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Saigon
back to "Sri Lanka" (click pictures below to view) on to "Seychelles"

The difference between our preconceived expectations of Vietnam and reality was quite dramatic. Instead of a wore-torn country struggling under communist domination, it seems that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam has evolved through 27 years of peace toward becoming a major free market economy in Southeast Asia. Saigon is an energetic modern city of 4 million, in which 75% of families participate in their own business. The name Saigon seems to have persisted with the folks that we met, even though her official name is, of course, Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese move to the beat of the two-cycle engine, on millions of motorbikes and bicycles…and they were all there to greet us on our two-day visit! (photo) According to our guide, the reason there is no public transportation system is the fierce independence of the Vietnamese people. They prefer to drive their own bikes so that they can enjoy the freedom of choosing their own path and stopping whenever they wish. Crossing a street on foot in downtown Saigon is not for the faint-hearted! We disembarked the QE2 at Vung Tau harbor for a two-day passage through South Vietnam, stopping first at the Cu Chi tunnels (photo). This was an underground supply line, now a vestige of the Vietnamese struggle for independence after a century of domination by the French and later in their civil war of the 1960s, which they refer to as the “American War”. Here we crept through a short distance of the multi-layered 125 mile cobweb of tunnels, an exercise inadvisable for the claustrophobic! We enjoyed a Vietnamese-style luncheon on a spacious thatch-covered patio on the banks of the Saigon River, which flowed lazily by through water lilies and hyacinth. The country side of Vietnam is rubber plantations and sprawling fields of rice, punctuated with white-clad farmers in coolie hats, bending over. Massive water buffalo slog through shallow water troughs surrounding each paddy. Vietnam is second only to Thailand in rice production. Rather than collective farms, these are independent farmers, who pass the land down through successive generations. In the small towns, we watched young women, clad in white silk au dais, slit up one side, over baggy silk trousers, demurely pedaling along to high school classes. Women usually keep their heads and faces covered to protect their skin from the effects of the sun. That evening we enjoyed a reception on the roof of the Rex Hotel, the famed headquarters of US Army Intelligence and war correspondents during the war. Later we enjoyed a sumptuous seven course Vietnam dinner in a ballroom of Saigon’s five-star New World Hotel, entertained by delicate folk dancers, accompanied by the music of ethnic instruments. (An overnight at this elegant hotel on dry land was a pleasant change of pace after several months at sea.) Our Saigon tour included Reunification Hall, the former Presidential Palace, whose gates were crashed by a Viet Cong tank @11:30 AM on April 30, 1975. (photo) We learned about the history and cultural diversity of this country at the Museum of Vietnamese History (photo) and also enjoyed a delightful and whimsical water puppet show, a tradition started in the Ly dynasty in 1100 AD. We visited a lacquerware factory to see accomplished artists at work (photo) and drove through Chinatown to visit an elaborate Thein Hau Buddhist Temple (photo), in a haze of smoldering incense. Returning to the harbor that evening, we were once again thrilled to catch sight of our home on QE2, with her majestic bow curving upward into a sunset sky.

Cu Chi Tunnels Lacquerware Artists Reunification palace gate - (crashed by Viet Cong)
Saigon Traffic Thein Hau Temple Vietnamese History Museum Garden

Viet Nam

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