. We passed the new stadium they are building for the Asian Games in 2004 and then we were on our way to the mountains. Our trip was to take us to the mountain village of Mai Chau (Pronounced My-Cho) where we would stay for the night, returning to Hanoi the following day.
So, you recall our description of the traffic in Saigon? Well in Hanoi it seemed to be even worse!! Even though the city is smaller, the driving seemed even more chaotic. People in little motor-scooters would try to cut us off and we were in a 50 passenger tour bus! Our bus would begin to turn and you would have 20 scooters turn in front of you all different directions. People entering traffic would merge by driving in the wrong lane for a second and then merge into another lane. It is nearly impossible to describe what this traffic was really like! We always felt fairly safe though as we were the largest thing on the roads (except for the construction equipment).
We passed through several small towns on the way to the village and soon began climbing the narrow mountain roads. As we entered the mountains you could see a lot of construction going on, just as China had. The main difference was that while China had modern construction equipment, it was obvious that manual labor was still the primary way to build things in Vietnam. As we entered the mountains, the scenery became more and more spectacular. The flat green rice fields gave way to almost volcanic mountains that would shoot up from the flat lands. The vegetation was becoming more and more lush and the mountain passes were quite steep! The mountain roads became a one-lane (I mean one lane for both directions!) series of twists and turns. It also became evident that the constant honking (as in China) was not a reaction like in the US, but rather a warning that we were coming around the corner and that we were there first (don't get me wrong, most of the honking in the cities was to say "get the hell out of my way"). The reason our bus ride was four hours was not that we were traveling a long distance, but rather that we had to go so slow through these mountains to avoid any accidents! Plus, now that we were outside the city, everyone and everything shared the streets, including the many water buffalo, cows, chicken and dogs that roamed freely about!!
We had stopped for a quick lunch break in a little town. The ship had given us some boxed lunches to eat. By around 3:00 pm we had reached the top of a mountain pass and stopped to take some pictures. The view was breathtaking with the landscape and the low-lying clouds that surrounded us. Shortly after that, we reached another peak and saw a small town tucked away in a beautiful valley. We were ecstatic when we found out that this was our destination. We drove down into the valley and through a small town that was next to Mai Chau.
As soon as we got off the bus, everyone stood around in amazement. The contrast of the steep mountains and the flat rice fields that surrounded us was incredible. We walked along a small road through several rice fields and approached the village. The village was set in a grove of trees and was surrounded by rice fields. It was close to some of the mountains but not right up against them. All of the houses in the village were single story houses built on stilts. The houses would sit about 6-8 feet off the ground and were predominately made out of bamboo and other woods. We later found out that the reason the house was built on stilts was to protect the house from floods as well as to have an area to keep their pigs and chickens under the house for shelter and to provide heat in the winter (although it was so damn hot and humid there, it was unbelievable).
Pigs and chickens roamed freely around the village. People would shoo their pigs around yet the chickens just kind of had free reign (or at least until dinner time). We were shown to our guest quarters, which was pretty much a large "great room" in one of the villager's house. You were expected to take your shoes off before entering the house. There was definitely excitement within the group at this point as we could tell that this would be an awesome experience!
We relaxed for a few minutes and then set out on our walk around the village and surrounding area. Anh took us to a neighboring village that was truly authentic (no running water or plumbing) and then we walked around the rice fields and hills. Water buffalo were often seen around the area as people used them for working the fields. The irrigation channels could be seen running throughout the rice fields and small groves of trees. We saw several people walking about or working in the fields, and as usual, the motor scooters racing down the narrow dirt roads. We finished our walk and made our way back to the guesthouse.
We relaxed for a while outside the guesthouse with a beer or two and then got the call that dinner was about to be served. As we went upstairs, we could see small trays sitting on the bamboo floor with place settings for four people on each tray. The traditional chopsticks, bowl, plate and spoon were set in place. As we sat on the floor, the food began to be served. First were spring rolls, which were wonderful. Dishes of rice, soup, pork, fish and chicken followed and were all great. After dinner, we were entertained by a cultural performance. Earlier in the day, we had learned that there are many ethnic groups in Vietnam (Viet people being the majority). The people we were visiting were actually of the "White" Thai (pronounced like 'tie') descent and distantly related to the people of Thailand. They did a series of cultural dances accompanied by music played with traditional instruments. After the dances, they brought out a large jug with many bamboo straws in it. This was the ceremonial wine that was drunk by everyone after the celebration. It was a kind of rice and fruit wine (I think). After the performers sipped from the jug, the rest of us joined in. The wine had a very unique taste that had a slight similarity to Sake from Japan. It was pretty cool drinking wine from a two foot bamboo straw too!
