A Travellerspoint blog

some thoughts on vietnam

just a few of my impressions

so much energy, so many people, all the young people out at night, in big city saigon and tiny chao dac, the kids are cruising on their motorbikes, girls and boys, sometimes as couples, sometimes one on a bike... zoom zoom, the air is warm and moist, the streets are full of action. it is a country full of young people, full of families with 2 and 3 kids, everyone wants a better future, sees a chance to do better than their parents did. not yet so rich, but hoping for more. there are too many people for too few jobs, young men lounge on their motorbikes, hoping to do taxi duty.. everyone has a small side business, maybe selling boat rides, or taking tourists on tour, or promoting some business... but for a country that was devastated by years of war and then by embargo, there has been enormous progress to a modern economy where everyone has enough to eat, a cell phone, and now even a motorbike...

people express friendship toward the US, seeing the difference between the people and the past government actions. yes, we are now friends.. but there is anger still at the legacy of the war, the lasting and still acting effects of agent orange, of dioxin, the poisoned land and poisoned soldiers who fathered deformed children.. the children are grown ups now, but still the dioxin persists. 10 years ago clinton promised help, but not much has been done. do we even know what to do to fix the problems? only recently did we even acknowledge that american soldiers were also sickened by the chemicals... it is so much easier to destroy than it is to build.

the government seems to want to encourage business. met a fellow on the boat to cambodia, said he and his family are here to set up sending "silage", food for dairy cows, from alberta canada to VN! and if it looks like it will work, the government will be one of the investors... not enough land here to grow alfalfa, and the cows are just eating farm leftovers, so they aren't producing much milk... he thinks that they will make enough more milk to justify shipping hay to vietnam... says the soldiers don't have strong bones and teeth, not enough calcium as kids... i think it is a very odd, probably bad idea... not so local to ship alfalfa!! there must be other ways to get calcium that would be a lot more ecological, or at least logical!!

Posted by danydena 05:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

on the road again, on the back of the bike

what they told you not to do

semi-overcast 87 °F

so here's the plan, take two motor bikes about 85 kilometers to a little island near a floating market, stay overnight with a vietnamese family that doesn't speak english, then get up in the morning and go out by boat to see a floating market, and tour around in some canals. ok, sounds interesting, i am only scared to death to get on the back of the bike, sit behind some guy who doesn't know that oh, please slow down means SLOW DOWN, i am terrified... and what if i really cannot do this and we are 20 kilometers down the road? and lots of what ifs. so of course we sign on, and the two moto drivers show up, both nice and not total speedsters... especially because they have our rolling suitcases tucked on the front, and us on the backs...wearing helmets, as that is definitely the law here, everyone except little kids (how does that make sense?) has to wear a helmet, unlike in NM where you are allowed to fall on your unprotected head do awful damage to yourself if you like... off we go, at first on the highway, then oh hurray, onto little roads with rice paddies all green on the sides, then crazy nurseries growing potted plants to sell in saigon for tet (new year, coming beginning of feb) the vietnamese call the plants in pots bonzai, and lots of them are little trees, also whole arbors of trained vines, and dragons and shapes and all sorts of flowers. really strange, and very pretty. everything in neat rows with people working to get the leaves just right! and trucks full of plants, and motorcycles with plants strapped on... everything goes on a motorcycle... including ladders, windows with glass, baskets of ducks, entire market stalls, ...

On the road to Chau Doc

On the road to Chau Doc

we stop for lunch, mmm soup and meat and vegies, then go down the road and have drinks and a nap in a hammock cafe... coffee, tea, sodas, cocnut... for about fifty cents you buy a drink and the use of a hammock under a tree. we lay in the hammocks, and both of us fall asleep! i think we were there about an hour.. very relaxing, maybe a good idea to bring home? off again on the bikes, and finally after 4 hours of travel, arrive at a biggish town, Vinh Long. we neet the boatman/homeowner, get into his boat, and head across the river to the island.. off the boat, walk down a narrow dirt path past fish ponds and vegetable gardens, and get to the house.


