Vibrant Vietnam

Originally published on 4 January 2016.

Greetings, my readers! After a brief Christmas break, I’m back to blogging. This time our fun and adventure takes us to a country neither Steve nor I had ever visited before—warm and exotic Vietnam! Please join us!

It was quite the journey just to get there, actually. Our original flight reservation was to take us from DC to Chicago to Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. But when we awoke at 4:30 Monday morning, we discovered our flight to Chicago had been cancelled. After an hour on hold, getting new boarding passes with some missing information, talking to three airline representatives, and bumping a couple of people off of our first flight of the day, we ended up flying from DC to Newark to Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh. We made it!

Our preacher had strongly suggested that we have someone meet us at the airport to take us to our hotel, especially since we knew we’d be getting in late at night (around midnight). It was well worth arranging a car from the hotel to come get us. A smiling gentleman in a purple suit was waiting for us, holding a sign so we’d know he was there for us. And when the car came around, what a delight! Not only was it air conditioned, there were also two ice cold bottles of water and two cold, moist, essential oil-infused towels there for us to wipe down with. Even at midnight, the heat and humidity was quite overwhelming, but our hosts were prepared for us! And the ride to the hotel was lovely. They decorated and lit the streets just for us! (Well, for Christmas anyway!)

After a bit of a battle with the light situation (the key card to activate the lights needed to go in at a 45-degree angle) and a couple of quick showers, we tucked ourselves into bed and were out for the count.

Wednesday’s morning sun rose before we did, but not by much! And this is the view we enjoyed first thing that morning:

We were both in need of some physical activity after almost 24 hours of flights and layovers, so we hit the gym (with a great view of the pool, I might add) and got ourselves all woken up and energized for a day of sightseeing! But before stepping out into the wintertime heat, we needed to get some breakfast. The breakfast buffet was included with our room, and it was probably the best I’ve ever enjoyed—including sushi, congee (Chinese rice porridge), made-to-order omelets, French toast, cereal, coconut juice (still in the coconut), salad, baked beans for the Brits, and much more than I can possibly remember! We tried to pace ourselves, but holy smokes, there were just so many things to try!

Oh, and there was a gingerbread extravaganza going on, too!

Moving on! First up, let’s see the sights! But even before that, let’s cross the street! Many books we read and several things we heard indicated that the traffic in Vietnam is intense. And it certainly is! Most people drive motorbikes, and whole families will fit on them. We tried to make sense of it, but there seemed to be no rules! Even on clearly marked one-way streets, people zoomed in any direction. Traffic lights didn’t seem to matter, and honking horns were so prevalent, we couldn’t tell exactly where they were coming from or to whom they were directed! They even ride the motorbikes on the sidewalks—and pedestrians do not have the right of way! But more on that later.

So what was our first stop after crossing the street? The Saigon Opera House! It was right across from our hotel, and we even had a view of it from our room. We couldn’t go inside, but the building itself was gorgeous. It’s one of the French Colonial buildings left over from the 19th century. And there was a fishing trap display right outside, I suppose as an advertisement for a show.

Next up, the Old Post Office. Sounds boring, perhaps, but it’s beautiful! It’s another French Colonial building, and it’s still used as a post office (and tourist attraction) today. It’s a huge yellow building, with old telephone booths on either side. One side is still used as phone booths, but the other side is all ATMs, which I think is a pretty cool way to repurpose them! Except that Steve found out that at least three out of the five of them didn’t work. Thankfully the fourth one he tried did work so we could get some Vietnamese Dong. In case you’re curious, the exchange rate is $1 to 22,487 Vietnamese Dong. So everything looked really expensive, but it was actually quite inexpensive!

Back to the post office. There are three or four souvenir shops inside, and I should have gotten some post cards there, if for no other reason than to have an excuse to use their stamps. They’re not adhesive, so instead of peeling and sticking, or even licking and sticking, they have pots of glue to use. Such fun! Next time.

And just across the way from the post office was Ho Chi Minh City’s very own Notre Dame Cathedral. Quite the sight in the midst of the traffic circle!

And to continue our French Colonial day, we moseyed over to another of the public buildings. Again, not one we could go into, as it is still an official government building, but we sure enjoyed gawking at it from the outside!

We stopped into a nearby Starbucks for a couple of mugs for our collection, then decided to take a walk down a long pedestrian walkway to the Saigon River. It was one of the only places where pedestrians have run of the place. Well, for the most part. We did see a couple of motorbikes plow through, but only a couple!

At the end of the walkway there is a road. A very busy road indeed. We waited for the crosswalk sign to light up, but not only did that not stop the motorists, the walk sign didn’t last long. We were barely halfway across when the light for the motorists turned green again! We scurried across, but as it turns out, that’s not the way to do it. A passenger bike driver called to us (as I’m sure he could see the looks of terror on our faces) and said, “Slowly! Slowly! Slowly!” Then he offered us a ride to wherever we were headed. However, we thought it best NOT to be on the road in any sort of vehicle if we could avoid it, so we graciously declined. Except now we needed to get back across the road! Though it was quite the challenge, we survived! Every time we crossed any street during this trip, I felt compelled to exclaim, “We made it!” It was really quite the experience.

So the river was a bit of a bust. It’s an industrial river, for lack of a better term, so it’s brown and kind of smelly, not really a touristy hot spot. Back to the hotel for us! Thankfully, our hotel was quite close to most everything we wanted to see, so no matter where we were, we could see or get to our hotel.

We stayed at the Caravelle Saigon, one of the hotels where Vietnam War journalists stayed while reporting on the War. It was then taken over and used as a government building, and only recently did it become a hotel again.

So all that history is very cool, at least to me, and that’s why Steve chose that hotel for us, but our favorite feature had to be the pool! And that’s where we spent the next couple of hours. We wanted to enjoy the warmth and get some sun while we could still get it between the high-rise buildings all around us. It was beautiful! And Mr. Peabody Pembroke liked it, too.

Check back for our New Year’s Eve shenanigans tomorrow!

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