After the wine it was time for bed. We were all exhausted from the day and ready for some sleep. Our beds consisted of two thin padded sleeping mats placed on top of a thin bamboo rug. The really cool part was the mosquito netting that was placed over everyone. It was definitely a very cool experience.
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
The night before, someone had asked about making sure we woke up on time and a few of the Vietnamese people laughed. As I'm sure any of you familiar with farms would attest, roosters are the most reliable alarm clocks ever! A few of us were awoken at 3:30 am by a rooster call, then again at 4:30 am, and then again at 5:30 am (of course, Shell was rarely woken up!). By 6:00 am, one rooster in particular was going crazy. There was no way anyone was sleeping through that. Everyone eventually got up and ready for the day and our breakfast was served around 7:30 am. Breakfast was pretty basic with eggs, fruit and bread. The Vietnamese people like to say that one of the few positive things the French did was teach them how to make bread!
We headed out for another walk around the nearby villages, this time heading towards the local market. As we were walking down one dirt road we heard a scooter approach us from behind. We all stepped aside and glanced over to the scooter and a few of us were suddenly stunned at what had just past us. On both sides of the scooter, a small LIVE pig was tied to the scooter hanging upside down! A few of us thought they were dead but others could see the pigs blinking. This again was something that you don't see too often back in the States! Unfortunately, we soon saw where the pigs were taken. Anh had said that we were headed to a traditional market, which was where people bought all of their goods. When we first arrived at the market, most of the goods we saw were fruits and vegetables. People had their little booths set up and had bushels of crops to sell. Shell and I bought a couple of Bananas (which were really good) and a fried pastry. As we progressed up the market, we encountered the tobacco vendors. Now the tobacco area would not have been that appealing to most of the students except for the fact that the guys with the tobacco were smoking it out of two-foot bongs! Now I'm sure most of you can guess what happens when 18 college students see guys smoking out of a two-foot bong! It didn't take long for several students to welcome the locals invitation to smoke some of their crop with them. This turned out to be a fun experience as the students and the locals really enjoyed interacting with each other. I did make our guide promise us that it was tobacco and not another "foreign" substance…he promised!
After the tobacco laughs, a few of us who had ventured around directed the others to the other side of the market for an "interesting" scene. Shell could tell that something was up as I walked her down to the other end of the market. As you may guess, the very end of the market was the meat market where everyone could purchase their pork, chicken or fish products for the day. Well, this market was not quite like the local Safeway. Chicken head, pig intestine, pig snouts and basically every imaginable part of the animal was for sale. Buckets of blood could be seen and it was obvious that these animals were freshly butchered (as in the past hour). Several people moved rather quickly through this part of the market, as the site was quite gruesome. I think this was definitely an eye opener to everyone - it wasn't hard to see the differences to life in the States.
After the market, we walked through another rural mountain village where people were seen harvesting rice. As we walked up to the village, we stopped at a little store for some water and saw two little puppies playing outside. We played with them for a few minutes (while still trying not to touch the puppies due to rabies concerns, which was a bummer) which was very entertaining. The primary water source of the village was a canal through the center of town that diverted water from the mountain. This water was their water for everything. It was really neat to see their true environment. We also encountered a kindergarten school in the village. All of the kids came running out to see us…they were so cute and so excited to see us. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see their school or interact with them, which was very disappointing. We continued our hike around the village and then back through town to the village we were staying at. We had lunch in the village and then bid our hosts goodbye. We hopped back on the bus and headed for Hanoi. The village stay was a positive experience for everyone as we saw some beautiful areas and a received a good first hand look into the rural life of Vietnam.
After the long 4-hour bus ride, we checked into the Hoa Binh Hotel in Hanoi. We only had a few minutes to shower and get changed for dinner (only one person had bravely showered in cold water back in the village this morning). The hotel was quite nice although the lights again took Shell and I a little while to figure out! In China, you had to insert your key card into a holder by the door, which then turned the power on in your room. Well, in this hotel room, there was what appeared to be a hook for a jacket right next to the door. It turns out that you had to hang your room key on this hook and the weight of the keychain (which was pretty heavy!) would activate the power for the room. Note: this was pretty frustrating trying to figure out in complete darkness! We finally conquered the lights, quickly showered and headed out to dinner. Dinner again was great as we went to an upscale Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi.
