Saigon: The City

Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
Trip End Apr 15, 2011

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

As I write this we are pulling out of our berth in Saigon.  In case you were wondering the Saigon riverr has not been renamed even though the city has.  

The cruise is winding down.  We have a sea day tomorrow and a stop in Cambodia for a hike through a national park rain forest on Friday and disembarkation in Bangkok on Saturday.   From there we go to Angkor Wat for 3 nights and then we will be on our own in Bangkok for a few days before we take the long, long flight home.

Saigon is a city of 8 million people and 6 million motorbikes- I am not kidding.  The traffic levels seemed to be the same all day and they drive like maniacs.  There is a helmet law but what they call helmets wouldn't do anything for them if they crashed.  They also have their children on the motorbikes with no helmets.  Our tour guide said that he had no idea where all of these people are going.  It was kind of hard to figure out.  Doesn't seem to be any rush hour, just constant confusion.

Today was really smoggy and smokey.  We spent the day touring around Saigon.  We began with the former Presidential palace, now know as Unification Palace.  It is basically kept as a museum to show how the last Presidnt of South Vietnam lived.  Pretty well I would say.  And to think that the former presidential palace was bombed out of existence by the South Vietnamese army ( apparently they weren't big fans of President Diem).  The next President who took office after President Diem was assassinated (by the South Vietnamese army with CIA assistance) rebuilt a luxurious palace while fighting a civil war.  We really know how to pick sides don't we? I had sort of forgotten all of that.

We then went to a history museum which was pretty rudimentary by our standards and by Shanghai standards. The highlight of the museum were the water puppets.  This is a traditional Vietnamese performance.  There is a pool of water and the puppeteers stand behind a curtain in the water and the puppets are on long poles.  Ken loved it.   After our  tour of the museum and the water puppet show, we took cyclos (pedaled chairs that carry one person) for a short ride to a lacquerware factory.  The ride was a little scary.  We toured the factory that was set up for tourists but still had beautiful products for reasonable prices.

We then went on a mad dash through yet another temple and one of the largest the markets in Saigon.  Now this was not a tourist market, it was huge and hot inside.  The stalls were very crowded and full of everything from dried fish and unidentifiable things to spices to bolts of cloth and kitchen wares.  The fresh meat market was particularly gruesome.  They were cutting meat that was just sitting out in the heat but they also we're squatting barefoot on the counters where they were cutting.  Didn't see any missing toes.  All around us people were eating bowls of various kinds of what appeared to be Pho of some sort.  They particularly like organ meats here and you could smell it.  On the way back to the ship in the bus, the guide told us that the cruise ships don't bring a lot of money to Vietnam because they won't by their food in Vietnam because it isn't up to their standards.  The ship we are on has food delivered in huge containers from suppliers from all over the world.  They restock every two weeks or so.  All of their meat comes from the US.  They only thing they will buy locally is fresh fish, but even that doesn't seem to happen too often.

I also learned that Vietnam is the world's largest producer of cashews.  There'd were huge bags if them all over the market.  They claimed to be the second largest producer of coffee also.  We did sample some coffee and it was really good.  Couldn't find any to purchase though, in the short time we were here.

So we are off to Cambodia now.  A few more days of internet access on the ship and then I don't know what it will be in our various hotels.  Will do my best to keep on blogging.  Sorry about the pictures though, just can't get them uploaded on this slow internet.  I will add them when I get home and you can check them out then if you really want to.
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