Our last days

We’ve been on many forms of transportation during our six months.  While comfortable and clean, our six hour bus ride from Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh City was a new experience for us.  The seats were organized into three rows stacked two high.  Each seat could recline to about a 30 degree angle so sleep was possible.  Important to note is that the seats are not designed for someone of my height.  Smile

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Once we reached Saigon, we got into two taxis.  Everyone except Mick and me took a taxi to a French restaurant where we had reservations.  Mick and I took the other one, along with everyone’s luggage, to our hotel.  In the flurry of bags being unloaded and our driver being too eager to leave quickly, I realized that we had left one of our computer bags in the cab.  In hindsight, this explained the driver’s hasty exit in spite of us asking him to take us to the restaurant.  He obviously knew he still had the computer in the car.  How maddening is that?  After 6 months and likely a hundred or so cabs, this happens.  An opportunistic driver cashed in on a used laptop.  The loss of the machine is secondary to the pictures and other travel files stored on this machine.  Thankfully, not much was lost but it’s the feeling of being duped that’s most disconcerting.  Mick and I spent the next hours scouring the streets for the driver back at the bus station but to no avail.  Ugh!  We wouldn’t, however, let this drag us down in our last days in Vietnam.

The next day, we said farewell to Mick and Miriam.  They were flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and the other incredible sites in the area.  We’re thankful to have had the time with them here in Saigon.  No doubt we’ll have great shared memories to talk about in the future.

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We spent the rest of our last day doing last minute shopping and other similar stuff.  Not being a big shopper, I took the opportunity to go to a barber.  I landed up getting my hair cut and washed, my beard trimmed, ears cleaned, face scrubbed, and neck/face/shoulder massaged for the whopping price of…wait for it…140,000 Vietnamese dong which is about 6 Canadian dollars!  As you can see in the picture below, the lady who provided the massage is tiny but, again, a strong young woman.

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Later in the day, we went to a tailor/seamstress shop to pick up a gown that had been made for Emily-Ann.  She’s pictured below with the woman who worked on her dress.

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Then, at about 11:30 p.m., we headed for the airport to begin our long journey home.  Our first flight, from Ho Chi Minh City to Shanghai, China departed at 1:55 a.m.  As we took to the air, leaving Vietnam behind us, we, rather unceremoniously, said to each other, “Well, look like Ho Chi Minh City is (sigh) gone”.  Smile

Mui Ne sunrise

I haven’t been getting great sleeps recently, waking up as I often have at 4:30 a.m. or so.  Perhaps it’s the anticipation of and/or reluctance to go home.  Being up that early though has afforded me a look at spectacular sunrises.

Before the sun rose in Mui Ne, I saw the fishermen heading out to set their nets and traps.  They use round boats for this.  The breeze was warm.  The only sound was that of the waves rolling rhythmically onto the shore.

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Back at the hotel, the warm light of the rising sun was gorgeous as it reflected in the infinity pool and the sea.

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A magical beginning to yet another perfect day!

‘Nam with the Neufelds

Mary-Anna’s sister Miriam and husband Mick flew into Ho Chi Minh City to spend a few days with us.  They are holidaying in Southeast Asia, dividing their time between Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  In Saigon, we went out for drinks at an Australian bar before dinner at a French restaurant.  Fantastic!

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After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, we all headed to the coastal city of Mui Ne.  There we stayed in a beautiful beachfront hotel called Lotus Village Resort.  Our rooms were amazing and we enjoyed the pool, the sea, the bar, and the restaurant.  We spent most of our time catching some sun and the hot temperatures, something we won’t experience again until summertime.

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Other than lazing in the sun, we lounged in beach restaurants, enjoying the varied cuisine and live music.

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Mui Ne functions largely as a destination for sun-seeking tourists and does a great job of catering to them.  According to one shop owner, about 90% of the tourists in Mui Ne are from Russia.  The language on signage of most establishments and menus reflects this.

