Our first port was the city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). We didn’t want to pay the high price of the cruise ship excursion so we decided to do it alone. We had to rent a van to transport us the 1 1/2 hr. drive to the city, and our driver stayed with us the whole time and returned us to the ship all for $20/person. We went to the touristy central market and saw the sights of the city which included the former Presidential Palace now known as the Reunification Hall where a North Vietnamese tank crashed through it’s front gates in 1975 signalling the end of the Vietnam War. Saw the Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, the Saigon Opera House, the Main Post Office and Dong Khoi Street where all the high end stores are as well as beautiful colonial hotels and buildings. Asking people on the street we went to another market where there were no tourists, very interesting! There was a five corners intersection and the organized chaos was mesmerizing to watch! How did these people not get themselves killed! It was crazy to cross the street, there was no let up! I grabbed Randy’s arm and we followed a local guy into the fray of scooters and cars, no one stopped for us, they just swerved around us and we made it across with our heart beating a mile a minute. Not for the faint of heart!
This market didn’t have your typical tourist stuff. It was jammed packed I’d say at least 8 feet high on both sides with teeny tiny aisles that went on and on and on. Clothes, material, shoes, purses, housewares, and of course fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and cooked food all around the outside. On the street there were men and women sitting on the sidewalk with their sewing machines doing alterations, mechanics with tires and scooters taken apart, shoe repairs, birds in cages, alters with incense and food carts all just right there on the sidewalk, and with scooters parked everywhere it was almost impossible to walk without walking on the street itself, taking your life in your hands! The constant noise of the scooters, honking horns and people yelling along with the sheer numbers of vehicles and people is quite an experience to say the least. In Thailand it is rude to honk, here they honk to say they are there and that they see you, so there is constant honking to add to the clamour.
We did find a coffee shop that had wifi where we could sit apart from the cuffuffle of the street for a bit, send our emails and just breath!
After a day at sea we stopped in Da Nang, also in Vietnam. To get there we traveled through a tunnel 6km long through the mountain, it was good to see the light at the end of the tunnel! We passed by China Beach and the beautifully manicured resorts lining the ocean. Our first stop was marble mountain, with a temple at the top of course. Surrounding the mountain were many shops with unbelievably magnificent marble sculptures, garden fountains and intricate figurines. The men squat beside a chunk of marble and chisel away singing as they work. They seemed happy using their artistic abilities creating these incredibly beautiful pieces.
A little further past Da Nang was the quaint village of Hoi An, very organized and picturesque and full of tourists. I thought the prices would be twice as much but surprisingly they weren’t. There was an old Japanese covered bridge and lovely little places to eat and have coffee, even the bathrooms were nice. By the river that runs through this town there was a little boat tied up and two women sitting in it. At first I thought the one was braiding the others hair, but she was actually picking the lice from her hair, displaying it and flicking it overboard!
This is the area known for silk and custom made suits for $70! The silk making process was very interesting. First the cocoons are dried to kill the larvae, then they are soaked in warm water to soften them. From these soaked cocoons a string of silk can be pulled, put on a spindle and spun into thread. Each cocoon gives 600 meters of thread and it takes 20 cocoons to make one strand of taffeta silk. This thread is extremely strong and the material very durable.
The town of Da Nang was noisy, dirty, crowded and unimpressive. Every square inch of land was used to the maximum. Houses lined the railway tracks as far as we could see. When I say they lined the track, I mean they could put their hand out of their window and touch the train as it passed. It is Chinese New Year and there were many people burning ghost money to their ancestors on the street. Very old revered men dressed in beautifully coloured robes and hats blessing the alters. Impressive huge marble sculptures everywhere seem out of place in this town.
Next stop Hong Kong.