Bus from Sa Pa to … Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – July 28, 2017

This is our entry in Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – July 28, 2017.

We saw this sign each time we walked between our hotel and downtown when we visited Sa Pa, Vietnam.  Vietnam is a long, skinny, S-shaped country in Southeast Asia running north-south beside the South China Sea to the east (or “East Sea,” as it is known in Vietnam).  By land, Vietnam is bordered by China to the north,  by Laos to the northwest, and by Cambodia to the southwest.  North-to-south, it measures about 1650 kilometers (just over 1000 miles) and is about 50 kilometers (just over 30 miles) wide at the widest point.  In area, it is approximately the size of Germany.  Sa Pa is in the northwest, and the cities listed in the first four lines of the bus sign are in the North with Sa Pa. Of the cities in the last line, Hue is about halfway down Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City (“Saigon”) is in the South.

This photo was taken on February 16, 2017. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/100 sec, 4.5 mm

Not Allow to Fight Together

This is our entry in The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Unusual.

This sign is located inside the Saigon Central Post Office in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Not Allowed to Fight Together
Not Allow to Fight Together

This photo was taken on February 24, 2016. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/320 sec, 4.5 mm

Day 31: Phu Quoc Island – Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok

Today is an early morning for Pati and BeeBee. They have two flights today: Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Saigon to Bangkok. Repacking to switch from beach to city wear is always a challenge, to keep each bag within its weight limit.

At breakfast, they avoided the abysmal  coffee by drinking the excellent hot tea.

They had a nice surprise this morning. Mr.Vinh, their guide in Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho, emailed them a copy of a picture of the three of them in the restaurant where they had shared a meal. He had asked a buddy to take the picture. Pati sent back a copy of the selfie of the three of them in a front of the Happy Buddha.

They had arranged with the hotel receptionist for a 9:15 am pickup before getting an email from their tour coordinator that it would be a 9 am pickup. They split the difference by showing up with their luggage at 9 am for checkout. The receptionist was on the phone with the coordinator, and reached the phone to Pati. Their flight would be delayed from 11:15 am to 8 pm. Since they needed to connect with a 5 pm flight, that was a definite problem!

They left for the airport immediately and proceeded to their airline’s counter. The staff there calmly printed out an authorization for an earlier flight. As they checked in, the counter lady asked whether they had in their checked luggage a laptop (no), a camera (no), fish sauce (what? no). Apparently fish sauce must be packaged separately and specially. Pati and BeeBee made it to the gate 45 minutes before departure. After a short flight, they were in Saigon 6 hours before their next flight. There was plenty of fish sauce on the luggage carousel.

Incidentally, everyone traveling today seems to have a cold, based on the coughing and sneezing everywhere.

There is not much to do in Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat airport after walking from domestic arrivals to international departures, and still having more than 5 hours to wait. They used some of this time to get a medium pepperoni pizza from Domino’s Pizza on the second level just outside international departures. Domino’s is good when it’s hot, and this pizza was hot!

Finally, three hours before the scheduled departure time, they were able to check their luggage, go through security, and find their gate. And wait. As the scheduled boarding time passed without comment, a few passengers got the crew to admit that the flight would be 15 minutes late because the arriving plane was late. The flight took off an hour late, with the pilot promising an on time arrival (for a 70 minute flight). In fact, as the plane was touching down, one of the flight crew announced that the local time was 90 minutes earlier than it actually was.

Since the flight was international, Pati and BeeBee went through passport control on the way to baggage claim. Then out into the dark that had fallen while the plane was in a holding pattern, looking for the welcoming sign with their name on it. No sign. Walk the length of the arrivals area several times. No sign.  No internet to email the tour coordinator. (Free airport internet worth every baht, since it didn’t work.) Pati bought a SIM card for his phone and called the hotel (having no luck with the tour coordinator). They finally agreed that he was registered and told him to come by taxi. An unexpected expense, since transportation was already paid for. Go to the ATM machine for many baht. Get a cab (1400 baht, $42) at a tour kiosk in the arrivals area. Get loaded into a cab. The driver used Pati’s phone to get directions from the hotel staff. During the 30 minute drive, the driver snuffled continuously. Great, BeeBee thought: His germs will mate with ours. They coughed back at him.

At the hotel, they were met graciously and shown to a beautiful room. Within minutes, the tour organizer called on the room phone. The man was waiting for them at the airport! They should have been at gate 3!  This was news, since the arrivals area is one long connected area that they had walked several times, with their luggage cart, past many men holding signs for other people, visible to everyone there, and there is no gate 3. They “should” get the taxi fare reimbursed. The organizer confirmed a 9 am pickup tomorrow for a city tour with dropoff at the airport.

They immediately walked out to find a pharmacy for cough medicine. Successful, they ducked into the night market, since it was on their path back to the hotel. It was the usual merchandise: clever t-shirts, handicrafts, etc. As they walked down one aisle, a man sidled up to BeeBee on the side away from Pati. He flashed a card at her, and she shook her head without looking at it. She asked Pati what that was about, and he said the man did not approach him. Within seconds, another man did the same, saying “lady show.” He followed her to the end of his “route” before u-turning for his next victim. That was enough night market, and they turned to leave. Almost out of the market, they encountered several women in black bourkhas showing only their eyes. BeeBee wondered if the men would approach them (and what their husbands might do to those men).