it is an old wooden house, couple of rooms, with grandma, grandfather, mother, father, 3 kids, and assorted friends/relatives. and chickens, cat, and dog, all hanging out. the moto drivers each go the the bath room and take showers, then we ask to get clean too. the bath room is a little room with some water buckets, a dipper, and couple of towels. dan goes first. is it cold? no room temperature. i'm next - and yes, it is cold- pouring water down my back is not cozy!! but i am a lot happier with the road dirt washed off!!

mom goes to the kitchen - a separate add-on room in the back- to start dinner. i follow her, and watch as she cooks dinner for about 15 people on two tiny woodburning stoves. she cuts up vegies and rolls fish balls to make a fish stew, and fries two big whole fish, carefully turning them over using chopsticks, from somewhere there is a chicken dish, and a huge pot of rice. it is all served up with tea and little glasses of rice whiskey. maybe one of the best meals i've ever had!! and all done in the smoky dark little kitchen room with a broken chair for a shelf and all the smoke blackened pots hung on nails on the wall.

our bed is in the living room, and as special guests, we get a mattress on a big wooden plank. the moto drivers don't get a matress, just a thin woven mat on their plank. with a mosquito net for both privacy and to keep out the bugs, we are pretty comfy.

the toilet is another matter... it is down a dirt path, then onto two boards that lead out over a pond like tiny pier. on the pier is a plywood box that you squat in... oh no, cannot!! well, enough said.

the boat ride in the morning was interesting, through some canals, lots of fruit trees,,, the big boats are fruit wholesalers, little boats pull up alongside and buy from them... only disappointmnet, we couldn't buy as it is all in big amounts.

then we go again on the motorcycles, out to the highway to get the bus to the next destination: along comes a little van, the moto drivers flag it down, and that's our bus... slow ride, with a flat tire on the way, and we arrive here, to chao dac... P1050039


skipped the sightseeing, just went to the market, hung out with the fruit vendors and looked at dried fish and multicolored beans and noodles and vegetables familiar and strange... i do love markets, the abundance, the freshness, the colors, the smells. people going about their business, yelling out what they have and trying to get noticed.. lots of hubub, bicycles, motorbikes going right down the aisles. people trying to sell pickled cabbage and strange sugar candy.

Posted by danydena 05:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

mekong delta

busses and fireflies

hmm, just lost my whole post!! ah well...again:

left comfortable air con, slick saigon - got a bus from the cholon... station, hot city bus, stops at every corner, we buy hot coconut cookies from a stand out the window, P1040879.jpgbuy a baguette through the window, oh switch buses at this corner, ok, next bus is even rattier, seats too high, the feet don't touch the floor, hour and a half of dust and heat and we are on the edge of my tho..., 2 moto guys say "ride into town?" sure, hop on bags between their knees, daypack in the basket, and they take us to a big hotel just barely in town. we start walking to town, and walk and walk, dragging our suitcases behind us. like walking in LA , no one walks in LA, and i know why! - it is hot, we are making no progress to anywhere. sit and drink a coffee, decide to get a moto back to the ferry and just go on to the next town.. ask about a moto, and fellow who speaks english says no ferry, now a bridge, i'll get you 2 motos to take a look at a place just over the bridge, in the country.. ok, so off we go with 2 nice older guys, not hotshot drivers, but the bridge is ENORMOUS and very high and i am a bit terrified, but soon we are in ben tre driving along a tiny banana and coconut tree-lined alley, kids on bicycles, beep, more motos, and there we are, a thatched roof over a bunch of tables, another thatch roof over the kitchen/bar/office, and some solid little houses, and all around fish ponds and a garden, hammocks and bicycles. stay here? IMG_9059.jpg oh yeah... we get a big air con room with window, very nice.
all this for $15 night.

