Posted April 5th, 2018, 07:52 PM
April 6, 2018 – At Sea to Hong Kong
Overcast, warm with just a slight swell this morning. A few bumps in the night. A really good nights sleep with the fan blowing air over us. We should start to cool down in the cabin soon as we head further north.
While we have been to Vung Tau before off of Phu My, we had not been to Saigon, so this was our first time. I will not ever drive in Saigon or ride a motorbike or bicycle and may not ever walk across a street there! It is an experience all in itself. But you have to see it once yourself – even if you see nothing else, you must see this city in action.
Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, is very hard to describe except as semi-organized chaos. From the traffic to the buildings, to the street wiring, to the motorbikes, to the cars, it’s just overwhelming to the senses. The wiring in the city is such a good analogy – there are rat’s nests of power, telephone and cable on every pole – almost as if someone tried, but failed to sort it out, and just ran another wire rather than untangle the mess. Functionality overlaid on chaos – that’s what I mean by semi-organized chaos! At the basic level, it works.
Barbara booked a tour for both ports in Vietnam via My Way Travel. It was great. Our guide, Lou, spoke excellent English, our driver, Duc, drove through stuff that made your hair stand on end. The van was a 12 seat Ford Sporter style for the 6 of us with great A/C. Very comfortable.
We did the central square in Saigon, saw the various new and old buildings, stopping at a small market on the way and trying out cured meats, Jade Emperor Pagoda, the Post Office, lunch (Pho) and the Ben Thanh market. By mutual agreement we skipped the war museum to spend more time at the market and start back to the ship earlier. Only in the central square were things less hectic. We actually had a nice stroll up the square looking at various historic buildings. Then we started crossing streets with Lou. Once we even used a blind person’s crossing up the street to stop all the traffic so we could negotiate across with less stress!
Ever seen an UBER motorbike? Complete with mounted smartphone? Saigon has them.
The architecture ranges from functional but non-descript Soviet style apartments, to restored French colonial, to modern high rise to re-purposed, but neglected, colonial apartment multi-story stores. All in one mile! The people remind me of Singapore. Driven. Always a serious look on their face as they dash about their daily lives. A weekend would have been interesting to see if they transition to a more care free state like Singapore. During lunch, they do seem to let up a bit. The street corner side walk restaurants are filled with people eating lunch, laughing, talking, watching us tourists watching them.
Lunch was good and authentic, although I do wish the table was a bit cleaner. The plates of additional herbs of basil, cilantro, bean sprouts and other greens was great. The chili sauces were hot and spicy. I had the beef Pho, Judy had the chicken Pho. The broth was well done. Italians have their red gravy, French have their sauces, but Asian have broth down pat.
The market was interesting, but in order to find things of better quality, you really need to spend the time there. Good thing we opted for a longer stay at the market. I was able to find the requisite magnets and tamarind candy, but the hand fans were of poor quality and we skipped those. In the market, the outer ring of stores are the government stores that do not bargain. Inside the market are the vendors that do bargain. But not that much. Some will come down as much as 25%, but their prices are inflated to begin with. And some become pretty irate when you try and lowball them too much. The government stores have a higher quality product, but even there, and with the vendors, you need to check seams of the clothing carefully, and that takes time. (Flaws are everywhere.) Our group stuck to candy, carved figures and fridge magnets. However, given time, and a fitting room, the Vietnamese style dresses are gorgeous. Very colorful.
All aboard on the ship was 1730 and we wanted to time it to arrive back by 1600. However, traffic and the possibility of an accident, which happened just a few days before and closed the main highway for hours, made us want to head back earlier before rush hour. So we left Saigon about 1400 and headed back to arrive around 1530. It was a really good day in Saigon.
A couple of practical notes. Upon arrival we had to shuttle out to the port gates, but coming back we walked to the ship since there was no shuttle. About 500 yards from the gate to the ship. Some tours will charge to pick up and drop off inside the gates – the government charges them a fee to enter. Some will not enter at all. For mobility challenged, you should get picked up as the ground is uneven for walkers, scooters and wheelchairs. It was hot and in full sun, so sunscreen is an absolute necessity in this port. As is LOTS of water.
Nha Trang was a tender port. I missed getting off the ship the last time we were here. This time we were determined to see the town. Nha Trang was a bit less chaos, a bit more organized, but just a bit, a really little bit, especially around lunch time. Same tour company, John was the guide this time, Duc, different guy, was the driver. This van was a 9 seat Ford Sporter van. Lots of room for the 6 of us, great A/C.
We did the oceanographic institute, next to the tender dock. It was very crowded, but John took us to the end and we did it backwards and missed the majority of the crowds. The aquarium displays of fish are interesting and varied. None of the huge tanks you would see at the larger aquariums, but still interesting. A large pool held sea turtles. The aquarium is right next to the tender dock and is an easy DIY, but limited.
