Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Home stay

I decided to do a home stay.  It is easy to find them; I picked based on both Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor.  I wanted the reports to describe quiet and peaceful surroundings and great food.  I have not been disappointed.

I think I am getting a very special "foodie" home stay as the only other guests (I booked for 2 nights) are regulars here.  She is Vietnamese/French and he is French.  She grew up in this area and left in 1970.  And SHE is doing all the food ordering and asking for favorites and learning all the tricks.  They stay here for a month at a time!

This was breakfast.  Rice noodle shrimp with coffee and fruit.  

My home stay road.  Area is all fruit orchards and vegetable plots

Don't you love the decoration?  those are spring rolls with lacy racy paper and taro
And rice...can't even think of a meal with out rice

For me--as I am the only vegetarian.  You grill the whole fish.  then you make spring/lettuce rolls.
Rice paper, lettuce, mints and basil, then fish.  Wrap up with chop sticks and serve with many sauces.  YUM

I also was served several other courses (grilled shrimp and tofu/cheese something) but no pictures.

Fruit plate with Lotus Tea

Life on the River

It was time to leave the city of Saigon behind.  Big, busy, noisy, and honestly -- it never felt like a city with any soul.  Just a place busting with energy and going somewhere.

So I left on a tour of the Mekong River/Delta -- I had booked my own home stay in a small town -- and the tour was almost as cheap as the hassle of the public bus.  Plus I got to have a running commentary on changing life in the Delta and visit a few "made for tourists" demonstrations of candy making, rice wine making, and such.

But I was glad to arrive at the home stay and settle into a more quiet, less hectic day or two.  I needed to catch my breath and this is perfect.

Sample fruit stall from a floating river market.  These are fading away as transportation improves and highways built

One of many small ferries to cross the river channels.  The area is channel after channel after channel

The dirty secret of Vietnam.  

Best boat yard on the river

Part of the tour was a long boat ride to lunch.  Very quiet once off the main channels.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Bit of a Downer

Today was not a great day.  Not a fun day.  Just a day that showed another side of Vietnam.

I went to the War Remnants Museum -- sure there was a dose of propaganda -- but the modern era has given Vietnam a few challenges.  The French and the Americans.  I thought the presentation was very well done -- mostly photos; many quotes.  "Truth Telling" gave the North version of the conflict; there was a display on the many photojournalists who perished covering the war; and of course Agent Orange.  Not a cheery way to start the day.

Then down to the Reunification Palace; formerly South Vietnam's Presidential Palace.  It was a marked contrast to see the displays of "this is where they planned the war" after seeing the war pictures.  Anyway, the place was crawling with tourists and a few crooks.

And yes, despite what I thought was a good defense (locked backpack and no purse) a few crooks managed to steal my Prescription Sunglasses and bust open the lock on the backpack.  I have no idea when it happened.  I went to put my glasses on as I left and OOPS!!  But they did not get any money or passport or cards:  that was really tucked away in my waist belt.  And at least it was the sunglasses they stole NOT my everyday glasses.

But it creeped me out.  A very nice tour guide who spoke English tried to help (the guards were having lunch and said too bad);  he wrote a note sent me to a friends optical shop.  He could make me new glasses in just a few hours but Yikes!!!! Way to much.  So I bought some of those flip up shades.  Pretty ugly but makes my glasses dark enough to really protect in the sun.

Then I went to lunch.  And ordered a grilled banana in sticky rice in coconut sauce.  And an iced Vietnamese sweet coffee.  The waiter says to me:  That is a dessert.  And I said:  I want dessert.  And so it came and was stunningly delicious.

But I am done with the city.  Tomorrow to the country side.

Monday, January 26, 2015

War Tourism

Saigon is many things, including a key stop for "war tourism."  Sprinkled throughout the city are spots with US planes and tanks on display; tomorrow I will go to the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace.  But today -- off to the CuChi Tunnels.

These tunnels (apx 240 km in total) supported the Viet Cong's control of a large rural area only 30km from Saigon.  At its height the tunnels stretched from Saigon to Cambodia.  The area was extensively bombed but the Viet Cong and villagers displayed a real tenacity.  Our guide was a former officer in the South Vietnamese Army and was full of personal stories about the war.  After the US with draw he spent several years in prison, was released, and eventually was allowed to be a Vietnamese citizen.

He did allow it was a terrible war for nothing.  50,000 US killed, 1 million Vietnamese soldiers, and 5 million civilians.  On the way to the tunnel we visited a home for adults living with the effects of agent orange.  (Through birth defects).

When he asked where I was from I said:  San Francisco.  (It is any easy answer).  He immediately burst into "I left my heart in San Francisco" and recounted his trip there in 1992 to visit old US Army buddies.  Small world.

Pretending to go down in the tunnel.  When I did crawl along for 200 meters I tell you it was dark and hot and stuffy.
No way I would have been patriotic enough to live below ground for several years.

Sketch showing tunnels; they existed on 3 levels.

Map of the area -- Saigon is the brown blob.

Tunnel opening

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ho Chi Mihn City....

Crowded.  Noisy.  Vibrant.  A high octane city that is a combination of commerce and culture.  And food!  And motorbikes.  I just can't imagine what Uncle Ho would make of the place.  Mercedes, Starbucks, Apple, KFC, Burberry, Audi..they are all here.

The estimated population is over 7 million and I promise you there are more bikes than residents.  And they are all going somewhere.  Darting in and out.  In HCMC  the bikes seem to be more about moving people rather than goods about.  There are a few intrepid cyclists and even fewer pedestrians.  And that would be me.

At this point, I just plunge into the traffic.  And like magic...the pulsing traffic just goes around me.

Today -- the History Museum (no pictures allowed) was a wonderful place with great exhibits in Vietnamese, French, and English. The Jade Pagoda.  And walking the streets.  I found a market, an exhibition of wildlife pictures (birds in mating colors!), and a food in the park event.  Even a baking competition.    I made some plans for the next few days and even got a hair cut:  much to the pleasure of all the other Vietnamese ladies in the tiny shop.  Better cut than my last few in the states!

The food....oh my!

You buy the birds in the cages and then go into the Pagoda and set them free.  Not sure why?

Pump up that Flat!

Lunch at a restaurant that actually is tables surrounded by many "street cooks".  You order the dish and it is made to order.
Stir fried corn with garlic, onion, dried shrimp, and hot sauce.  Chilled white Vietnamese coffee.  About $5.00

Notice that the lady has a griddle and is making "pizzelle" over a charcoal fire