After dinner we went to a water puppet show. The "stage" of the show is a shallow pool of water with a basic building as a backdrop. The puppeteers stand in the water behind the backdrop while moving the puppets to act out a variety of scenes. At the same time, musicians on the left of the stage are playing and singing the music for the show. The show was not as good as the acrobatic show in China, but it was still neat to see a water puppet show. The show lasted about an hour and then we headed back to the hotel for the evening. We noticed there were very cheap massages (typical of Vietnam) at the hotel (around $10 US). We were hoping to take advantage of this, but our students beat us to the punch. As the spa was booked up for the night, Shell and I just decided to call it a night.
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
Our last day in Hanoi was set-up to be a busy one, beginning around 7:30 am. After checking out of the hotel in the morning, we hopped on the bus and headed for the main part of town. As we drove around, you could see that the French influence in Vietnam was much more prevalent in Hanoi than in Saigon, especially in the architecture. We arrived at the square where Ho Chi Minh's tomb and other historical buildings are. Unfortunately, Ho's body always get "routine maintenance" during the months of September through November so we were unable to visit the old man's body perched in his chair looking at us. Go figure, we sail around the world and get a chance to see two communist leaders bodies and we don't get a chance to see either one! Anyway, we saw the outside of the tomb and saw the changing of the guard, which was neat. Across from Ho's tomb is the Vietnamese tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From the central square area, we walked around to one side to see some of the old government houses from the French occupation as well as the President's house and several other buildings. They were quite striking as not only did they have the French architecture, but they were all a bright yellow color. Next to the presidential house was the first house that Ho Chi Minh lived in after the defeat of the French. As the story goes, Ho refused to live in the large mansion and chose to live in the house that was reserved for the electrician. They were quick to point out that the house was a very simple house as the message that the communists were trying to convey was very similar to that of the Chinese revolution. Ho maintained that the communist party was about lifting up the common worker and fighting against the wealthy land owners that were the source of corruption. We then saw Ho Chi Minh's last house, which was designed to replicate the stilt houses such as the ones we had seen in the village. The cool part about what we were seeing there was that below the house in the open air section was where a majority of the strategy meetings for North Vietnam took place.
After we toured the square, we stopped by the Temple of Literature which was an old structure dedicated to reading and learning. In past centuries, anyone who passed the Royal Exam had their name etched in the temple. We only stayed at the temple for a short while and then we were off to 36th Street, which was one of the districts of Hanoi. Again, we only had enough time for about a 30 minute walking tour of the downtown streets. This downtown area was sectioned into vendor blocks…for example, coffins and headstones were actually being made and sold on what was referred to as coffin street, etc. We saw all kinds of shops and vendors. We passed another "market" in which anything and everything could be seen. In the fish section, they actually had some of the fish still alive in tubs of water so you could pick the exact one you wanted. The market was not as gruesome as the village market but it was still a sight. After the market, we headed back to checkout of the hotel and have lunch. We were on our own for lunch so we headed to a nearby restaurant with a few students. While I don't think the students enjoyed their meal too much (very finicky eaters!), Shell and I, as always, enjoyed the food.
After lunch we headed to the Museum of Ethnology, an ethnic museum that focused on the various people and cultures of Vietnam. The museum had clothing, instruments and artifacts of all the various ethnic groups within Vietnam. Everyone was getting pretty tired at this point and was looking forward to getting back to Saigon. After the museum, we headed to the airport for the 2-hour plane ride. We were again sad to say goodbye to our guide…Anh had become a friend and was really enjoyed by the entire group! Again, everything went smoothly and we arrived in Saigon around 7:00 pm. We met our bus and proceeded to the ship. Unfortunately, the only real hassle of Vietnam was that night's traffic. Shell and I were trying to get back to the ship because we were supposed to go back for a final dress and suit fitting before 9 pm. We should have had enough time but there was an accident on the major road in Saigon. Our bus driver started taking us all around the city to try and avoid the traffic, yet at one point even got us lost. We finally found our way back to the dock but with the lost time, there was no way to make it back into Saigon. We were actually lucky though. A few of the other busses got stuck in the traffic jam and so many of the students got out and ended up having to walk for over an hour in the rain to get back to the ship. We were beat when we got back and we had an early morning the next day so the rest of that night was definitely mellow. American Pie II was being shown on the closed-circuit TV system, so we enjoyed many good laughs before bed.
