Archives for the month of: May, 2011

It’s been ages since I’ve blogged but there really hasn’t been anything to report. Tom left Vietnam from Nha Trang last Thursday and I’ve been plugging along on my little tourist mission to see some of what I missed in Vietnam last summer.

Due in part to some stomach trouble, I stayed in Nha Trang two more nights after Tom left. This move turned out to be probably one of my best, because on my last night there I happened to meet a Vietnamese-American business man who is busy developing schools and hospitals in Vietnam. We have been in touch and I have an appointment to meet an associate of his in Saigon next week to brainstorm how I can get involved. This is very exciting indeed – networking at its finest. It seems like people here really know how to network; I’m learning.

During idle time in Nha Trang I hatched a plan to return to Hoi An – a city I had loved so much on the last trip. As my budget is limited and I wanted to be able to have some fun in HA, I decided to take an overnight bus. Here’s where life finally got really interesting again.

These overnight buses are quite common over here, particularly with the international 20-ish backpacker crowd. Hope and I rode several overnight tourist buses last summer, and while one ride was really tough, the others were fine.

A few more details about the overnight buses: in all but one that I have ridden, these buses are built kind of like cattle cars, with three rows of flat bed/ seats stacked 2 bunks high.

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There are usually two aisles and a bathroom. For a shortie like me, it’s quite possible to sleep comfortably while the bus ambles towards its next destination. The company usually provides water and a blanket; rides are under $12 US to cover vast distances. Travelers are spared paying for that night’s accommodation. In all, it’s not so bad to close your eyes in one city and wake up in another. Much easier than flying coach across the Pacific Ocean.

In Vietnam these are sometimes referred to as “open tour” buses, meaning that you buy a ticket and can hop on and off where and when you choose during a given period of time. They are also referred to as “luxury” buses which, by public bus standards here, they most certainly are.

Accommodations that are geared more towards long-term travelers can and frequently do book these bus journeys for their guests. They receive a small commission from the bus company for doing so. There are many bus companies to choose from; when you book a ride through your hotel you’re kind of relying on them to put you on the best one they can find which, many times here, can be the one where they will get the best cut or the one their friends and/ or family are connected with. Here’s where my laziness – or perhaps my fatigue from being sick – was my downfall.

The 2-star hotel Tom and I stayed at in Nha Trang has quite high ratings on TripAdvisor, and those are well-earned. $20 a night buys you a clean room with a safe; TV; WiFi; a very large breakfast and very helpful staff. After eight nights with them I had no reason to doubt their ability to book me on an overnight bus similar to those I’d been on before. I asked that it was a “flat bed” bus and requested a bottom bunk. They called the bus company and it was done: 7:00 the next night I would be on my way to Hoi An, watching movies on my iPad and sleeping the hours of travel away. Little did they tell me…

The mini-bus that picked me up was late; it was filthy; and the driver seemed pissed off about something, because he was yelling at his assistant, into his cell phone, and at anyone who seemed to get int his way. My first instinct to bail on this mission was a good one, but I doubted myself and continued on to where the big bus awaited.

The big bus looked fine on the outside; when we entered we were given a bag in which to put our shoes – this is standard practice on these buses. Here again is where I should have turned back: the bus porter(?) escorted me to my bunk at the very back of the bus – next to the toilet. I had more sense than this and spoke up. He said that the bus was full and my only other option was a top bunk. Done. This turned out to be a very good decision.

As I settled in I realized that there would be nowhere other than my lap for my rather heavy day-pack. Not the end of the world and also turned out to my advantage eventually.

The bus made several stops to pick up more passengers and it was, indeed, very full. There were, however, two empty seats as we traveled on, finally heading out of Nha Trang.

At our fifth stop or so (at this rate, I was thinking, it was going to take a lot longer than ten hours to get to Hoi An) our driver picked up about twenty heavy-looking boxes, two feet by two feet by one foot each. It looked like the boxes contained tiles, and as they were loaded into the “luggage” compartment of the bus, we could feel the bus listing a bit. Several workers stood outside the luggage compartment scratching their heads, seemingly trying to figure out how to fit all of these boxes inside. There was some re-arranging, and the cargo doors were shut. We were on our way, still with two empty seats.

At our next stop (!!!) five people entered the bus – three children and two adults. There was some conversation among these passengers, the porter, and some other passengers, presumably about how to accommodate them. None were offered the seats. Somehow the children were accommodated into the lower bunks in the back of the bus, and the adults were made to use the floor – the only aisle to the bathroom on the bus. They all settled in and we were on out way again.

