Saturday 28 February-- Smaller boats took us to shore today and Tan Chau for our rickshaw rides to a silk weaving factory where I bought one of the traditional style dress and pants (ao dai). Rickshaws took us a bit further to a reed weaving factory then we walked through a little village to our boats which stopped at a fish farm before making it back to the ship for lunch and a leisurely afternoon. The ship passed through customs into Cambodia and on to Phnom Penh while we relaxed, did some hand laundry, and saw "The Killing Fields".
Friday 27 Feb -- floating up the Mekong, a river that never sleeps. There are vessels of various sizes and shapes, most with living quarters for entire families. We are the only US on board. The rest are from Europe - UK, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.
This morning we ventured to Cai Be to a family run candy factory who use coconuts as a main ingredient. Nothing goes to waste, the refuse is used for fuel and then the ashes for fertilizer. On the way back we stopped at the obligatory Catholic Church. After lunch the launch took us to Sa Dec and a Cao Dai temple. This is a religion that incorporates facets from most major religions and a few minors including Buddhism, Tao, Animist, Islam, Hindu, Catholicism, and Confucianism. Their building reflected images from all. Finished the excursion with a visit to the house in the movie "A Lover's Story".
Thinh provided a thorough history lesson and explained the country's evolution to its current political and economic state. Finished the day watching the movie "Two Brothers".
We had a fitful night but were ready when Uncle Sam came the next morning. On the way to the Cu Chi tunnels we stopped at a rubber tree farm and saw how the latex is extracted and learned a little about the process and history. I bought a little Buddha carved from a tree that had quit producing ($5).
The Cu Chi tunnels were interesting and instrumental in the north winning the war. Their tactics may have been cruel but they were definitely resourceful, imaginative, determined, and smart. I went into one of the tunnels and was glad to see the light. We came back into town and had a way too big lunch at Indochine. A tour of the War Remnants Museum reiterated my belief that human beings are programmed for evil, abuse, horror, because we sure don't seem to be able to stop.
A quick stop at a lacquer art factory proved informative. I was deeply impressed with the artistic talent. My favorite technique used the duck egg shells. That really blew me away. We ended up buying two pieces. Sam walked us around the old Presidential Palace before a quick stop at Notre Dame and the old post office where we noticed some lacquer work for about a quarter the price. Turns out it was made of plastic.
It was a full day and we were exhausted and looking forward to leaving the city.
Sam Hoai Trung met us at the airport a little tipsy from celebrating the end of the Lunar New Year. We dubbed him Uncle Sam.
The first day was free time and we stayed close, only walking a few blocks. It was enough to know that Saigon is full of really crazy people on motorbikes (scooters). There are over three million in a city with about eight million inhabitants. The trick to crossing a street is to just go for it, don't stop and don't look back. We found a Circle K and bought toiletries and cold drinks.
The people are friendly and hospitable. While resting in a park a gentleman came over and offered to buy us a drink. We were a bit apprehensive about his intentions but think he just wanted to practice his English. Phuc is a musician who teaches at the local academy. He played a couple of his compositions on a guitar before pulling out a wooden flute and playing some more familiar tunes. Afterward he walked with us around a park that was still set up for their big Tet celebrations then we bade him farewell and thanked him for his kindness.