October 18 and 19
We landed at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City (many still call it Saigon) around noon, and the ship wasn’t due to dock until 1 PM. When we were here in 2011, we were on a bigger ship and it had to dock well outside the city as it couldn’t come into the river. This required a long bus ride. One of the wonderful things about the size of the Insignia is that it can come in to these ports. Our ship is walking distance from the city.
Ho Chi Minh City is large and sprawling. This shot is taken from the airplane before we landed.
Since we had some time before we could board the ship, we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built during the time that the French were in control of Vietnam. 10% of the population is Catholic, 75% are Buddhist and the rest don’t practice any religion. The Cathedral is in the same square as the Central Post Office, one of the oldest buildings in the city. It was designed by the French architect Gustave Eiffel and the interiror has remained essentially untouched since its construction between 1886 and 1891.
We arrived back at the ship in pouring rain. This is the rainy season here, through the end of the month, and they have downpours almost daily.
After lunch and unpacking, we went out to find a shop that we went to on our last visit here. Here, young women painstakingly hand embroider exquisite works of art. We were on a tour last time – to the actual workroom which had a shop – and we were too time constrained to make an intelligent choice. Ever since, Norm has been looking at the shop online – it is called XQ – but we didn’t want to buy online. We found the shop and after quite a while comparing many items, we purchased a Vietnamese scene. This picture doesn’t do it justice, it is simply beautiful.
We spent time in the amazing market place. Then, Norm got a haircut for $5 while I had a pedicure. $2.50 if you just wanted a simple soak and pedicure, $7.50 if you wanted the bucket soak with exfoliation. I opted for the $7.50 version and it was about 90 minutes of pampering. On the ship, I don’t even want to tell you what they charge – it is a Canyon Ranch Spa, after all! Som’e of the ship crew arrived while we were there, upstairs, massages are $11, and they all had their massages there.
Our silk purchase is very large, so we decided to take a taxi back to the ship. You do have to negotiate a price and the driver said “15”. Norm asked “15 dollars?” and the driver laughed and said “no, 15,000 dong”. Well at 22,000 dong to the dollar, that was about 68 cents! We gave him $5 and he almost jumped out of the cab for joy. We also gave nice tips to the barber and nail people (and more than one worked on me!)
There are 9 million people in Ho Chi Minh City and 5 million motorbikes, the preferred method of communication here and in most of Asia. And watch out, they will run you over. We saw whole families on one bike, and also the things they carry on them – you can’t even imagine!
After dinner, the ship was showing “Good Morning Vietnam” so we went to the movie as it has been years since we saw it. Seeing it in Saigon and without Robin Williams in our world was really eerie.
Our tour today is a trip to the Mekong Delta and a cruise on the Mekong River.
On the way to the port, we visited the 150 year old Vinh Trang Pagoda. It is a combination of Vietnamese Khmer and French architecture. There are three large Buddhas here, standing, sitting and lying.
On the way to the port, our guide, Mr. Tuan, shared a lot of information about Vietnam. Rice is a huge product for them, they are second only to Thailand in rice exports. There are 100 different kinds of rice seed. Rice grows for 3 months and most farmers grow two crops a year, but in really rainy areas or seasons, like Cambodia, they have 3 crops. One of the societal problems is that after the rice is sold, the people have a lot of money. The men use it to drink, and our guide says it causes a lot of problems including death at young ages – 30’s and 40’s. In the country, you also see a lot of trash around, Mr. Tuan says that is due to lack of education. In the city, trash is picked up every day, but in the country, the people need to properly dispose of it and they often don’t do it.
We proceeded to the port of My Tho and boarded the riverboat. The Mekong is the 6th largest river in the world. It begins in the Tibetan Plateau and tumbles 2795 miles to the Mekong Delta and the South China Sea. In Vietnam, the river divides itself into dozens of tributaries and becomes the Cuu Long or Nine Dragons that fan out into a rich delta, covered with green rice paddies and orchards of coconuts, mangoes, pineapples and bananas. We passed stilt houses, fish and shrimp farms and all manner of boats. Many of them have eyes painted on to ward away the evil spirits. The fishing boats don’t though, because the farmers are afraid it will scare the fish.
Our guide on the boat was Hoa (which means flower). We went to Unicorn Island, one of four in the delta. The others are Dragon, Phoenix and Turtle. We don’t really know why.
We visited 3 different places on the island, walking between them. One was to taste local honey – the bees get the pollen from the longan tree flower. At another we sampled all of the fruits, jack fruit, dragon fruit, mango, pineapple and other local fruits. At the third, we watched the coconut candy making, from the cracking of the coconut, to the squeezing of the milk, to the churning, cutting and wrapping. We also tasted!
During part of the trip, we boarded these small boats to navigate a small area of a river tributary.
On the way back, Mr. Tuan talked about the war, the aftermath, the change in name from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City after the North became in control and Vietnam became one communist country. There is the one party, but like China, there is a lot of capitalism here.
Dinner tonight was a special one for the around the world passengers. We had duck and watermelon salad, a shrimp soup, pork belly Vietnamese style and we had the lobster pad thai as a main dish (beef terriaki was the other choice and it also looked delicious!) There was a kind of cream with ladyfingers for dessert. We had the cruise director, Leslie, as our table host and had a wonderful time. The show with a New Zealand singer, Chris Powley, was really great. He has a wonderful powerful voice.
Restful sea day tomorrow and we are looking forward to it.