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Mick and I went for massages one morning.  The woman in the picture with me below is the one who gave me an Asian massage which includes walking on me and twisting my limbs into pretzel-like shapes.  She’s tiny but very strong!

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Our time in Mui Ne was laid back and relaxing.  It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with Mick and Miriam, building amazing memories.

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HCMC – a city of contrasts

Ho Chi Minh City is a city characterized by its old-world charm interwoven with the frenzied pace and development of a burgeoning metropolis; communist conservatism juxtaposed with incursions of a new capitalism.

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Farewell at The Rex

Saigon’s Rex Hotel has a storied past.  It was “made famous during the Vietnam War when it was hosting the American military command’s daily conference, derisively named “The Five O’Clock Follies” by cynical journalists who’d find the optimism of the American officers to be misguided. Its rooftop bar was a well-known hangout spot for military officials and war correspondents” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rex_Hotel

The first picture below is of the Rex.  The other shots are taken from the Rex’s rooftop bar.

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Harold and Terry were particularly interested in visiting both this hotel and the nearby Hotel Continental because of the connection these establishments had with the American war in Vietnam.  The three of us walked through these hotels and stopped for a drink at the famous rooftop bar of the Rex.

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On our last day with Juanita, Harold, Bev, and Terry, we all met at the rooftop bar of the Rex.  Here we had our last lunch together and said farewell.

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We had a wonderful time with these dear friends and family.  I so appreciate them making the extra effort to come to spend time with us in Saigon.  We have many, many great memories from our time together here on ‘the other side of the world’.

Saigon rocks

Juanita, Harold, Bev, Terry, Glen, and our family had dinner together most evenings.  Glen brought us to a variety of incredible restaurants.  On the first night, the restaurant’s menu included field rat and scorpions.  After dinner one night, Glen brought us to a local night club where he said we’d see local talent on stage.  Well, did we ever!

I don’t even know the name of the band that was playing but was very impressed with their talent.  Even before we entered the club, we could hear the band playing Boot Scootin Boogie.  When we got inside, we were surprised to see five Vietnamese guys on stage dressed in cowboy hats, blue jeans, and cowboy boots.

The band played old rock and roll cover tunes including Lynard Skynard, Creedance Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, and many others.  For a part of their set, the guys on stage were joined by a young woman whose voice was a perfect fit.  They all were absolutely amazing!  It was just so unreal hearing these perfect covers in a bar in Saigon.  I loved it!

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Firing an AK-47

At the Cu Chi Tunnels, you can choose to fire a variety of weapons used during the Vietnam War.  Yup, that’s right, you take a look at the dozen or so guns available, ranging from the huge M60 machine gun to the much smaller M1 Carbine rifle.  You then pay for bullets ($2.00 per bullet; minimum of 10 bullets per gun) and head to the firing range where you don earphones.  A Vietnamese man brings the bullets to the guns and loads them.  You’re ready to fire a vintage military weapon!

Emily-Ann, Aaron, Harold, and I took this opportunity.  We chose to fire two guns, a M30 machine gun and an AK-47.

The guns are secured to steel posts or tall ‘counters’ at the firing line.  When firing, one aims at a target area several hundred metres away.  When you shoot, the spent cartridges fly through the air around you.

It was an incredible feeling to fire these military weapons.  They are LOUD and powerful.  The sheer volume of these weapons must have made an ominous sound in the jungles of this country during those war years.

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Aaron with M30

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The Cu Chi Tunnels

The ingenuity of the Viet Cong may not have been more evident than at the Cu Chi Tunnels.  Located a mere 60 kilometres from the South Vietnamese capital city of Saigon, these tunnels provided the Viet Cong with access to hundreds of square kilometres of South Vietnam.

