Eli and I have been in Vietnam for 6 days now. We were especially excited to visit Vietnam as we have heard many stories about this country from our dads and in our history books and couldn't wait to see it firsthand. I also had a few co-workers at Intel that had spent time at the factory in Saigon. We have an extensive list of sites to see! My dad also lived there as a teenager so his stories and love of the country made this a must see place for us.
From Cambodia we took a bus to Siagon which took about 7 hrs. This bus ride was much smoother than our last ride, thank goodness.
Once we crossed the border, we could immediately see a change.
Vietnam has wider streets, manicured landscapes, alot less trash on the streets, and the most of the women wear the triangle shaped hats. There weren't any begging children and the adults weren't as persistant trying to sell their products.
The scooters still out number cars and the Vietnemese also like to pile on as many things and people as possible.
6 is still the record for number of people on one scooter but I am hopeful to see 7.
The currency is called Dong and 1USD equals about 17,770 Dong.
Just about everyone accepts dollars here but when
we pulled money from the ATM, it comes out in Dong so we still have to use our brains to figure out the exchange rate. Luckily I have Eli to be my calculator.
We spent our fist 3 days exploring the city of Siagon. We stayed in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker area, District 1.
There are 16 districts in Saigon which houses about 7 million people.
Massive! There are more scooters here than anywhere we have seen! There is an additional form of transportation called the cyclo (pronounced seeklo). It has 3 wheels and is man-powered by pedaling. The stand up bicycle part is in the back and the basket seat is in the front. Eli and I did hire 2 cyclo drivers one afternoon to take us for a short distance.
I felt like I was right in the mix of traffic but I felt completely safe. Our days in Saigon were spent mostly on foot, walking through the War Remnants Musuem, markets, and touring the "old district" buildings and river.
The War Remnants Musuem, while very propagandist, had lots of amazing action photos of the war. Many photos were a bit much to look at but I suppose it showed the reality of the brutality of war. It is actually quite amazing to think about being in this country when not that long ago, it was a war zone. Vietnamese seem to be a very resilient, forgiving, and happy people.
They take very kindly to Americans and are eager to talk and share their culture.
We got lots of exercise while in Saigon. We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral down to the Saigon River. On our route we passed the famous old Continental Hotel made famous by the book/movie "The Quiet American" (Eli is currenlty reading it). We stopped in the Caraveille Hotel and took the elevator up to the Sky Bar to have a beer in honor of my Aunt Jane.
Per my dad, Aunt Jane used to go dancing there in '62. I sat with my beer and imagined her dancing on the checkered floor turning heads and glowing in the freedom of being 20 years old.
I like to think that she must have ruled that city. I was planning to do a little dance there myself, but it was barely noon and the music was turned down just enough for me to barely hear some elevator music playing. I decided to snap some pics instead and leave the dancing to Aunt Jane.
Just down the block was a hang out of my dads, Brodards. It is a Gloria Jean coffee shop, but in 60-62 it was a cafe/ice cream shop with a juke box. I wish they made places with juke boxes still. We walked through the busy Saigon Market then by the Rex Hotel (old U.S Army Officer Quarters and where "Good Morning Vietnam" broadcasted from). Near there was a place my dad used to live. Needless to say, it too had changed quite a bit. It's now a shopping mall so we went to the top floor, had a coffee, and imagined that at one time, my dad lived there.
Between site seeing, we of course ate some amazing, fresh, healthy food. Pho is the popular soup, and noodles are also a local favorite. The coffee is some of the best in the world. You can order it black or with sweet condensed milk and it is served with individual mini filters on top.
We haven't yet done Karaoke but have high hopes to do so. Our hotel was about 5 stories and we had a small patio with a view of the skyline. This was one of my favorite rooms eventhough it was so small we couldn't open the door all the way and Eli had to turn his shoulders sideways to get in. It offered free wifi and cable tv. We were more than ecstatic to see two episodes of American Idol. One of our guilty pleasures. This room cost us $13 a night. Love that!
After saying goodbye to Saigon, we were off to Da Lat. Da Lat's population is 130,000 much smaller in comparison to Siagon. The bus from Saigon to Da Lat was supposed to be 6 hours but ended up taking 9 hrs. We weren't too upset by this as the ride up to Da Lat was breathtaking with mountain scenary, valleys, and pine trees. It was at least 15 degrees cooler here during the day and actually got chilly at night. It was nice to be able to put on my jeans again after sweating in shorts for the past 1.5 months. (sorry to rub it in to all of you freezing in the States this winter, I know it is so wrong). I was half expecting my jeans to fit looser but turns out they fit exactly the same. I guess all the walking combined with all that eating keeps me the same size.
Back to Da Lat....it had a French feel to it, almost like we were in a little town in Europe. The hillsides were covered with flowers, strawberries, and coffee farms, not the typical rice patties. We stayed 3 nights in a hotel that offered all the amenities as our last one in Saigon, but it was bigger and cost less. A whopping $7 a night. Unbelievable!
While in Da Lat, Eli and I hired two "Easy Riders" to take us around. The Easy Riders are a group of men that have a motorcycle organization to provide tours/guides to tourists. They are older than the average guide (20-30s), as most Easy Riders are in their 50s. I liked that they were more mature as it showed in their knowledge of the country.
The Easy Riders have motorcyclesn(not scooters) and wear logo jackets and they pride themselves on being fluent in English. There are about 80 of these men in the organization and half in the area of Da Lat. I meant to ask them if they knew of the movie Easy Rider but I forgot. They said they were given their name by a travel guide writer. I did read about them in our Lonely Planet guidebook. Two Easy Riders sought us out at breakfast our first morning and Eli negotiated a price and we made a deal for the tour. The next morning we were picked up by Qyuen and Su for the tour....we had a blast. It was a full day of site seeing, fresh air, and local
food. The best part was just being out in the country side away from the chaos of tourist or
other scooters. We hardly saw any other white people, haha. We got to see up close a waterfall, pagoda (temple), coffee farm, flower farm, silk factory, and a rice winery.
Our favorite was the silk factory as we got to see step-by-step how they get silk from a worm. I have a knew respect for silk! We let our guides order lunch for us and we literally had 13 dishes of food to choose from on our table. Between the four us we ate only half the food. I asked the guide if they ever take leftovers home and he let me know that in Vietnam it is considered rude to take food home. Interesting. Eli and I paid for lunch including 2 beers and it was under $8 for all of that food. Crazy cheap! The only downfall of the day was when our guide instructed us to walk up a dirt hill and meet him on the other side so that we could see the view of the valley. Well Eli and I were walking and talking and missed the path that our guide had told us to take. What should have been a 10 minute easy walk, turned into a 45 minute mistake. I was a bit worried and I hate being lost but luckily we had taken our water with us and this wasn't Kilimanjaro or anything. We backtracked and eventually found our path and our guides. Qyuen was so upset with us that he reprimanded us several times and his happy go lucky attitude became very serious. I can imagine he was freaking out about losing two American hikers.
He told Eli "what is wrong with you? I told you very clearly in English, not in French, that you were supposed to take a right on the path." All we could do was apologize and empathize. After a few minutes, however, we were all back to laughing and talking and Qyuen explained that he just needed to get it out of his system and he felt better. We didn't let this cramp our day one bit.