Saturday, February 28, 2009
Grand World Voyage Part 3 - Asia Continued
Da Nang, Vietnam. A place we remember hearing about in the news so many years ago, with all the destruction from Agent Orange and Napalm. I am glad to report that the countryside is lush and green. The only possible signs of the war that I saw were some partial shells of buildings that looked as if they'd been bombed out. However, when I asked our guide about that, he told me that I was seeing the results of the government exercising their right of eminent domain in order to build roads. I don't think so! They would not leave partial shells of building in areas where it was unlikely a road would go. However, I'm sure our guide was being tactful, because many Americans would be upset at the mention of, or signs of, the unpopular war.
After a 30 minute ride from the ship we reached the city. We toured a museum of Cham sculptures, which are derived from Indian ones. There is a nice promenade along the river, which houses all sorts of modern sculptures. My favorite place was the Han Market, a huge, 2-story market that housed mostly food vendors, including fish, dried goods, rice and gorgeous produce on the first floor. On the upper floor there were many shoe vendors and toy and fabric vendors. Once you chose your fabric, there was a line of ladies with sewing machines waiting to sew up your outfit. If they got your fabric early enough in the day, you could have your new outfit the same day.
In the afternoon we went to a 'primitive' village, which nevertheless had many modern amenities, such as bicycles, mopeds and televisions. Other aspects were clearly old-style, like the white piglets penned in the back room of the private home we got to visit. In the one photo I am hugging a durian fruit, popular in southeast Asia, but famous for being stinky. Most of the people who like it were raised on it, but I am happy to report that not all Asians like it. Tina & I had gotten brave and tried it when we were in Thailand. It was not a particularly pleasant experience, and was made less pleasant for me by the fact that it reminded me many times afterwards that I had eaten it. On the way to the village, we saw a very edifying sight: a water buffalo. We'd looked for them everywhere we went in Thailand and never saw a single one.
Our final port in Vietnam: Phu My, the port city for Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. The drive to the city was a minimum of one hour through very heavy traffic. We found the city to be a comfortable place after the time we'd spent in Bangkok. Looking at the tangled power lines took us right back there. We visited the combination botanical garden and zoo, which was very nice. Other sights in the morning included the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral (outside only) and the magnificent post office building, which was built by the French.
After a wonderful buffet lunch at a nice hotel, we went to the Reunification Hall, formerly the Presidential Palace, including the war rooms in the basement. Apparently we were fortunate to get to see the basement; one friend said that by the time their tour group got there, it was closed. It was quite interesting to see things dating from 1968, when a friend was there while serving in the navy.
We had a great guide who was the brand new father of twins. The final stop he took us to was the Ho Chi Minh museum, which was also quite interesting. There were many exhibits about life in Vietnam.
We very much enjoyed our day in Ho Chi Minh City and in the end we had to admit that we were pleasantly surprised by Vietnam. I would go back to all three ports if offered the opportunity in the future.
Next up: Singapore