We made several more cargo stops – I have no idea HOW this bus had more cargo space; it was literally lumbering down the road with NO chance of a quick stop. The sway and bounce over the big bumps in the road was unnerving; the thought of this bus rolling under its hulking weight as it missed a turn was a thought I had to just put out of my head.

Our final stop before the long trip was in a small town considerably outside of Nha Trang where we picked up a family of six – two parents and four children – and YET MORE cargo. Now I understood what the remaining two seats were for. The six of them set up camp on those two seats, again, children somehow engulfed by the crowd. As cargo was loaded below, luggage started to appear in the aisle between the sleeping people and the door of the bus, blocking the exit; the driver’s area – if you can even call it that – was stacked high with heavy cargo boxes as well. This bus was a death trap even by non-American standards. Thoughts of becoming a statistic on my trip had to be put away once again, as I had no idea where I was and SURELY my luggage could not be retrieved from the depths below even if I could convince the driver to abandon me in the middle of Vietnam.

I had to take an Advil PM to get some rest, and didn’t dare drink any water – not that I was offered any. The night was uneventful – full of honking horns, slamming on the brakes, trips to the most disgusting bus bathroom (stepping over the people) and rest stop bathroom to date. I was glad to have my day-pack as a kind of pillow/ prop, as i’m sure its mass kept me from rolling out of my top bunk onto the woman in the aisle below me several times. As we got closer to Hoi An our cargo process was reversed and money changed hands as the boxes were unloaded along several stops. When we got to Hoi An we were dumped at a hostel and those of us who looked “touristy” were told to get off the bus; miraculously our luggage appeared on the sidewalk next to the cargo hold.

In a shocked fog, I attempted to get my bearings. The musical notes of “lady – you need motorbike!” rang in my ears as the woman who owned the hostel tempted me with, “I have bigger room for you!”

Thank goodness I had been to Hoi An before. I had a reservation at a budget hotel between the town and the beach, and kind of had an idea where I was going. I set off in exactly the wrong direction and eventually had to turn around and run the “you need motorbike” gauntlet again as I backtracked through the bus crowd.

Several wrong turns and the help of several lovely, kind local people later, I arrived, DRENCHED in sweat at my hotel. I was greeted with a glass of hot tea and a cold, wet towel. Heaven! My room is fine and, aside from some road construction that diverts masses of motorbike traffic onto the sidewalk, the location is just what I had wanted and hoped it would be.

After booking flights to my next two destinations – for not a lot more $$$ than the darn bus – I fell into the deepest, most satisfying sleep and was then able to have a relaxing, fun day after all.

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Last week Tom and I ate at a restaurant in Nha Trang called Lanterns, which we later learned sponsors children living at a local orphanage as well as several other families in the community. When I asked our server more about this connection, she said that she could arrange a trip for me to see the orphanage this week. I gladly accepted her offer and was introduced to Dung (“a very ugly word in your language, but means ‘very pretty’ in mine!”) She offered to take me there on her motorbike on Monday.

I was very excited about being able to learn more about the “real” community in Nha Trang, and to experience something few tourists get to see – and to meet some kids! I went to the restaurant as scheduled. Dung showed up on her motorbike and even had a helmet for me:) I asked her if she was a safe driver and she said, “No! Very unsafe driver!” which made me laugh. I had a feeling that she had a good sense of humor; her English was excellent; and she actually was quite a good driver.

About half way to the orphanage, she pointed to a pagoda and Buddha on our right. This was the very famous Long Son Pagoda. She offered to stop there on our way back to show me the sight, and I gladly accepted her offer. She stopped to fill up her gas tank – which took all of about ten seconds – refusing to let me pay for the gas which I know is not cheap.

We arrived at the orphanage which is actually housed in a pagoda off a dirt road on the outskirts of Nha Trang. The setting was very peaceful and tranquil.

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When we arrived many of the children were eating their lunch. The head nun of the pagoda also runs the school; she was receiving a donation of milk for the children of the orphanage.

