Category Archives: Saigon

Mekong Delta

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Our last tour day in VN was reserved for a trip down the infamous Mekong River. Mary Ann and I had flown over the headwaters of the Mekong located high in the Himalaya mountains while we were in Nepal. We had floated on the Mekong when we visited the Golden Triangle area of Thailand. Both of those wonderful trips are archived in this blog.

I could not help but think that we were probably on the same molecules of water we saw leave the Himalaya. The length of the river is over 3000 miles, and it changes names according to the local dialect, but is always the Mekong to me.

We set out from Saigon (HCMC) early in the morning. We were in Vietnam at the start of the monsoon season. but so far we had not been monsooned. We had a lot of grey skies, but hardly any rain.

I was preparing my camera for the day when I noticed this scene in front of me. It made me laugh. A Mercedes passing this display of political bravado. Go figure.

Of course, the Mekong is a major waterway for commerce. The Vietnamese are hardworking people. All the boats have these eyes on the bow. I never did ask why.

Our boat captain advertising the company that employs him. There are quite a few tourists who take this trip.

As we started downriver we came upon this Catholic church. Catholicism is the second largest religion in VN. The French built many beautiful churches. This picture was taken in an area of the river known as the floating market. It s a gathering spot for agricultural vendors to sell wholesale to middlemen who sell to street vendors . Each boat had a bamboo pole sticking 20 or so feet in the air with whatever they were selling impaled on it. If they were selling watermelons, there would be a watermelon 20 feet up. The sky was so grey I could not get a picture worth sharing with you.

We constantly passed river boats, all set up for commerce

We left the main channel of the Mekong and headed up a canal. People live all along this canal and make a living bringing goods to the floating market. This canal reminded both Mary Ann and me of a canal that went from Almirante Bay to Changinola years ago in Panama. With the glaring exception that there were no birds on this canal.

This boat was all ready to head for the floating market to sell Rambutan fruit. This is a variety of the lychee. The difference is these are hairy on the outside. In fact the word comes from the word for hair. My wife tells me these were for sale in Panama when we lived there. I do not remember that, perhaps some of my faithful readers could let me know in a comment?

Inside they are the same. The red hairy shell comes off very easily. The white meat inside is soft and delicious. This is something I look forward to whenever I am in SE Asia. However, I cannot figure out what human first figured out these were edible!

We got off the boat to take a walk along the canal. I especially liked this little bridge.

The walk led us to a Bonsai garden and tea house where were given a pot of tea and some local lore. These Bonsai trees are very very old. But the tea was fresh.

Then we went further up the canal in a little cayuco style rowboat. This was our rower.

A boat full of locals headed for town passed us by. They were very jocular and greeted us with smiles. That is a lot of people in that boat! But they do not weigh much.

I love this picture of our rower. I hope you do. I think it is my second favorite photo from Vietnam. By the way, we truly over tipped her. I did not know that Mary Ann had already tipped her too much when I tipped her too much. We tend to ruin it for future travelers...too bad! These people earn it.

Our last stop on the Mekong was at a brick factory. Everything being built in VN these days (and yes there is quite a construction boom) is made with this same style of brick. This is the kiln. They fire the kiln with rice stalks. They do that for three reasons. Rice stalks are cheap, nothing should be wasted, AND, they do not have to burn the stalks and cause air pollution. In northern Thailand they just burn the fields and the air quality gets truly bad for a month every year. But here, they make bricks! Notice that the woman is inside the kiln. The women always have the hard job!

This girl had to schlepp the bricks across the factory to where they stack them for storage. Our guide said she was probably too young to be working.

We were done with our time on the Mekong river, our last tour of the trip. We got back into the car, and WHAM. The monsoon started. How our driver drove through this for two hours to get us back to Saigon, I'll never know. Yes, we tipped him as well. We had already inquired from our guide how much he earned a day. Then Mary Ann and I started discussing the amount of his tip between ourselves in Spanish. Our guide was surprised and laughed. He knew damn well what we were discussing! Anyway, we matched his salary for the day, and he was extremely grateful. Again, he earned it. I would NEVER have been able to drive through this torrential downpour.

I still have some pictures to show you and a few observations about VN to share, so there will be a final VN post, soon.

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A Place Where Victor Hugo is a Saint

Before I start this blog, I need to tell you that I THINK I have changed the way this goes out to my readers. You will now need to click on the title to read the blog, Please do. you will get a better look  and I will know how many people read it. Thanks.

