December 15-16

Coming into Ho Chi Minh City from the airport I'm reminded that India is in Asia too.

Back in the mid-70s the winners of what they call The American War went on a renaming binge and hence Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. It's odd that 'City' in English is part of the name but so it seems. I've not heard anyone say Ho Chi Minh 'something else'. There are a lot of signs in Vietnamese that just say Ho Chi Minh and that might be refering to the city too.

All these pictures are from the central District 1 in HCMC. This area is still (semi?)officially Saigon so that's why it is especially confusing.
Not 30 minutes in Vietnam and there's this, out the window of the taxi. Count the Santas or rather 'how many Santas can dance on the back of a bike.'
There are many many more of these amazing incongruous Santa displays. So many, but I will spare you. Maybe. There's a lot of tin foil decorating like this place - whole big trees are wrapped in tin foil - but also there's snow made of broken up bits of styrofoam glued to the wall.

This is the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Santa.
It was pouring rain when I finally arrived at my hotel. It was that classic tropical rainstorm - hot, muggy, and pouring rain.

My last night in Korea the temperature was -10c and when I arrived in Vietnam it was +34c. HotColdHotCold, no problem. I'm on the road!
I was asking at the hotel front desk about getting a plug converter for my computer. They didn't have any on hand but when the rain stopped this fellow walked with me and we got it for about 50 cents. Thank you!

They have an internet connection in the room here so I'm set-up in luxury.
Stuff is for sale like this, just along the sidewalk and also there are open shops just a step from the road... people pull up on their bikes to do their shopping.
On every block at least one of the shops sells books, magazines, and newspapers and you see people reading everywhere even just sitting on their bikes by the shops.

Also coffee. The coffee is Deee-lish. They say it's the French influence. I'll take a picture of the brewing method tomorrow. No instant coffee here!
Another French influence is the style and quality of the bread. Yummy good. This is a stand on the sidewalk and similar ones are everywhere, most smaller with fewer ingredients than this one but all have the same yummy french rolls.
I always wondered how they made these things! I still don't know exactly but...

The one woman spreads this slurry of rice-water on what looks like a hot stone (but why doesn't the slurry stick? That's the question.) She covers the first container for as long as it takes her to open the second one, retrieve the cooked skin and put it on the plate, and re-coat the stone. Then she opens the first and continues the process 1-2-1-2 crying out for carpal-tunnel injury.

The other woman cuts it in four parts on the plate, puts in some of the meat mixture, and folds it up. The restaurant was packed with people slurping up these babies as fast as they could make them.
Here comes the bride! There are many churches in view and at this one, Notre Dame Cathedral, the happy couple are having their wedding album made.
One of those Take My Picture Talk My Picture scenes. I don't know what that hand gripping gesture is but he's smiling anyway so I'm hoping it's not bad!

Does anyone out there know?
I have to study the guide book more carefully to figure out what this place is. It was icky and weird and the creepiest place I've seen in Asia. I'll not go into details but just say that it had something to do with turtles...
Then I wandered into this place entirely by accident. It's access is by small streets and it's just sitting there amid houses and small shops.
This is what it looks like inside! It might be the Mariamman Hindu Temple?
And on the balcony.
As I approached this woman called out and sent this boy to lead me through the temple. He was clearly disabled but very sweet and the woman, his mother or his Auntie I'd guess, was just loving on him so big it was a pleasure.

He pointed to a pot and told me to put in money so I did (not much knowing me) and when I turned my back he grabbed it up and then as I walked away he flourished the bill to his mother/Auntie with great enthusiasm. I had to smile.
This made me stop! Notice the American flag at the upper left. This is the American Embassy and why there were crowds of people across the street just sitting and watching - I have no idea!

The purpose of this outing was to go to the Cambodian Embassy to get a visa and I'll be walking back later to get it. 12,500 steps and counting!
December 16

The river of cyclists pouring out of every street. We really need the sound track that goes along with this - the engine noise and every vehicle having its own honking rhythm. There are also plenty of busses and cars and a few bicycles but these motorcycles and scooters dominate the streets.

You've got your men, women, and children. The face scarves I think are because of the pollution since they remove them indoors.
Hi cutie. A woman was selling these hats on the street. The mothers seemed to be taking more interest than the kids.
The lobby of my hotel. The shrines are in every building just like the nail ladies have them in LA. And of course you've got to have a plastic Christmas tree. 'Tis the season!
It's not surprising I guess about the churches here since there's been a strong Catholic presence in the south for generations.

These women had the awed expression you often see around religious monuments. They were adoring the Mary statue and ritually touching its base.
A bakery shop... and a gingerbread cathedral.
December 17

As well as the busy neighborhood streets I've been taking pictures in, Saigon has wide and gracious boulevards surrounding the primary government buildings and the big western style hotels.
This is the top floor lounge/bar/restaurant at the primo Rex Hotel where a glass of wine costs more than last night's dinner. I did go on a bit of a spending spree today as I'm leaving tomorrow morning at SIX AM.