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Dung introduced me to the teachers and caretakers of the children and explained that while many of the children were surrendered completely to the orphanage by parents who simply could not afford to care for them, many are local children, also of very poor parents, who come to the pagoda for the day for meals and school, and then return home to live with their families. She also told me that there are many VERY poor families in the area, and that Lanterns sponsors several families with shelter, medical care, and other very basic necessities. She emphasized that these families were the poorest of the poor – not having anything at all – and shared that one of the women they were helping had a broken hand and had to go to Saigon for surgery, which Lanterns would pay for. I imagined how such a poor family would be able to make it with a mother whose hand was maimed, and how very necessary this surgery would be for their survival. It made me a little sick inside to think of that family, but also very thankful that Lanterns would support them in this truly critical time.

I walked around the area where the children were eating, noticing that their food looked very nutritious, and the children appeared quite healthy and happy. While I was making this observation this little cutie spotted me and started smiling and furiously waving at me:

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I took a few pictures of her, then we moved on to the room with the “babies”:

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They swarmed us, hands up stretched to be picked up. Dung picked up one girl – obviously her favorite, who was so happy to see her. I picked up several children, one of whom wouldn’t let me put her down. The babies, too, seemed as happy as they could be, considering their situations. Their caretakers were attentive and loving, but definitely had their hands full with about 30 toddlers in a room that was about 400 square feet. I learned that all the children who live at the orphanage sleep on mats on the floor of this room at night. That made me a little sad, too – probably perfectly acceptable, making me feel guilty for complaining about the ironing boards we call beds in our hotel rooms here.

We pried the babies off of us and headed out towards the school rooms.

The older children were out in the yard in front of the school playing and hanging out. They, too, swarmed us. One boy in particular wanted to practice his English with me, barraging me with questions. He was certainly very personable, and someone I could imagine making a decent living for himself in some sort of tourism job.

Dung also told me that Lanterns was sponsoring a girl from the orphanage to go to college.

While we talked the older kids milled around, practicing their English, and touching me a little more than I was comfortable with. Dung put a stop to this. I didn’t want to appear standoffish with the kids, but as someone who has been in a professional role with them for as long as I have, the touching made me uneasy.

After about 45 minutes at the orphanage, we left, watching the children do their prayer/ chant.

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I asked Dung questions about Vietnamese Buddhism and she was gracious and knowledgeable in her answers.

As promised, we stopped at the Long Son Pagoda and had a look around. Dung’s tourism training kicked into high gear and she expertly led me around the pagoda, around a very large reclining Buddha

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into a bell

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within which people post messages of hope and prayer for loved ones. We literally climbed into the bottom of this bell together for her to show these to me.

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The tour’s highlight was the giant white Buddha at the top of a hill:

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Inside I was offered some incense, which I used to thank the Buddha for introducing me to Dung and the children.

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How ironic that we stayed in “the 303” in our first hotel.

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This one was just too odd to not notice:

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The rules at the Po Nagar Cham Towers were interesting:

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In the WC at the Po Nagar Towers. Is there a word I need to learn?

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The graffiti on this one is what gets me.

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There are so many signs here that both baffle me and make me laugh.

Yesterday was all about water – everywhere.

In the morning we went on a SCUBA trip on a reef near Nha Trang. Tom is certified; I am terrified. He went on a “real” dive; I went on an intro dive.

We both saw lots of cool fish and other creatures in the water and had a great time. The dive company was amazingly relaxed, but also attentive to our needs and to safety. We even got a traditional Vietnamese meal when the day was over. It was fabulous.

By the time this trip was over, the rain had begun. We cleaned up and headed out for a beer and some dinner early, umbrellas in hand. Although we chose to travel here during this time because it is NOT yet monsoon season, Mother Nature does not seem to have received this memo.

In a previous blog I reported how in Saigon we watched, in horror, as the street under our feet filled with water and cockroaches displaced from a flooding sewer. Well, this time we watched the flood happen from an awninged restaurant about four feet above street level.

The rain started slowly but didn’t seem like it would quit. Soon the puddles on the sides of the streets in the corner in front of us touched, and then the corner flooded completely.

Meanwhile, life went on much as usual, with people whizzing through the puddles on their motorbikes, and in their cars and tour buses, which inundate Nha Trang on the weekend. In fact, at least four large tour buses unloaded passengers at the restaurant across the street from ours; this was convenient because the buses waited while the tourists ate, so we were able to gauge the rain depth from the water level on the giant tires.