There is a religion in Vietnam called Cao Dai. The full name is   Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ (Great Religion [of The] Third Period [of] Revelation [and] Salvation). That  might be the least complicated thing I know about it. The religion has approximately 30 million followers in Vietnam. They believe that before god existed, there was the Tao. Then a big bang occured from which God was created. In order for God to create the heavans and the earth he first had to create the Yin and the Yang. All things followed that.

The Cao Dai people believe that there are 36 levels of heaven and that there 72 planets with intelligent life.  Planet number 1 is the closest to heaven, and planet 72 the furthest away. Earth is planet number 68. The Cao Dai folk believe that the lowliest person on planet 67 would not choose to be a king on planet 68, and so forth up the chain.

They have 3 saints. One is  Sun Yat-sen, a former ruler in China.  Another is Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, a Vietnamese poet and sage and then we have Victor Hugo who wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Our guide was a Cao Dai guy and I think he was perplexed that I was perplexed as he tried to explain it all to me. He quickly gave up and just showed us the really cool temple. So I will stop now, and just show you some pictures.

This was my first view of the temple and I was already impressed. I have seen an awful lot of temples in the last 18 months, but nothing quite like this.

The front view of the temple. This place is basically the Vatican for the Cao Dai. There are many Cao Dai temples in Vietnam, but nothing this big. They are all very ornate.

A closeup of the front door just to show that these people are serious about the bling.

The eye is the most prevalent icon of the church. God is symbolized by the Divine Eye, specifically the left eye because Yang is the left side and God is the master of Yang. Got it?

We arrived just before the noon mass, which is the main mass for each day. There are four. These two guys are leaders in the church. The colors represent which religion they come from. I believe red is Catholic and yellow is Buddhist. Notice the eye on the cool hat.

Once inside the door you see this painting with three saints. Right there in the middle is Victor Hugo, and you thought I was joking.

We were there for the noon mass. This is not Easter or something, it was just a Thursday. The guy standing in back has the job of making sure everyone is perfectly aligned. Look at those columns, I have a close-up for you shortly.

This picture shows that the leaders in the colors are separated from the devotees in white

As promised, here is a close look at one of the columns. Of course there are dragons on them. Dragons seem to be everywhere in Asia.

The devotees and kahunas are in front of the alter of the divine eye. This is a big globe maybe 15 feet across.I am not sure which of the planets it is supposed to represent.

Well, that will do it for Cao Dai. I liked everything I learned about the religion, and I sure would like to see plant 67 and up someday. I wonder if I have the frequent flyer miles for that!

Thanks for reading. There should be a little button below that says LIKE. If you hit it I get a penny!

The Tunnels of Cu Chi

I read a book about these tunnels many years ago, and I ripped off the title. It was written by Tom Mangold and you can buy it at Amazon. So there, I really did not rip  it off.

Now I am going to rip off Wikipedia. I really did know all this stuff myself but I tend to get long winded. WP stuff will be in bold,ok?

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong‘s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968

This is as far as I was willing to go. I spent a half hour in some tunnels near the DMZ and my back ached for hours. Even though they have been widened and made a bit higher for tourists, they still left them just miserable enough to get the idea of what it was liketo be a freedom fighter.

American soldiers used the term “Black echo” to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds. A captured Viet Cong report suggests that at any given time half of a PLAF unit had malaria and that “one-hundred percent had intestinal parasites of significance”.

Today the tunnels are a major tourist attraction. being about 90 minutes north of Saigon, oops  HCMC, they are besieged by tourists from everywhere mostly arriving in hordes on buses. We were lucky enough to be by ourselves and arrived before two buses of  Japanese.

The 75-mile (121 km)-long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam,[2] and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system. Some tunnels have been made larger to accommodate the larger size of Western tourists, while low-power lights have been installed in several of them to make traveling through them easier and booby traps have been clearly marked. Underground conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tết Offensive were planned in 1968 have been restored, and visitors may enjoy a simple meal of food that Viet Cong fighters would have eaten.

Above-ground attractions include caged monkeys, vendors selling souvenirs, and a shooting range where visitors can fire a number of assault rifles, such as the M16 rifle or AK-47, as well as a light machine gun like the M60.

We did all the above except I never saw a caged monkey.

We were just standing around when all of a sudden "Charlie" popped up out of the ground! My fat gut could never have gotten through this hole in the ground

He walked over to join his comrades.

This is a demonstration of how the VC made footwear. If you are as old as me, especially if you lived in SoCal, you probably remember these sandals which some of us wore in some show of support for the VC. Besides, they were comfortable. Ours were made in Tijuana, but...

Remember now?

Oh yes, I did not forget to go to the firing range! Committed pacfist that I am, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to fire an M16 and an AK47. Call it experiencing history.