I had my regular lunch time pho and dinner french sandwich in air conditioned restaurants instead of on the street - $15. I bought that glass of wine up here - $4, an International Harold - $3, site admissions - $2. And I took a taxi back from my day's outing - $2. And I got a FAN-Tastic massage at the place around the corner from my street - $10.
I tried to take pictures on my street but nothing is working so here are some Santas instead. My street is 99% perfect and that other 1% might be because I haven't found it, it being an actual market. Still, I'm lovin' 99%

I could have that massage every day and be happy. There's a bank that takes my card, both corners have great french sandwich stands, there are dozens of restaurants with a lot of Japanese as well as Vietnamese, Italian, coffee bars, a video stand, internet bars, you get the idea...
...and it's exactly two blocks from the chic-chic-est corners of Caravelle, Sheraton, and Rex hotels.
Following are shots in the War Remnants Museum. It is basically a lot of dire photos you'll recognize...
...and machinery of war.
More photos and machinery.
The winners.
December 18

The hotel in HCMC arranged this transport to Chou Doc. They told me the price and how long it would take and based on that I put myself into their hands. They told me I was getting 'the local price' because I had only one bag and based on how crowded it turned out to be I'd guess they were charging by the pound.

From this place I joined about 15 Vietnamese people in a van and off we went. I got the front seat (because I was the only foreigner?) and had quite a comfortable trip.
A view out the window.
Notice the bread stand there by the side of the road and follow your eye along. You'll see another and another, one at each gate. Mighty good stuff.
We made a few stops to pick up and drop off travelers and one longer stop for food and the toilet. The whole trip took about 7 hours and I must have dozed off a time or two like everyone else. The driver stayed awake by eating sunflower-seed-like things and smoking cigarettes.

The road was generally in pretty good shape but there were also sections of intense potholes and road construction dust as they tried to repair the potholes. We also crossed the river at one point on a ferry without the delays that I had read are expected, frequent and long.
My hotel in Chau Doc is across from the big market in town and one block from the river.
This is looking out the entrance of a curious temple where no photos are allowed. Very few Santas are in evidence here but ya gotta have Some...
...but television is The Thing. Every small room has a huge TV antennas flying from its roof, all the doors are open, and the sounds of TV almost overpower the sounds of traffic.
There is commerce on the big river and agriculture on the smaller tributaries that criss-cross the town.
Hanging around of an evening.

I'll try and get back here tonight because today was sightseeing a-plenty and tomorrow is a long travel day to Phnom Penh.
December 19

I got a woman to ride me around on her boat this morning to see some typical sights of Mekong Delta life. This is looking back onto the town of Chau Doc.
And here we're heading out to motor through the floating market.
Bigger boats have acquired all sorts of goods but mostly produce from the agricultural areas along the river. Small boats pull up alongside and offloade items for future resale in the markets ashore.
This is a Live Aboard community.
Never too busy for a Hellooo.
This one is here for Alex. So, Alex, drydock in Vietnam, in case you're of a mind.
Every room on river or land is fitted out with a TV. You can see the electricity brought to the boats on wires strung along those poles or they run the TVs off car batteries which they recharge ashore.
I know there are too many of these and I'll thin them out later.
We stopped at a fish farm and this was the reception area. The pantheon, represented by gods and goddesses, shrines, pagotas, icons, statuary, and Ho.

This is an example of a house floating on pontoons made of empty oil drums. Nets extend from the sides of house to the bottom of the river creating a fish farm where the owners feed the fish from a hole in their floor.
Boney dogs and scrawny cats are the norm but these guys seem pudged out and quite content. They are living on a platform in the middle of a river but there you go.
We did a broadside on this woman and her boat. She pushed us off pretty goodnaturedly considering.
Fast food delivery service Delta style.
This was a sturdy bridge, others had only one plank, where the tourist boats tied up for a shopping opportunity at a Muslim village.
What was interesting was that their clothes and headscarves were so colorful. This is a picture of a picture. I didn't want to risk censure by taking any photos there. I will add that at the mosque here was the one and only place in all of Vietnam so far when a child has asked me for money.
The guide insisted on carrying my bag.
Here's an example of another of the styles of home. So far we've got houses built on the ground, houses starting on the ground and then held up by stilts in the river, platforms supported by oil drums, actual boats, and like this one - platforms built over boats. Maybe there are more styles to come!
Vietnam is decidedly a massage j*nk**s paradise. Even getting your hair washed, which I had to try, resulted in a one hour massage.
I borrowed a bike from the hotel to travel the 6-8 kilometers to Sam Mountain. This was an attraction by the side of the road - a sculpture garden.

Bike riding here in Chau Doc was not at all the harrowing experience it can be in big cities since there are very few cars and people are generally going slowly. Also they really don't want to run you over.
A scene.
At the foot of Sam Mountain where a major temple complex opens onto to the trail to the top, which I punked out on because it was getting late and I didn't want to be out on a bike after dark.

Several kids trailed me relentlessly here but not one of them asked for anything except that I take their picture.
More of this.
The plan was I'd leave early the morning of the 20th on the fast boat to be in Phnom Penh around 1pm, do some sightseeing, and leave early the next morning for Siem Reap to meet up with L&J and the gang for our tour of Angkor Wat.

It didn't turn out just like that and I'll be telling the story tomorrow!
HomeAsia • Vietnam • '05 Dec: HCMC / Saigon and Chau Doc

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