The street swelled with water more and more, and we watched in amazement as people STILL braved the flood on motorbikes. By this time there was easily over two feet of rain in the street, and motorbikes were flooding and stalling. Locals and tourists alike watched the scene on the street unfold, pointing and commenting when a bike stalled, a taxi sent a massive stream of water into the stores lining the streets, or when some poor soul had been caught without an umbrella or poncho. We took a lot of photos of this event – few of which even come close to illustrating the awesomeness of it. Here are a few:

Pretty sure we wanted to rent motorbikes – just NOT in a river!

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This guy was ready to make a buck… this was before the rain REALLY started.

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Too bad this was the street within minutes:

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By the time we ate, played a little pool, and had a couple of beers, the rain had slowed down and the street was almost clear. We honestly thought we would be swimming back to our hotel, but it really was quite shallow by that time.

Tom and I have both commented a lot about the resilience and “nothing phases me” attitude that seems to prevail in Vietnam. Life here is not so easy, but you just don’t see people here sitting around and moaning about it – they just seem to roll with what comes and find a way to solve problems and move forward. The Vietnamese appear industrious and practical; to consume on a minimal level; and to help us realize how lucky and easy we have it in the U.S.

Tomorrow I’m going to visit a local orphanage to meet some kids, and today we’re going to check out a place called “Crazy Kim’s” where a notorious Nha Trang woman wages a war on child abuse from her bar. There’s a lot to see and do here – far more than I imagined.

Today we took a jeep tour to see a number of guidebook-worthy Mui Ne sights.

The Fairy Spring

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The Mui Ne fishing village

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The white sand dunes

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And a cool red sand wash

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And many herds of cows

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We missed the red sand dunes because by the time we got there it was raining buckets. This was a blessing – the cloud cover made our trek through the white dunes much cooler than it might have been on a sunny day, and by this time we had seen enough and weren’t planning on “sledding” down the dunes anyways.

I read that Mui Ne is not to be missed; a very unique part of Vietnam with it’s dry weather, beaches, and dunes nearby. It definitely exceeded my expectations.

Tomorrow we’re off to Nha Trang – another beach but in more of a city, with a very different draw and character. Looking forward to experiencing it!

Yesterday was our 19th anniversary. It was a pretty lazy day at the pool at our hotel – The Grace Mui Ne.

Mui Ne is turning out to be a very favorite, special place. It used to be a fishing village, but now is a 10 km strip of beach resorts and hostels of all shapes, sizes, and price points. Right now it seems to be low season because even on Sunday when we arrived the whole strip was pretty dead. Mui Ne is slow and relaxed, and there’s not a whole lot to do. There is a jeep tour that we might check out, and we may surf, but for now we’re enjoying being VERY lazy.

Last night for our anniversary we were prepared to go somewhere “nice” that some new acquaintances recommended, then to a bar called “Pogo” that we had found on our own that looked fun.

While we got ready to go out Tom spotted this sunset:

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So, we went to the Dynasty Resort for dinner as planned. There was not a single person there, and a server had to be summoned by security to help us. The scene was picturesque. We ordered a drink and took a look at the menu. Nothing on the menu jumped out at us, so we decided that after this drink we would move on to the bar, hoping they would be serving food. We also noticed that in the 100+ rooms at this massive resort, only three rooms had lights on. Slow season indeed!

Well, this turned out to be the best decision we could have made. We enjoyed this delicious seafood hot pot:

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full of the most succulent, authentically Vietnamese broth; shrimp and squid; fresh veggies; and noodles. It was probably the most delicious thing I’ve had to date in Vietnam. Total cost, with two drinks: 100,000 dong, or $4.85. We fed our shrimp tails and other leftovers to a little beach cat who kept us company while we ate.

It was a quiet celebration of a big day. I feel so lucky to have spent 19 years – and so many incredible adventures – with Tom.

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Last night Tom and I went out in search of dinner, and found a place near our hotel that looked authentic enough, had tables outside on the street and a bit of a “breeze” (if you can even call it that). We sat down and were pleased to see a varied menu- while the restaurant called itself a purveyor of “Mexican, Vietnamese, and Chinese” food, nary a taco was on the menu. There were Chinese, Vietnamese, and Italian offerings, however. We ordered our food and drinks, and were soon joined by an Australian man who is, ironically, from the same part of Australia as our friend, Grover. This fact just made for even better conversation.

We traded travel stories and he gave lots of good advice about places to go and see in Vietnam, which was nice as I know that after Tom leaves I’m going to have some more time here and I want to get the most of that time.

While we were enjoying this conversation, a stiff, cool breeze blew through the street. “That feels like rain” I said. Our companion said that we’re only three weeks out from rainy season, so it could, in fact, rain on us.

