Our first farewell came in Rach Gia, we bid farewell to Ngan, the crew that worked with us on the house and representatives from the Habitat Affiliate. The wine flowed and the dinner was delicious, even the snake. Yes, I ate snake, before I knew what it was aand I will admit it was quite tasty, served like a spread for flat bread. As I mentioned before all of the food we had was quite good but I really do not know what a lot of it was and that is a good thing otherwise I might not have tried it and that would have been my misfortune. After dinner a few speeches and all were heartfelt. We each received a laminated certificate of participation with personalized photos of us on the worksite, very nicely done. We learned that it was also the last day for one of the affiliate members, he was finally leaving Vietnam to reunite with his wife in the United States after years of separation; cutting through the red tape here is protracted and exhausting. It was a very emotional night for many reasons. We were all very sad to be leaving Ngan, she is such a delight in everyway and she had a fantastic working and personal relationship with Julie and Alicia, our trip leaders. I will miss Ngan.
The next morning we flew back to Saigon for one more night and for Mary, Jean and I one more day of exploring as our flight home did not leave until midnight the next night. A few goodbyes at dinner and again at breakfast to those who leave early in the day and then we are off again our last day of heat and humidity, wild and crazy traffic and the noisy chaos that is Saigon.
Ellen volunteered to be our tour guide for the day; armed with a Lonely Planet guide she outlined a circle route through a very nice section of Saigon that included the fancy hotels, the Rex and Caravelle. We had eaten at the Rex on our visit to Saigon but I did not bring my camera, will I ever learn? The rooftop bar/restaurant has a commanding view of Saigon and it is stunning at night. I had to go back up and at least take photos of it during the day; it is a beautiful space far from the street-level noise and chaos. Here, in the neighborhood of the Sheraton and Intercontinental Hotels is also where you find the high-end shopping with familiar names like Gucci, Prada, Rolex etc. etc.
From the Rex we head toward the Hotel de Ville, a beautiful French colonial building that is now the People's Committee Hall and no longer open to the public, on toward the post office another gorgeous building and Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saigon version.
Hot and tired we needed energizing so stopped at a small café for a quick cold drink. Streetside the tables were full but as is often the case we were led inside and up three narrow flights of stairs to the rooftop for dining or drinking in our case. Their specialty was fresh fruit drinks, quite refreshing and nice to be out of the sun for a bit.
Doubling back along another street we passed the Reunification Palace, closed until 1 p.m. so rather than wait we continued on our way ending up at the Zoom Café for lunch.
The Zoom Cafe is where the Vespa night tours begin, something some of our group had done last night in spite of the torrential rains and they had a fantastic time, visiting some of the bars and clubs and reveling in the nightlife. The fellow who started the tours, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, had traveled here in the 90’s and fell in love with the country and the people, returned, married a local and settled in, beginning by restoring old Vespas and then opening the touring business which is now a family affair. The tour definitely gets you right into the street scene as you wheel around town in and out of traffice, horn honking with the rest of the countless motorbikes . . . helmets were provided.
We had kept our room for another day to have a place to clean up for dinner and the long flights ahead so, after our day of touring, we went back to the hotel and did just that. Greg was spending another day in town and we arranged for him to take our room when we left for the airport. He joined Ellen, Patti, Mary, Jean, Jane and I for our last dinner in Vietnam. We tried to find a little restaurant that took in street kids and trained them in restaurant work but we could not find it, even with the help of an Ipad and Google maps. Oh well, there were lots of restaurants and we selected a beautiful place with indoor pools, lots of plants a very calming atmosphere and delicious food, a great last meal in Vietnam. A walk through town to the hotel and then airport shuttle time, more goodbyes and we were off.
Farewells are always hard and after having spent three weeks with two dear friends and two weeks building a home and building friendships I was sad to leave Vietnam and at the same time very anxious to return home to my hubby, our home and the glorious cool weather that I know will be waiting for me. It has been an awesome experience, one that will stay with me forever. We have traveled to many places but visiting rural Vietnam and Cambodia felt so very foreign, so very different. It may be that the language was so difficult and outside of the city English is not spoken. I am not complaining that is the way it should be but I had a devil of a time with pronunciation and never really even mastered thank you although I tried. Everyone was very patient, correcting me each time I tried but it was hopeless. One word may have 4 very different meanings depending on where the accent falls and the difference in pronunciation is very subtle. I was totally intimidated.