do we want to go by boat on the mekong? yes, we do! uncle comes to take us - he is in his 60's, worked as a translator for the US during the war.. nice guy, skinny and strong, i can almost understand him... we get on a biggish motor boat, set out through the canal, then stop at a fruit farm where we are presented with a table covered in tropical fruits. i am in heaven, dan is not quite as thrilled, but oh, tiny bananas and dragon fruit and longans and rose apples... and the tiniest, sourest tangerines in the world, and honey tea. do we want to buy a plastic bottle of honey? or maybe rice whiskey? banana whiskey? sure, and i can see these plastics opening in the suitcase... oooh not so good! instead we get a cd from the locals who are playing traditional music and singing as we eat fruit. even if it doesn't play in the US, it won't get all over the underwear... then back into the boat, and into tiny canals where we change to a canoe thing paddle by a woman who stands in the stern with a single oar...2P1040890.jpg slide along through the green, too amazing for words,- then a few more stops, and finally, magic: it is full dark, the boat is going close along the bank, and the trees are full of fireflies!! like live christmas lights... the male fireflies are putting on a show for the girls... it is so beautiful, so quiet, so magical.

today we ride the bicycles on the little palm lined alleys , calm and green. P1040920.jpg then lunch with the locals, no idea what dan had but it was like beef stew with carrots and the best gravy imaginable, slurped up with a baguette. i had, of course, pho with yet more green herbs... no picture of this, the folks there thought we were pretty weird as it was!

now relaxing at the computer and sleeping in hammocks...

Posted by danydena 00:49 Comments (0)

we go fancy

other sides of saigon

as mentioned in the previous blog, we decided to experience another side of saigon - lots of rather posh boutique hotels have sprung up close to city center, close to the big Ben Thanh market.
ben thanh market fruit

ben thanh market fruit

as we walked around we thought , let's have a look, let's see how much. so we did, and realized that we could splurge - on our second day! for only $30 usd, and move 'way up in comforts, in a different neighborhood.. found the Tan Hoa Ngoc, 29 Thu Khoa Huan St D1, a newish 8 story hotel with elevator. we both giggled when we saw the bathroom- italian minimal, big shiny tiles, glass panel shower with giant shower head, slick sink, and a very snazzy toilet. this is way calssier than we ever stay in the US! oh yes, computer terminal in the room, on which i am currently typing, and a flat screen tv next to it... yikes! staff is friendly, helpful.
night riders

night riders

morning pastries

morning pastries

went to yet another part of the city : cholon [quote] the original china town of saigon has a huge market, jampacked with stuff you neither need nor want, but fascinating in its dedication to commerce and abundance of STUFF, mostly dried fruit, straw hats, cheap plastic hair ornaments, and household items... stacked steel bowls ranging from scramble an egg size up to wash the 2 year old size... the area is neither gentrified nor charmingly old fashioned, rather it felt, as we rode there on the #1 city bus, the way i imagine much of saigon used to be - left over french style 2 and 3 story solid houses with louvred shutters, tiled or corrugated roofs, mixed with newer but corroding stucco 3-6 story buildings, all covered with a blackish layer of tropical moldiness, most bearing signs in vietnamese and in chinese characters, with some English names (donut shop!, wow store, saigon ink-yes definitely a tattoo place) thrown in. streets so narrow the bus barely gets through, 20 minute ride into another era.. hot, crowded, didn't stay very long, but really really interesting..
edge of the market, tay binh

edge of the market, tay binh

and that's how you get it home

and that's how you get it home

oldy but goody

oldy but goody

so today, if all goes well, we are off tho the mekong delta, first to a close town about an hour and a half by bus.. My Tho. from there, several other towns, lots of floating markets, fruit, humidity... i think internet may be harder to come by, so check in but don't think we've fallen off the world if we don't write for a while!!

