Thursday, January 16, 2020

Road Trip Part 2: Vietnam

Sunset in the Mekong Delta

The Vietnam War makes Vietnam part of the American lexicon in a way that Cambodia isn't. We noticed some movie-fueled familiarity: Non Las, rickshaws, rice paddies, and scantily-clad young women offering massages (not exactly 'me love you long time' but a little imagination and artistic license will get you there).

This post card is a much better
picture of a floating market than
Vietnam and especially Ho Chi Minh City (which many locals still refer to as Saigon), on the other hand, has skyscrapers, Starbucks, and lots of traffic. There's even a sky deck with a Heineken tour.

A less picturesque view of
the Cai Rang floating market

We took a ferry from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc (boat #1 on our 'road trip'). We met a man who was one of the boat people in the 80's that escaped Vietnam as a refugee, surviving a grueling 6 days at sea where his boat ran out of food and was attacked three times by pirates. The final set of Thai pirates ended up helping the refugees, who were much worse off than the pirates. He lived in the U.S. for twenty years, became a citizen, and retired to Vietnam.

Banh Mi sandwiches from a
vendor on the river
We spent a few days in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. We visited a couple of floating markets on a sunrise boat trip (road trip boat #2). Boats sell fresh fruits and vegetables to locals in their own boats. Also, there are vendors selling coffee, sandwiches, and noodles. There was even a karaoke bar boat, which didn't have too many takers as the sun was rising.

Our kind driver and
his boat dog

We spent some time at the War Remnants Museum. It used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, which gives you an idea of the primary perspective (history is written by the victors). And there wasn't too much about what the Chinese did. It's a comprehensive and sobering reminder of the terrible things that people did to each other during the war. In the museum, most of the blame for atrocities committed falls on the Americans and South Vietnamese (or the "puppet regime" as it was--pretty accurately--called). 

A French guillotine used on prisoners. But the
French also introduced baguettes and
their influence wasn't all bad?

Saigon traffic from the public bus
on the way to the Cu Chi tunnels

We visited the Cu Chi tunnels (if you go, the Ben Duoc tunnels are supposedly the more authentic and less crowded area). This was an elaborate system of tunnels used by the Viet Cong to live, hide, and fight from. The resident tour guide (who was excellent) used the phrase 'to kill Americans' several times in describing the primary goal of the guerrilla soldiers. The mostly uneducated peasants came up with some ingenious ways to combat the technologically-superior Americans. Seeing how extensive and well-hidden the tunnels were brings home how difficult a job the American soldiers had.

This tunnel has been enlarged. The
smaller ones would allow a small teen-aged
boy to crawl through.

On our last full day in Ho Chi Minh City, we took a water taxi (third boat on our road trip--we just can't stay off the water) towards the north of the city and walked the rest of the way to the Saigon Zoo, which has a large variety of animals. 

The spectators are a lot closer to the animals than in other zoos we have visited. Usually, in the US there is a barrier in addition to the glass enclosure. At the Saigon Zoo, you can touch the glass enclosures and some cages (like the leopard cage) even have sections of mesh that a small finger could poke through. The animals seem to notice you a lot more and one leopard snarled and leaped at Conrad a few times, banging its body into the glass. It's probably disturbing for them to have people so close.

We're back at the boat yard now, doing boat stuff. When we turned on our fridge, the evaporator plate wasn't getting cold enough, so Matt had to vacuum out the coolant and refill it. Cruisers seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on refrigeration.

The mechanics came to align the starboard shaft and one of them accidentally set off our automatic fire extinguisher by bumping the handle with his head. So now we have to find a place that can refill it with the necessary HFC-227, which can be hard to find. 

If our rigging parts come in when they are supposed to, we go back in the water in about a week. Keep your finger crossed!

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