October 17th 2009

Vietnam Oct 16-17

Image by reg_nordman via Flickr

Nha Trang, Vietnam Oct 16 2009.

Boasting some of Vietnam’s best beaches and considered the driest resort area in Vietnam, Nha Trang is a step back in time. The markets are rough and ready, very dirty, but so authentic you c an smell them a long way away. The street food we liked the most was a tiny crepe called Banh Xeo which is filled with seafood, pork, bean sprouts, cooked to perfection and eaten with fresh green leafy vegetables in a delicious fish sauce called “nuoc mam”…yum yum. Follow that up with a large super thin crispy egg cracker (similar to an Indian pappadum), with green onion, egg, a spicy sauce and poppy seeds and lightly toasted on a brazier. Wash it down with a Vietnamese ice cafe – super living. Local beer is Tiger and 333, its cold cheap ($1.00) and tasty.
We visited the Long Son Pagoda where an enormous white Buddha sits on a hill behind the Pagoda and another large Buddha lying down on another level. It commemorates the Buddhist monks who protested the abuses of the Diem regime in the early 1960s by setting themselves on fire. Then we visited the Po Nagar Cham Tower Complex ( old remnants of the Cham sites) dedicated to the black goddess Uroja. Lastly the Bao Dai Villa which was the summer home of the last Monarch of Vietnam, who ended up living in France. It stands on a hill with a beautiful panoramic view of Nha Trang Bay. The local fishing boats are painted bright red and blue and really show up in this rustic fishing village and port of Cau Da. Traffic is wild in this little town and scooters are the major means of transportation. The best way to cross a street is to follow a local! The surviving French-colonial buildings are also quite attractive.
And of course there is shopping. All the name brand goods you can imagine are up for negotiation. The US buck reigns supreme as well.
All in all quite a nice visit…and a look at how Vietnam people really live.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – October 17 2009

The economic center of Vietnam, an incredibly busy sprawling city (population of over 7 million with 4 million scooters) with lots of bustling market places, street vendors, and colonial architecture including the Notre Dame Cathedral built in 1876, in a city that is still growing. It was just wild crossing these streets as you’re basically vending your way through scooters, cars, bicycles, buses, trucks and pedi-cabs coming from all directions. Crosswalks and street stop lights are almost non-existent and no protection anyway. You must stride out into what looks like certain death, never faltering or stepping back and lo and behold the scooters, cars, trucks and buses thread their way around you. It is still best to follow the lead of a native until you get the hang of it. Amanda chose the “clutch of death on my arm and closed eyes while walking” technique. It also works, though I will carry these clutch mark scars for a long time!
Vietnam maintains a GDP rate of 8% even in the world economic downturn. Taiwan is the biggest investor in Vietnam and light industry (e.g. textiles) is booming. Considering that they are starting from almost nothing their adoption of the pursuit of money is quite amazing. Everywhere you look there are private shops and commerce is thriving. The rich are getting very rich in Vietnam.

Of course there is a plethora of variety in name brand goods and knock-offs, in a huge bargain hunters paradise called Ban Thanh market where you wheel and deal amongst the experts. As this was the cheapest place to shop in all of Asia, we took advantage of it and spent hours dealing in the markets, also tasting some wonderful pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and enjoying the array of various Asian fruits and vegetables. And of course the coffee. This country deserves to be known as having wonderful coffee. I had several cups at different spots just to make sure. The secret to Vietnamese coffee making is…..25 grams of their blend per cup, exactly plus the patience to let it drip completely (Yes Kyle I bought some to bring home for you to try).

The only thing we didn’t like about this was the commute to Saigon. As the ship was too big to enter Saigon’s port, it was docked in the brand new Phu My container port, 1 ½ hours each way from Saigon. That cut down considerably on our visit as well as letting more than a few of our fellow travelers free opportunity to whinge. It was still a wonderful visit and definitely a place we recommend highly to everyone.
We look forward to our final port of call, Singapore, before disembarking in Bangkok and a 5 day total veg out at a quiet beach resort.

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