One night in Bangkok…(Tim Rice)

Since it was 9:30, and all the eating places in their hotel posted a 10 pm closing, they checked all three. To summarize: We only have this and that  O.k. give us this or that.  We don’t have this or that. We are about to close.

And so back to their room and late to bed for an early day tomorrow.

(While Pati agrees with the contents of this blog post, he does not approve of the contents of their day. Except for the emails with Mr. Vinh.)

Day 26: Ho Chi Minh – Mekong Delta – My Tho – Can Tho

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Following an early breakfast, Pati and BeeBee checked out of their Ho Chi Minh City hotel at 7:30 this morning.

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After leaving the city, they drove between rice fields to their first stop, the gigantic happy Buddha in My Tho in the Mekong Delta. 

They also visited the Vinh Trang Pagoda.

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They then boarded a tourist boat to travel around four small islands. Pati, BeeBee, their guide, and the pilot were the only people on a boat that could comfortable seat 10. At the first island, they were given tea with honey and bee pollen and snacks (banana, peanuts, ginger).

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Next, they were passengers in a hand-rowed sampan boat that drifted under the shade of coconut trees through the Mekong River‟s natural canals. (They are now featured in the home movies of passengers in other boats coming from the opposite direction.)

At the next island, they enjoyed seasonal fruit and tea and were entertained by local musicians performing southern Vietnamese folk music.They watched the local production of hand-made coconut candies, followed by a ride in a small cart pulled by a small horse.

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The next island was Phoenix Island, where they had a delicious six course meal, including soup, shrimp, summer rolls, fried rice, thin coconut crisps, and tea. The featured ingredient in the summer rolls was deep-fried tilipia.

After this, the tourist boat took them back to the dock. They then continued with their drive to Can Tho, two hours farther.

After checking in to the hotel, their guide made reservations for them at the Nam Bo restaurant near the hotel. At 7 pm, they met in the hotel lobby and walked the short distance to the restaurant. The guide had chicken with rice; Pati and BeeBee shared a Four Season pizza. They had a very good conversation about Vietnamese customs before going back to their respective hotels. Tomorrow comes early!

Day 25: Ho Chi Minh – Cu Chi Tunnels and city tour

This morning, Pati and BeeBee were picked up at 7:45 am and driven to the Cu Chi tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh City. During the Vietnam War, the guerillas (resistance) built a labyrinth of narrow tunnels, where they hid during bombing raids and staged surprise attacks. This area has been developed into a large exhibit showing how the guerillas lived and fought during the war. Particularly disturbing are the examples of traps the guerillas developed for injuring and killing soldiers.

Pati and BeeBee climbed down into one of the tunnels that has clearly been enlarged for tourists, although it is still quite confining, and traveled about 30 meters underground. They also dropped down into a small space representing a hidden entrance to a tunnel. BeeBee had to be lifted out, since the top of the hole, once she was in it, came up to her armpits. Pati was able to climb out unaided.While the guide did a very good job explaining the exhibits and the war, he advised them not to watch the video at the end of the tour, saying it could ruin their visit to Vietnam. They skipped the video, but may try to find it online when they get home again. 

After this, they drove back to the city for lunch.

Lunch was followed by a city tour that included the War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, the General Post office, the Opera house and downtown Saigon.

The War Remnants Museum (previously named the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes) originally opened in September 1975. It displays old military equipment and other related items from the Vietnam War, including (in the courtyard) larger exhibits (e.g.,an F5A fighter and a UH1-Huey helicopter). Inside, on the second floor, are many photographs from the Vietnam War, mostly of soldiers. On the first floor are many more photographs, and they are even more disturbing, of civilians that were wounded and those affected by Agent Orange and phosphorus bombs. The ground floor displays posters and news stories from the Vietnam War era.

The Reunification Palace, formerly known as the Presidential Palace, was the site of South Vietnam‟s surrender in April 1975. Parked on the front lawn near the fence are two tanks, representing the ones that broke down the fence on that day. On the roof is a helicopter.

Notre Dame Cathedral, the General Post Office and the Opera House are all beautiful examples of architecture from the French colonial period.

Today’s tour would have included a visit to the Ben Thank Market (Night Market), but Pati and BeeBee had already visited that on their own yesterday. Instead, they visited a shop for some small souvenirs.

After this, they were dropped off at their hotel and their guide marked several good restaurants for dinner on their map.

They decided that they would like to have American food and walked about a mile to Pizza 4P for dinner. After this came dessert at a Baskin Robbins nearby. They then walked back to their hotel for internetting and bed.

Note:Their guide is passionate about the history of Vietnam and delivers historical nuggets with both barrels blazing. As to his appearance, think “bad cop” from Terminator 2 with a gravelly Chicago gangster accent.