Thursday, October 3, 2002
Our last major thing to do in Vietnam was to go to the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is the point at which the Mekong River empties into the East China Sea. As one of the largest rivers in the world, the delta is hundreds of miles in area and forms one of the world's greatest rice growing areas. The river is a huge agricultural center of Vietnam. When you see pictures of all of the riverboats moving up and down the river, that's usually from the delta. We had a two-hour bus ride to get to the delta so we left the ship around 8:00 am. We stopped at a Cambodian temple on the way down for a few minutes and then arrived at the delta. We then boarded a ferry boat that would take us to one of the islands in the delta. After about a 40 minute boat ride in which they provided us with coconut juice, we arrived at the island. Our first stop was a ten minute walk through the jungle to a little area where we would be tasting some local fruits. Several of our staff friends were on the trip with us so that made it fun. We all sat down and had some tea and fruit. The fruit was great! Pineapples, papayas, melons and many other fruits as well as fresh made rice paper made for a good snack. We hiked back to the boat and then made our way down the island to our next stop. Our next stop was basically a walking tour of several areas of the island. We stopped a coconut candy shop and watched them roll out the candy, saw people with monkeys & snakes and had some more tea on our way to our "canal" ride. The coconut candy was great as it was fresh out of the ovens. They had several different flavors and we all ate a little too much. The last part of the island tour was a ride in a small canoe down a canal. Each canoe could hold four passengers and the two paddlers. Shell and I were with a student (Steve) who was on our trip in Hanoi. The ride really was that exciting as we just paddled around the canal for a few minutes; although for some I'm sure it was an adventure. We then got back on our riverboat and headed back across the river. We got back on the bus and headed for lunch. Lunch was excellent - a neat seafood restaurant on a river. After lunch we headed back for the ship. I think this trip was probably the only trip so far in which Shell and I were disappointed. When we signed up for the trip, we thought we were going to the floating market and would see the main part of the Mekong Delta. The part of the river we did see was not that exciting and certainly not the most scenic part of the river. The overnight trips to the delta saw much more of the river and the markets. Oh well, we still can't complain as we can still say we've been on the Mekong River.
After we got back to the ship around 5pm we had to head directly into town to get our cloths we had made. Both places we went to were waiting for us to do the final fitting before they finished things up. It's a good thing we got there because both Shelley and I needed some adjustments. Us Americans are quite a bit larger than the Vietnamese! We went over to have dinner at Lemon Grass since we had yet to eat there. We had to wait a while and Shell actually had to leave for the first few minutes of dinner to run to the dress shop for a final, final fitting, yet we were determined to eat there! The wait was well worth it as dinner was awesome! After dinner we picked up our clothes and went to catch the last bus back to the ship. We barely made the bus…we were one of the last few people on it. If we had missed it, we would have been in BIG trouble.
On the way back to the ship we encountered a little "traffic problem". About four blocks from the ship, there was a dump truck in the middle of the road so nobody could get by. The bus stopped but the dump truck was not moving. Suddenly, out of nowhere all of these motor scooter "taxi's" showed up to take people the last few blocks. Our bus driver had totally disappeared and we had no idea what was going on. After about twenty minutes, a large number of people got off the bus to walk the last few blocks or to take a scooter. Everyone was very concerned about getting back to the ship on time, as students (as well as faculty and staff) are penalized with "dock time" if you arrive past "on ship time" on departure day. After most of the scooters had been claimed, the dump truck suddenly started up and moved and our bus driver reappeared. They had told us that there are a ton of scams going on in Vietnam and we were sure we had just been part of one. I'm sure the bus driver got a few extra dollars from his taxi friends that night for the added business! Oh well, no harm done and we learned something. We made it back to the ship ok and we set sail later that night.
Final Impressions of Vietnam
Vietnam is fantastic. The country is beautiful and the people are genuine and friendly. As I stated earlier, there were a few awkward times when some of the things we were told were not the same as the things we experienced. The museum and some of the rhetoric we heard at other places seemed to paint a negative image of the US, but people were genuinely friendly and open. After a few days of watching the people and talking with our guide I came to the conclusion that the Vietnamese truly like Americans and, except for a few older people, they want to put our war and every other war behind them. The communism there is much different than in China. Most everyone doesn't like the government and they'll say that, but they are proud that it is "their" government. Vietnam was under French repression for almost a hundred years and when they started fighting the French in the 1950's, they basically fought for 25 straight years to get their country back. When the communists came to power and tried to unite the country, I think they had most everyone's support as the people didn't care what kind of government movement it was as long as it was the Vietnamese people running the show. I think Ho Chi Minh is so revered in the country not because the people are for communism, but that he actually was the one to get all of the foreigners (France, US, China) out of the country. The only thing I wish I would have seen was some acknowledgement that the Vietnamese did some pretty bad things during to war as well. I think the people know there was brutality and in-human acts done on both sides, but because of their government, they won't admit it. I think it will be interesting to watch Vietnam in the near future as I think there is a growing majority of the people who do not trust their government and are fed up with the communist system. The government has already had to make changes to allow a semi-open market system. The Vietnamese people are very intelligent and I think things may continue to change for the better!
Fun facts/differences we've noticed about Vietnam