Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday, Feb 28th, Vientiane


We slept in this morning, had breakfast at the hotel, and read newspapers, emails, and Laos history until we were to meet out tour guide and new group.  It turns out there are 13 of us, and our tour guide Anita is another young Australian.  She and our local guide, Pim, took us on an afternoon of temples, an orthopedic limb center (COPE), and to a local house where a good-wishing ceremony (baci) was held for us.  After a quick rest, we all went to a local restaurant to have dinner and get better acquainted.

The group is well-traveled, as usual, and I have once again failed to learn all of the names and hometowns on the first night.  Pat is better at these initial conversations, and I have come to learn it's better to let her have the lead on first contacts.  I did end up in the spotlight, however, when the birthday cake arrived and all wished me well.  The chocolate was especially rich.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Feb28th, Vientiane


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday, Feb 27th, Vientiane


Today, Travel Indochina picked us up at the hotel and took us to the Saigon Airport.  We boarded a Vietnam Airlines jet, and flew to Phnom Penh, where we deplaned and had lunch.  Then, we boarded another jet, and flew to Vientaine, Laos.  Once there, TI drove us to our hotel.  What made a rather boring set of flights more interesting was our seatmate for the whole ride, Luu Ngoc Diep.  Luu is the Manager for Operations Planning for ANZ, a rather successful bank operating throughout Southeast Asia.  She's a perfect example of a young executive who's destined for great things.  She's obviously been targeted by the bank for senior management, and has a deep understanding of both her business field and her culture.  We were very impressed by her, and are looking forward to a visit if she is ever in California.  We understand that a position with the company in Houston may be in the offering, and that's not so far away.

TI's brochure has a few quotes that Pat says I should throw into the post once in a while.  Here are a couple I agree with.

The true traveler is one who goes by foot, and even then, he sits down a lot of the time.  Collette.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.  Mark Twain.

Wanting to get a shot of the sun setting on the Mekong Delta on the riverfront of Vientaine, we walked about a mile from our hotel soon after we arrived.  The town is building a walking promenade almost the length of the town, but has only finished about half of it.  Even still, it's was exciting to see how many families were out in the early evening using every square foot of it to play sports (badmitton, soccer, skateboard, bike acrobatics, par course exercise, and stationary health gym workouts); social engagement (plenty of Sunday night teen pickups and dates); and business enterprise (selling from mats and stalls every craft and food item).

We stopped at a small restaurant, and drowned some fresh spring rolls, cucumber salad, and noodles with pork in two large Laos beers.  I have to apologize for the fuzzy quality of the photographs taken tonight.  I could blame it on trying to take too many night shots with slow shutter speeds, but the truth is that being a bit tipsy made holding my balance harder on the way back.  Think of them as art photos portraying the ambience of the night.

Though there were very few others, here's a link to all of the photos - Sunday, Feb27th, Vientaine


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday, Feb 26th, Saigon History Museum and Zoo


First, let's get to the key issue.  What's with paying thousands of dong for everything?  The exchange rate is 21,000 dong to the dollar.  That means you're carrying around millions of dong in your pocket.  While it does inflate your sense of worth to be paying 180,000 dong for a bottle of wine, you come down to earth when you realize it's still only $9.  The hard part is when you haggle over 1,000 dong because you think that 1,000 of anything ought to be worth haggling over.  Not when it's 5 cents, and especially not when it probably means an extra meal to that guy you're arguing with.  Vietnam ought to get rid of a couple of zeros on their currency.

After catching some of our friends leaving over the past day, we took off for a day at the Saigon Museum and Zoo.  I think it's a testimony to the tour that I felt that I knew most of the information which the Museum presented.  From the 54 ethnicities and eight languages, to many dynasties and emperors, to the inter-relationships between Kampuchea, Champa, and the Viets.  I won't say their was nothing new there, but most of it was old hat by now.

The zoo, on the other hand, contained some animals I hadn't seen on the tour.  I enjoyed the Indochinese Tiger, several deer species, and the beautifully colored egrets.  And though there was a porcupine which looked like ours, most more resembled what Pat hates - opossums.  And my favorite friend was there to remind us to slow down and enjoy the ride - the orangutan.

It being Saturday, we saw several wedding photos being organized around the Church and the Park on our walk back to the hotel.  One even had to dodge the street cleaner to get her's taken.  We're getting used to dodging motorbikes and cars crossing the streets, and probably will miss the thrills when we get home.  Tomorrow, we fly to Vientiane, Laos for the next adventure.  Not sure if there will be wifi during the whole time, but we'll catch up in Bangkok on Friday night before our flight home.  A week from today, we'll be home.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Saturday, Feb 26th, Saigon History Museum And Zoo


Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday, Feb 25th, Saigon to Vung Tau


With our friend Marlene as our Tour Guide, we took a taxi to the waterfront hydrofoil this morning, and headed downriver to the seaport of Vung Tau.  The hydofoils are relatively smooth and quiet, especially if you're in the front section.  The window sashes aren't very well constructed, as I found out by breakiing the rod trying to open it.  Of well, there wasn't much to see on the ride, and scratched clouded glass made it even harder.  But we suspected that viewing wasn't on most passengers priority list, as most just relaxed or slept.

The real sightseeing began when we arrived.  Vung Tau is a great little town, full of wide, clean streets and brightly colored houses and shops.  It's like Saigon might look like if you got rid of 90% of the taxi's and cars.  Beyond that, it has a couple of mountains that provide you with beautiful vistas (for the price of a stiff climb up almost a thousand stairs) of the miles of beaches on both sides of the peninsula.

Marlene had made arrangements through Duc for us to employ a driver and a tour guide for the day, and they did not disappoint us.  The OSC Vietnam Travel Tour Leader, Hguyen Quang Trung, even brought along a trainee tour guide, and the five of us made the stops on a well-designed spin through Vung Tau's sites.  Before it started, we crossed the park in front of the office (on Front Beach) to watch some of the local fishermen bring in several kinds of large sailfish destined for restaurant tables nearby.

Our tour was delightful, and they were enthusiastic and eager to make sure we saw as much as we could handle before getting us back to our 2:30pm hydrofoil to Saigon.  We exchanged cards, and I am interested in corresponding with Trung to help both of us improve our understanding of the Vietnam War.  His father fought with the VC in the area I was in, and he seemed quite interested in the photos of children I showed he and his colleagues (never miss a chance to promote historical research).  He indicated that once a month, the tour guides get together and hear speakers and learn information from vets who have returned to here.  Perhaps I can use that opportunity to circulate the photos and my perception of the experience on vets to the group.

Tonight, we were able to link up with Pat's cousin, Billy Thompson and his wife Maria.  Their cruise ship pulled into Saigon this afternoon, and they were bussed up to the Cu Chi Tunnels.  Tonight, they got the note we provided to the Palace Hotel, and they were able to walk over to our hotel and knock on our door.  We shared dinner at the restaurant, and we were able to spend some time sharing photos and insights into where they're going next in Vietnam (Hoi An anto d Halong Bay).  It turns out that our paths will almost cross again when in Hong Kong on March 5th on the way home.  We won't be able to see each other, but we'll check in again after we've all settled into our homes in California.

To see all of the photos from today, click on: Friday, Feb25th, Saigon To VungTau