The rain started slowly enough that while the women who worked in the restaurant put the street-side awning down I could remain seated under it. Everyone agreed that even though we were getting a little wet, the rain felt great.

The rain started to fall harder, and I had to move in towards the restaurant. The street in front of us filled up with water more and more rapidly, and then it happened: cockroaches of all sizes and shapes – mainly the kind as big as my thumb – were forced out of the swelling sewer and into the part of the restaurant directly under our feet.

The women who worked in the restaurant went into high gear, attempting to kill the roaches in the four feet’s worth of sidewalk between the street and the store. At first, there were only a few roaches, and as we pointed them out, one of the three would step on them or swat them with a broken shoe retrieved from somewhere in the restaurant, assumably reserved for this purpose. At one point a big roach scurried across Tom’s foot; they hid next to the legs of our chairs, in the cracks in the sidewalk – wherever they could. One woman brought out bowl after bowl of steaming water to pour over the sidewalk and the seams in the lid of the storm drain – a somewhat futile effort to kill them before the water level in the drain forced them into the sidewalk. It was like the plague!

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At one point two of the women freely stomped their feet all over the wet sidewalk in a kind of “La Cucaracha” dance. “Every soul is sacred!” I cried. We were all laughing and marveling at the wonder of this scene.

The rain and roaches increased to the point that we all had to move inside. The rain in the street had risen so high that the “puddles” on both sides of the street nearly touched.

As the rain slowed down and the puddles retreated, the women were able to start sweeping the roaches back into the sewer. They folded the outside tables and moved them to the side for this cleaning, then promptly set them back up to resume business.

As soon as he could, one of the young men who worked at this restaurant began sweeping the storm water towards the sewer, cleaning the street in front of the restaurant.

This is one of the most memorable nights I’ve had in Asia, by far.

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The trek to this temple today was as daunting as the incense in this photo is thick.

This is the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of the most authentic, alive pagodas I’ve seen in my travels. Dirty, incense-laden, teeming with worshippers, and with pools full of fish and turtles offered to the various and grotesquely beautiful Taoist and Buddhist characters depicted inside, I almost didn’t find this one – and when I figured out what road I had to cross to get there, I almost bailed. That would have been tragic. This is by far one of my favorite spots in Vietnam. It even depicts a “Chief of Hell,” Thanh Hoang, who was very creepy. The whole scene was surreal.

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After I made it, frogger-style, back across the street that had almost defeated me, I had a hair-raising moment of de zha vu during which I felt like I had been on the adjacent street before- maybe when i was lost?!? Seriously, it was weird. And at that moment I decided that I really like this city – heat and traffic aside.

I’m not going to detail today like yesterday because, after this pagoda it wasn’t that spectacular. Once again I sweated and itched my way around town; paid next to nothing to tour some great sights; and ate some amazing food. I’m liking Vietnam more and more.

So, to get oriented in Ho Chi Minh city today I thought I would take a foot tour. Chanh, the oh-so-helpful manager at my hostel circled our location and some of the main attractions on a map for me. I booked this place knowing that I wanted to be within walking distance to these spots, so that was a good sign. A side note: every time a guest leaves this place, one of the desk workers- and there are only two, who each work 12 hours a day!) asks, “where are you going?” This is not out of nosiness- it’s a real question, meant to find a way that they can help you with whatever you’re setting out to do. So, today, I replied, “Walking – you know, the main attractions.” “Okay, see you this afternoon” was the reply. Hmmmmm… I thought – Lonely Planet calls this a six hour tour; I’m pretty fast, and I’m not going to do the whole thing today; and it’s only 9:30ish. That was a good clue that I would be covering a bit of ground.

I got out of the alley where the hostel is, and was quickly greeted with, “Lady – you want motorbike?” “Where you go? I take you.” It’s moments like these that I’m so glad I’ve been here before – I know that these guys need to make a buck, and EVERY time I look at my map, I’m going to hear this. It’s just a way of life in Vietnam.

I will say, though, that the moto drivers in HCMC are much less aggressive in their style than those in Hanoi were, and for the most part, when I said “No, thank you” I was left alone. Even when I was red-faced, dripping in sweat, and turning my map every which way. Which was most of the day.