Posted by danydena 14:48 Comments (1)

in saigon

food food food, beep beep beep

sunny 80 °F

arrived saigon yesterday, about noon, after flying for what felt like forever, but was only 18 hours, airport a crush of people, taxi touts, waiting relatives, new arrivals looking for luggage.
bags in hand, we head out into the hot humidity of the city.

taxi to our guesthouse, skinny building, 2 rooms to a floor in a tiny alley on a sleepy side street. (Ngoc Son, 178/32 Co Giang St D 1) yes, they are in LP, and you can make reservation on the internet). Nice and clean, bathroom functional, rather steep stairs, tho someone did volunteer to carry my bag. (i said no!) staff really nice, tho limited english. $18 USD for a suite, all that was available... no room for a car in the alley, really only enough space for a single motorbike, we have to slide over to let the "beep beep here i am bike" pass. food stalls in the alley, on the streets. always a chance to sit in miniature plastic chairs and eat. soup, with beautiful herbs, shredded papaya with dried beef (yeah, i tried it, thought it was mushroom or seaweed, but it was black dry beef) . people friendly, smiley, they have seen enough foreigners to know that we can't talk, but we point and spend anyway. went to bed early, on some weird schedule, half way across the pacific, our bodies have not caught up yet.

morning, the streets come to life. we go down the alley into breakfast street, dozens of street stalls, soup, omelettes, sandwiches, coffee and more coffee, we find this here, that there, bring it together for breakfast at yet another kindergarten sized table/chair set. people watching, i see that the ladies wear the most wonderful pj sets, all colors imaginable, top and bottoms match, then maybe another print/color, with a long sleeved shirt over that - it is winter, after all, tho it is in the 70's.. took lots of photos of the pj wearers, but cannot up load.. ah well, techno fooled again.

breakfast street turns into wet market in a couple of blocks- fruit vegetables, fish, meat, all laid out along the road. and of course a booth selling heaps of the colorful pj's.. small town in saigon.

we leave food paradise and head out to buy eyeglasses! incredibly inexpensive (are they really RayBans for $20?) and made up with lenses in 3 hours, $50 for a pait of prescription glasses. Dan's were 1/2 again as much foro progressive lenses, took a day. Lots of shops on this street, we didn't look at them all- this one was great. He Thong Manh Long Optics, 09 Truong Dinh Q 1.

then wander into the huge market, Ben Thanh, full of everything, tourist stuff, more pj's (of course!) dried fruit, fresh fruit, coffee, toenail clippers, bolts of fabric, prepared foods. hot, crowded, hey, buy this look MADAM, you must see this, too much excitement, can only laugh and want to see it all!

later we go to the night market surrounding BT, yet more stuff in temporary booths, very elaborate, whole restaurants appear, tables with white cloths, chairs, florescent lights, kitchens, grills. all crowded, full of vietnamese people, foreigners, and us! i am so confused by the menu, and so wanting to try EVERYTHING that i almost cry... finally settle on spicy fish, yes small size, and rice and morning glory greens, and spring rolls to start, and beer... the spring roles appear, enough for a group of six. but too delicious to believe! then the morning glory and rice arrive, greens with garlic, mmmm. and the, oh my , the not so big fish, as big as moby dick, but so beautiful, rubbed with chili and grilled perfectly... we ate til we couldn't eat any more, and then ate more still... gave away the huge remaining stack of spring rolls to our new friends at the table, got the bill, and realized we had spent a princely $15... a fortune for food, and nothing for a magnificent meal.

switched hotels, went from village saigon to uptown classy. new hotel has computer, internet in the room, flat screen tv, elevator to our eighth floor perch. bathroom is a cross between italy and sci-fi, all sleek tile and minimalist plumbing. no wet market, but now we are directly across from BT, the almost uncrossable street filled with motorbikes, beep beep, i'm here, occasional cars and buses, just walk slowly across, the moto traffic splits and flows around people like water flows around rocks in the river, and still the hotel people are friendly, laugh at my attempts to say things in vietnamese - with its 8 tones, a mispronounced syllable causes a word to completely change meaning... i'm i speaking gibberish? oh yes...


not really doing the sights... we are focusing on hanging out, experiencing the city... so out to see some more! saw couples practicing ballroom in the park this am, 8 o'clock, late really, everyone on the way to work, beepbeep, get out of the way of the buses, they don't stop, and now,out to see Chinatown market ...

Posted by danydena 17:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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