"" Writer's Wanderings: From My Travel Journal - Vung Tau, (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam

Monday, August 12, 2013

From My Travel Journal - Vung Tau, (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam

Wednesday, November 14, 2007—Vung Tau, (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam

Reunification Palace
            Vung Tau. Our “tender” this morning turns out to be a hydrofoil jet boat that holds about 250 people. In ten minutes, we are ashore. The ship’s tenders we are told, take almost a half hour.
On our two-and-a-half hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we get a smattering of history. France and Japan occupied Viet Nam for years. In 1954, the country was divided into South and North Viet Nam. President Diem of South 
Viet Nam was murdered along with his brother just 21 days before Kennedy was assassinated. It is questionable whether Kennedy was responsible for the murder of the brothers. (No wonder there were so many conspiracy theories in Dallas.)

            If you look beyond the clutter and shoddy buildings, the countryside is truly beautiful. We pass some nice looking apartments and what appears to be a resort.

            More history: The war ended in 1975 and on April 28, 1986, the door opened to the outside world. In 1994, the USA lifted the embargo and in 1995, the US embassy opened in Hanoi. President Clinton was the first president to visit (2000) after the war.

The roads appear in good condition. There are few cars but quite a contingency of scooters!

We pass a tree farm. Something is made from the sap—latex?

Education is not compulsory. People have to pay for their children to go to school. Eighty percent receive an education.

 Our guide gives us the most profound statement of our whole trip: “Some people think Viet Nam is a war but actually it is a country.” I will remember that for a long time to come.

Hanoi is the political capital of Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh is the economic capital.

The Reunification Palace is our first stop in HCM. It was first built in 1861 and perhaps rebuilt or redesigned in the 1960s (I don’t understand what he says here). The president of South Viet Nam stayed here during the war. It was bombed again then and had to be rebuilt. The North Vietnamese plane that bombed it sits in the park outside along with some tanks from the war.

The “palace” is more like a huge meeting center with rooms full of tables and microphones and one large room set up with chairs and a podium behind which a large bust of Ho Chi Minh sits. The basement is the area where the South Vietnamese leaders were bunkered for the war. It has heavy walls like a bomb shelter. 

There are old radios and desks in some rooms, a large kitchen/dining area, a room where we are told President Diem slept, and a map room with a large poster listing the number of troops from foreign countries involved in the war. The guide points to the top of the list and says that is the United States number. It is larger than all the rest.

We drive through the city and marvel at the pretty parks that are dotted throughout. At the Notre Dame Cathedral, we stop for pictures and the opportunity to run across the street to purchase stamps from the huge post office. It resembles a large train station and reminds me of Grand Central in New York City. The stamps we buy are very nice—blue with a whale on them—and cheap.

After another photo shoot at the city hall, we stop at a temple. This one has unusual incense burning but similar to what we have seen in China and Japan, a wish/prayer is tied to the top of a cone shaped spiral of incense. The cone is about two feet high and a foot across at the base. It is lit at the base and as it burns, I guess it sends the prayer to heaven. I’m thinking your answer must come when it burns to the very top. We have to be careful of pieces of incense ash falling on our heads. 

In a small side room sits the god of good fortune and while we are admiring the artwork, one of the locals is feverishly praying and bowing with some sort of sheave of grain in his hands.

Lunch is a buffet of delights at a five star hotel. It was very nice with local spring rolls and unique pineapple fritters with chocolate sauce. Some of the other food was considered “international” but I didn’t recognize it. Still it was a delicious meal and there was no lazy susan.

We finish eating early and slip out to get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop in the lobby. It is a little bit of Western civilization and a welcome reprieve from all the noise and shuffling of a large group of tourists.

Followed closely by vendors, we stop at a lacquer factory. Workers sit along a trough of water and sand the lacquer ware with fine emery. As usual on the “factory” tours, we don’t learn a whole lot about the process but we do get a whole lot of opportunity to shop. We buy a small lacquered screen inlaid with mother of pearl for my dresser at home.

Outside, Bob enjoys an exchange with a street vendor over a lacquered box he wants for his mother. He gets the price down to $1 but when another group of tourists join him, the price suddenly jumps up to $3 again. We learn that if you get the vendors alone, the price will be lower but they won’t admit selling that low to a group of people.

Finally we arrive at the history museum for the primary reason we have come on this tour—to see the water puppets. We sit around a large square pool of water. At one end, there is a “stage” with three green screens hanging down into the water. Behind it is where the puppeteers stand.  We suspect the puppets must be on long poles. They fly through the water and perform their dance and tell their story. There are pyrotechnics when the dragon appears. It is amazing the control they have with all of their puppets. After the show, the puppeteers appear. There are six of them and I am even more amazed that so many could work in the small area behind the screen with all that equipment.

            We walk through the rest of the museum, are fascinated by a mummy, and then dash for the bus just before it begins to rain.

            This evening we have dinner in the personal choice restaurant with Molly and Fred. I like the atmosphere better than the main dining room. It feels more like you’ve gone out to eat at a nice restaurant. 

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