The first major victory, besides fending off moto drivers, was remembering how to cross the street without getting killed. I have described this activity before and won’t go into too much detail here other than to say that you have to have nerves of steel and go for it – no hesitation, changing of pace, running, faking, or swerving allowed. It’s find your opening, go, and keep going. Starting out in rush hour traffic this morning made this intimidating at first, but after a couple of streets I was good. I even jaywalked a couple of times (like I said – find your opening and go!)

Following the Lonely Planet plan LOOSELY, I headed towards the Fine Arts Museum. Found it easily, paid my 15,000 dong (roughly 73 cents) and stumbled around the museum. I was unimpressed at first- the organization was tough to figure out; there were pieces all over the place, being moved around, swapped, and even stored in plain sight. Well, then I got to the “main” building that houses the real gems, in particular the Chinese- styled pen and ink drawings; wood carvings; American War inspired portraits; and the Vietnamese lacquers – fabulous! Then I was on to the next sight, deviating from the Lonely Planet plan and not taking the “cool down and hydrate” break that was recommended. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake, but I compensated later.

I found a “main” cross-street that I had been looking for and immediately realized I had found the financial district. Air con wafted from every doorway, prompting me to sit on a ledge next to a bank door for a quick second. An American tourist, 50-ish, approached me and asked me if I spoke English. Heh! Then asked me if I knew where the Saigon Market was. I had no idea, but I had a map and he didn’t (duh!) so we looked at it together and attempted to locate this market. He said, “You know- where they sell the North Face stuff?” I still had no idea, and could much less understand why he would be trying to buy North Face stuff in downtown Saigon. Meanwhile (and I spotted this out of the corner of my eye) a local moto driver ambushed us, and asked, “Where are you going?” My tourist “friend” proceeded to ask him where this market was, and the local told him where it was as I backed away… Slowly… Because the next line is ALWAYS “I take you there!” and angry words when the tourist refuses the ride. Sigh.

I lost this guy ASAP and proceeded towards the structure referred to as both “Reunification Palace,” and “Independence Palace” – paralleling my utter confusion about the American/ Vietnam conflict and how to refer to any of this, especially as an American, and especially when speaking to locals about it. Along the way I encountered the gloriously renovated opera house, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, and other landmarks. I traded travel and life stories with a Filipino couple who sought shade in the same square foot in which I attempted, with futility, to cool myself; I got lost several times; and I finally found “The Palace” as I will now refer to it. Closed from 11 to 1. It was 11:30- great! I was so thirsty and hot by this time I desperately sought a Coke from the closest purveyor. Walked into a park kiosk and asked for a Coke (universal, right?) and was presented with a menu that translated “Coke” to “Coke.” I again ordered a Coke and was handed a can of Coke, with a straw, in a plastic bag. Now, those of you who know me know the disdain I have for plastic bags in kind of a general way, and specifically, when it comes to the excess of them in Asia, but It FINALLY dawned on me today whey people here do this: cold beverages, like American tourists, sweat profusely, and this bag is meant to keep the sweat from the can from getting all over the place. No mind that “all over the place” in this case means all over my legs, which would be fine, given how hot it is, but people here actually dress nicely, and they don’t tend to pit out their shirts in a mere ten minutes. It’s amazing how things start to make sense…

I killed some time eating lunch at a place that was kind of like a food court, traditional Vietnamese-style, but with no A/C (I can’t even describe this) and was literally begging for a glass of water by the time I sat down. Too bad the person next to me had to translate that for me:) Ahhhhh….. The glamorous life of a tourist! Apparently we only drink bottled water and, although in Saigon the water is perfectly okay to drink, no one does it.

After lunch I killed some more time checking out the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, then headed back to “The Palace” just in time to sneak around before the 1:00 organized tour put that whole group on the very same trajectory. “The Palace” is preserved in such a Brady-Bunch late 60s early 70s way- it’s meant to be intact, the way it was in 1975, and I can tell anyone alive in that year that it pretty much takes you right back there. There are historical reasons for this that again confuse the heck out of me. I learned a lot in a photographic history in the basement – the only air conditioned part of this whole journey, aside from my room in the hostel. Mainly, I learned that I have a lot more to find out before I have even a rudimentary understanding of what is referred to here as “The American War.”

I wandered out the back door of “The Palace” and found a curb to sit down upon. I was hot, tired, overwhelmed- I couldn’t imagine conquering another long walk, museum, fact about our war, or sight. I just sat there for long enough that I felt conspicuous – no one else was out on that side of the site except those who worked there.