"Take that commie"

"Take that imperialist war mongering running dog lackey of the imperialist forces"

Obviously I was not the only tourist yearning for a hands on history lesson. They charge US$1 a bullet for the experience, so I did not fire the M60 machine gun!

I policed my shells, and asked if I could keep one as a souvenir. No problem. However, I put it in my back pack and did not think about it again before I went through security at the airport. I was walking away when the guy who runs the xray machine noticed it. They yelled "Sir, Sir". I ignored them thinking it could not be me they want! Finally I went back to the inspection line and the smartly uniformed Vietnamese guard started saying "empty uchsch, emptu suhch". I had no idea wht he was saying besides empty so I dumped the contents of my backpack on his table. He grabbed this shell and said "empty bullet, no go." Well, of coursei I was dissaponted but more mad at myself for not packing it in my suitcase. However, when I got home I read another blogger who said he packed his in his suitcase, and he was paged to come to security, where they proceeded to go through his bag until they found the shell. He thinks Cu Chi souvenirs are illegal, I just think bullet casings are.

My wife and I bid farewell to the freedom fighters.

In all it’s touristy glory, the tunnels are a must see if you are in Vietnam and have any interest in contemporary history.

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My next post will be titled “Where Victor Hugo is a Saint.” And yes, it is also from VN.

Saigon, oops, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We saw HCMC on the fly. We used it as a base to visit both the tunnels of Cu Chi and the Mekong Delta. Consequently this will be a short post.

The first place we visited was a brand new version of the War Remnants Museum. It is dedicated to the victory of and the gallantry of the people of VN in the war against the American aggressors. It is divided very nicely into areas of interest where you can pick and choose what you want to see. This poster is in the area that displays international outrage at America.

They have some excellent photos of the futile American war effort. All that stuff, and we still lost. Just think how much money is in this picture. Meanwhile schools in the US had to have bake sales to afford books.

They had some photos of American miltary bases, I liked this picture of a billboard outside the gate to a base.

Of course they displayed this memorable picture of the evacuation of Saigon, right before it became HCMC

They also had a room displaying pictures of towns and villages in VN during the war and how they have rebuilt since. This one of a small town we drove through.

The hardest room for me to visit was the room displaying the continuing tragedy of our use of Agent Orange. If you do not know much about this, use Google and educate yourself. Basically, America practiced chemical warfare on a scale dwarfing Saddam's usage and probably the entire usage of chemical weapons in WWI. Americans are quick to condemn others, and quicker to forget when we perform the same atrocities. What I want to emphasize is that even TODAY babies are born with birth defects directly attributable to this war crime. This room was so depressing I could only stay a minute.

Outside was the cool stuff. We left behind tons of hardware. Here is a collection of American artillery pieces.

This is a collection of what the grunts called "fast movers". They would zoom in, drop some napalm and head back to base for a beer.

Of course this was a helicopter war. I think this is a Sikorsky. It mostly moved material to support advanced fire bases.

This was the standard troop mover. It is called a Huey and a group of them together could move a platoon or an entire company a long distance in a short time.

We then made it over to another historical site.

This is now called the Palace of Reunification. It was the Presidential Palace where Thieu thought he ran VN from. Just to the left of this photo is where Diem was assassinated in 1963. A very large underground bomb proof basement contains the war rooms. Today, the place is a fascinating tourist attraction. The rooms underground contain map rooms and communications rooms. The comm equipment is right out of Dr. Strangelove.

See what I mean?

This was Thieu's library.

Some of his books. Airport? Leon Uris?

From the roof of the palace. This is the front gate today.

This is what the front gate looked like on April 30,1975. To quote the Doors, "This is the end."

We then visited the cathedral of Notre Dame. Even though my wife is a BC grad I think she liked it! Built between 1877 and 1883 in a neo-Romanesque style, it has no stained glas windows because they were blown out during WWII.

Sharing the square with the cathedral is the central post office designed by Eiffel. It functions quite well today and you can mail everything from post cards to whatever anywhere in the world.

No one should leave VN without riding on a pedacycle. We took a ride around HCMC. I thought I had negotiated a good price, but once we arrived at our destination, the guy demanded 10 times that much. At first I was upset, but I quickly realized I was worried about maybe US$5. Besides, the guidebooks all tell you to "get it in writing."

Pedacycle NUMBAH 1! Walking Numbah 10!

Thanks for reading, tell a friend. make a comment, I beg you! In fact I dare you!

Next post from the Cu Chi tunnels and the main temple of an amazing religion that includes Victor Hugo as a saint. Heh,I’m not saying I get it, but it is a beautiful temple and I got some good shots. So stay tuned.

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