In order to combat better-supplied American and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, Communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong (VC) dug tens of thousands of miles of tunnels, including an extensive network running underneath the Cu Chi district northwest of Saigon.  Soldiers used these underground routes to house troops, transport communications and supplies, lay booby traps and mount surprise attacks, after which they could disappear underground to safety.  To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces trained soldiers known as “tunnel rats” to navigate the tunnels in order to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence.  Now part of a Vietnam War memorial park in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the Cu Chi tunnels have become a popular tourist attraction.(http://www.history.com/topics/cu-chi-tunnels)

We visited these tunnels and experienced how intricate and tiny they were.  The following pictures show how the small Vietnamese soldiers could slip into the tunnel entrances (the size of a typical piece of printer paper) and ‘disappear’.  The second set of pictures shows Harold demonstrating the same thing.  American soldiers were generally too large to enter and navigate the tunnels.

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There are sections of the tunnels you can still enter and move through.  The spaces are small, dark, and hot.

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The Viet Cong cleverly disguised their air and cooking vents by hiding them in termite mounds.

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An American tank still sits where it was disabled by an improvised mine.

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The Viet Cong were masters of guerrilla warfare.  Part of this included the use of vicious booby-traps to injure, kill, and ultimately terrorize their enemies.  Working examples of some of these booby-traps are on display.  Most of the supplies needed to make the traps, mines, and other items of sabotage were taken from both exploded and unexploded ordinance dropped by the American B-52s.

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During our visit to these tunnels, we talked about the sheer terror the American soldiers must have felt to never know where an enemy might pop up out of the ground or where a treacherous booby-trap full of spikes might be waiting.  Knowing that the Viet Cong operated above ground during the night meant that traps and treachery were always new come daylight.  Fighting in the vast areas above the tunnels this must have created panic and fear, wearing down the American soldiers day by day.

The Cu Chi Tunnels showed us a new side of the conflict in Vietnam.  That is, the subversive and vicious acts of guerrilla war and the terror it must have incited in the opponents. 

We’ve visited so many places in the world which commemorate conflicts throughout human history.  We learn from history that we don’t learn from history.

On the Mekong Delta

As part of our time together with Juanita, Harold, Bev, and Terry, we spent a day in the Mekong River Delta.  We drove several hours from Saigon to Ben Tre where we went to a brick factory.  Several large ovens, fed by burning coconut husks, fire the mud bricks for about a week.  The result are the reddish bricks used in construction throughout the country.

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We boarded a long boat and headed up the Mekong.  This part of Vietnam is the centre of the country’s coconut industry.  Along the river, we saw boatloads of coconut being transferred by hand to processing plants.  We also stopped to see a small processing plant where the coconuts are husked by hand and the flesh is cut out by hand.  Of course we got to eat coconut and drink coconut milk.

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Next to the coconut husking area is a muddy creek.  Here, Aaron was the first to notice the mudskippers.  These little fish are as comfortable living in the water as they are living on land.  Fascinating creatures!

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We continued along the Mekong, at times snaking our way through narrow waterways in the delta.

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We disembarked near a village market which, not surprisingly, sold mostly fish.

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We made our way across a bridge to see a group of 4 women making floor mats, place mats, and the like.

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A ride in a large tuk tuk brought us to the pier where we boarded a large boat.

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Once on board, we rolled up our sleeves and made spring rolls.  We had a delicious lunch.

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At this point, our boat made its way along a wider section of the Mekong River, returning to Ben Tre.  From there, we drove back to Saigon.

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We all had a blast together on this excursion to the delta.  A huge thanks goes to Juanita who organized all of it!

The Mimosa Room

Well, well…it’s deja vu all over again.  It’s been several times in Asia that I’ve run into the name of my sister Mimosa.  It’s not a common name in Canada but since there’s a tropical plant called Mimosa, we ran into it often in India.  And, it was back in Australia that we visited Mimosa Rocks National Park.  Now in Saigon while together with my other sister Juanita, we came across the Mimosa Room while exploring the prestigious Rex Hotel.  It was almost like a family gathering…almost.

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