After i decided that I was being a wimp for being so hot, I got up and started walking back to my hostel. A few “Lady- you need motorbike!”-s later I was back in my room, basking in the sweet, sweet air conditioning.

When I was quizzed by one of the desk workers about what I had done, and how I had missed “The War Remnants” museum, he informed me, with a very serious face, that this was the one that I TRULY needed to see. Crap!!!

Well, since there’s a pagoda in the same general direction (only considerably further) I guess I’ll be experiencing more war atrocities and heat stroke tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Please pardon any typos- going to try to add photos tomorrow! Thanks for reading.

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Okay, so many of you heard my rants via Facebook re: the travels and travails of the beginning of this trip. If not (or if you’re even interested) here’s the skinny:

We had a lovely few days with Tom’s family down in Florida- beautiful May weather perfect for exercise, dock sitting, kayaking, and, of course alligator hunting and bird watching. We ate oysters and great home-cooked meals; got caught up with the Boylans; and were happy for a bit of rest and relaxation.

I knew Thursday was going to be a long travel day from Orlando to Singapore. Tom and I flew together back to Denver, and then the cascade of delays began. The weather in Denver was horrific, so planes needed to be de-iced in order to be cleared for flight. That delayed my flight to San Francisco a bit, but the Southwest crew boarded us and all seemed a go. Having experienced de-icing before, I knew it would delay us further, but as things weren’t progressing AT ALL, and it got later and later, I realized that I was not going to make my Singapore Air flight. We sat on that plane for about four hours, then were directed back to the terminal, flight canceled. I called Southwest to get booked on the next available flight; then called Singapore Air, only to be told that they over-sell every flight and could not confirm me on ANY flight until June, but that they could “wait list” me on flight(s) in the upcoming days, one at a time. In San Francisco. Tom came to the airport to pick me up and I slept for three hours at home.

When I woke up, I learned that my wonderful husband had been up all night fretting about my trip. Long story short, the ONLY chance I had of making the next SA flight out of San Fran was to fly Frontier – at 8:15 that morning. Which was also delayed, making a tight connection in San Fran, if at all.

On a fluke, right before I got on this delayed flight I called a Singapore Air number Tom had stumbled upon the night before but that hadn’t been answered when I called it. I got the voice mail of a woman in “refunds and rebooking.” I left her a plaintive message, and got on the flight to San Francisco, fingers crossed.

Finally, we were getting close to San Fran, and it looked like I was going to make the 2:10 flight to Spore- that is, if I had a seat on it. When we landed I anxiously fired up my cell phone and had a message from the very woman for whom I had left the massage: I had a confirmed seat, but she was “so very sorry” that she couldn’t accommodate my “special” meal request. I couldn’t even remember what that request had been or why I had made it and didn’t care! I quickly checked in online, grabbed my bag from the Southwest baggage office (IT had made it the night before while I had not- go figure?) and rushed to international departures with a boarding pass in hand and time to spare.

Once again, jumping a step ahead in my head, I then realized that if I didn’t show up for my hostel reservation in Singapore, that it could be forfeited altogether. I emailed the hostel telling them that I would not be there the night of the 13th (muddy thinking on my part, I have since realized) and when I landed in Seoul, received and email that my whole reservation had been canceled. Did a quick Skype call (free wifi!) and got conflicting reports from two different people at the hostel. Long story short- I didn’t have a bed there for ANY of my three nights in Spore!!! So the next task after the long flights to Singapore was to find a hotel to rest my weary head at 2 a.m. while not breaking my budget much more than that last-minute Frontier flight has already done.

NOT! This is Singapore, and, while it’s lovely and the people could not be nicer, my meager travel budget is being devoured at break-neck speed. I booked a Holiday Inn at the airport and paid a cab a heck of a lot of money to get me there.

The very accommodating James at the front desk informed me that I had, in fact gotten a great deal on a very expensive room, free breakfast, a pool, and a complementary late check-out (without asking for it). I literally cried.

I chose to break the bank a bit in the accommodations department and cut down on transport and meals out, staying all 3 nights at this very nice hotel. This choice was a good one, considering that having a quiet room, a comfy bed, and TV; free toiletries, towels, breakfast, and Internet ended up saving me in those areas while providing some creature comforts I might not enjoy once I move on to Vietnam.

I had a relaxing, enjoyable couple of days in Singapore and look forward to coming back to explore again, as there is certainly MUCH more to see and do here.

(Apologies for posting out of order- you know, it’s that Internet thing!)