After the aquarium we went to the Long Son Pagoda, home of the giant statue on the hill and the reclining buddha on the way up. As in most Buddhist temples, your knees and shoulders must be covered, your shoes and hat off before you can enter. Gorgeous architecture and statuary. From there its 154 steps to the top of the hill, which can also be reached via taxi, to see the gleaming white Buddha. The statue’s base has reliefs of the monks whom immolated themselves during the protest against the Diem government’s crack down on Buddism during the Vietnam War. The door to the back of the statue is guarded by the evil warrior god, angry face, and the good warrior god, smiling face. The grounds around the statue contain rows and rows of burial shelves for cremated remains. Like wall after wall of post office boxes. Very good views and photographs from the top of the hill.
From there we crossed the river to the Cham Towers. One of those very interesting historical mysteries. Lots of interesting stuff here. The Cham Towers are Hindu, built by Indian migrants as they settled the region over 700 years ago. Abandoned or pushed out by the Buddhist expansion, the towers, and the temples, were abandoned and fell into ruin until uncovered by the French in 1938. The design and architecture is fascinating as the towers and temples were built with red brick, placed while wet, but fired in-situ to create an incredibly strong and mortar free set of buildings. Restoration efforts have to resort to fired brick, thin set mortar and steel shims to achieve the same strengths. The temples are clearly Hindu, with Vishnu, Shiva and Elephants in base reliefs. The story of these towers, unfortunately, has been lost to history or destroyed by the successive kings of the area. If the Towers could talk though…
Crossing the river on the Xom Bong bridge and viewing the brightly blue colored fishing boats, painted in blue whale ‘blue’ for luck, was interesting. But sadly, the river and beach under the bridges were garbage dumps with all manner of trash covering the white sand and floating in the water. Remnants of Durian fruit were everywhere and the sickly sweet smell of Durian was in the air. Not exactly appetizing or appealing when walking through the fruit vendors under the bridge.
We did lunch at a ‘steak house’ – Mama Moo’s. We had Pho, spring rolls, rice and salad. Excellent meal and the place was very clean. Once again the broth in the Pho was great and the plates of herbs to add to the Pho was great. Topped off with a beer! The star though was the spring rolls. Could have eaten a dozen each of those tasty little snacks.
We did make it to the Dam market as well. Here there did not appear to be any government stores and the bargaining was heated and intense, as well as high sales pressure, although not pushy like the pressure in the Great Bazaar in Turkey. Bargaining extremes ranged from screaming in frustration to tears. Quite interesting. Once again the fans were very low quality and we passed, but did pick up the required fridge magnet.
We went back to the dock to tender back to the ship. Although the line was quite long, it only took about 15 minutes to get on the tender and head to the ship. Once again though, the sun was very hot and sunscreen was an absolute necessity.
A whirlwind couple of days in Vietnam. And an absolute bargain in terms of costs. For the 2 of us, both ports, was $70 each. $280 USD total. Half the price of comparable Princess excursions with 1/5 as many people in the group.
Now its time to recharge prior to Hong Kong!
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Past Cruises (All Princess):
Diamond - Asia 03/22/2018; Diamond - AUS/NZ 03/10/2018; Diamond - Tasmania 03/02/2018; Island - Panama 10/12/2017; Island - Panama 9/23/2017; Island - Coastal 9/20/2017; Emerald - Scandinavia 07/02/2016; Emerald - Norway 06/18/2016; Emerald - Baltic 06/04/2016; Crown - Tahiti 10/17/2015; Golden - Alaska 6/1/15; Golden - Alaska 5/22/15; Ruby - Western Carib 12/13/14; Ruby - Eastern Carib 12/06/14; Ruby - Eastern Carib 11/29/14; Grand -Mexican Riviera 03/05/14; Grand -California Coastal 03/15/14; Grand -Hawaii 03/22/14; Ruby -Transatlantic 11-29-2013; Ruby -Grand Med 11-17-13; Ruby -Eastern Med 11-05-13; Ruby -Eastern Med 10-24-13; Caribbean -British Isles 05-12-13; Caribbean -TransAtlantic 04-27-13;Diamond -Asia/Alaska 04-15-12; Grand -Western Med 10-21-11; Golden -Hawaii 04-27-11; Emerald -Caribbean Combo 11-28-10; Star -Antarctica 02-02-10; Golden -Hawaii 9-27-09; Golden -Pacific Coastal 9-19-09; Grand -Caribbean Collection 3-27-09; Dawn -Mexican Riviera 4-27-08; Island -Panama Canal 2-06-08; Golden -Mexican Riviera 9-29-07; Golden -Pacific Coastal 9-23-07; Caribbean -E. Caribbean 04-29-07; Star -W. Caribbean 04-21-07; Dawn -Mexican Riviera 12-1-06; Island -Alaska 5-22-06; Island -Alaska 5-15-06; Dawn -Mexico 10-2005; Sun -Eastern Caribbean 4-2005; Star -Western Caribbean 12-2004; Island -Panama Canal 1-2004; Sea -Mexico 1-2002; Ocean -Alaska 6-2001