And a good Saturday morning to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. This morning I'll wrap Vietnam, and then tomorrow morning I'll recap the week. Honestly, so much happened this week that it feels as if I'll be writing another novella then. But hey, no complaints! Okay, let's pick up with Dingbat and our misadventures in the Delta. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you - Vietnam Part IV.
So minus the fact that Dingbat NEVER MENTIONED BREAKFAST TO US even though we asked him 3 times if there a) was breakfast and b) why we were being told a different time to show up downstairs, this second day was actually really good. For starters, we spent a lot of time on the delta, floating past the houses and truly getting a sense for how people live in South Vietnam. Muffin took some AMAZING photos, and traveling at the speed we did gave us the chance to truly observe our surroundings, which was another real highlight of the tour and the chief reason for us selecting the "2 Days in the Delta" option.
As you can tell from the images, the poverty in the Delta is a FAR CRY from the money one sees in Saigon. The average wage for a laborer, fisherman, or farmer in Vietnam is $2 US PER DAY, and whilst that stat meant NOTHING to me in Saigon, it certainly rang of truth down here.
From a living perspective, you can tell that large groups of families live together in these dwellings, many of which are open to the water, ALL of which have cracks, holes, or openings in the walls. You will see women doing their washing in the river, as well as folks bathing. Jenny and I actually had the distinct pleasured of some FULL FRONTAL DUDE NUDITY as he walked (WAAAAY TOO SLOWLY, I might add) into the water from his dock.
All of this was fascinating, but then Dingbat got involved. Again, verbatim:
"Ladies and gentlemen. We now go to floating market. Floating market. It Tet holiday, so not as many boats. But it is floating market. Floating market.'
You will notice that we don't have A SINGLE DAMN PHOTO OF THE FAMED FLOATING MARKET. Why, you ask? Because the floating market was a) pretty much closed for Tet and b) is really just a bunch of boats swapping fruit. Seriously - I thought that we'd be stepping into a floating village, buying all of our Christmas gifts for a grand total of $10, and then having to buy another bag just to lug it all back. But oooooooh, no - that's not how the Vietnamese roll.
It was honestly just a string of boats selling pineapples. And whilst this was cool, I must confess that I was a bit disappointed. However, I did get to chill on a pineapple boat for a bit (eating a fresh, WHOLE pineapple for 50 cents), and the weather was nice, so no complaints really.
The only other hilarious moment of the trip was when Dingbat said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we now go to rice noodle factory. Rice noodle factory. It is closed for Tet, but don't worry - if it closed we find other place. Don't worry. So, we go to Rice noodle factory."
Sure enough, this place was not only closed, but there were TONS OF MOLD AND MILDEW in the bowls that hadn't been cleaned in WEEKS. You see, it's not like these cats had just SHUT DOWN the factory (which was actually an open air grass hut) - OH, NO - this puppy had been SHUT DOWN FOR A MONTH. And since no one had bothered to clean the place prior to bouncing (and since it wouldn't have mattered anyway given that we're in an open air building in the tropics), it was a FUNK FACTORY. However, this didn't stop Dingbat from explaining all the different components of rice noodle making, including telling us how super easy it was.
Being completely honest, it was still interesting. However, it was LESS interesting when we stopped A SECOND TIME, again with the purpose of visiting a rice noodle factory. We had an Aussie blog with us who was a bit a) drunk and b) already frustrated with Dingbat, and so he questioned him. Honestly, I was 5 feet away, and I can confirm the conversation went like this:
Big Obnoxious Aussie Boy (BOAB): "Ding, what are we doing now?"
Dingbat (DB - or should I say Selwyn?): "We go to rice noodle factory."
BOAB: "And is this one open?"
DB: "No. I think is closed."
BOAB: "So why are we going there?"
DB: "To see how they make rice noodles."
BOAB: "And what will we learn there that we haven't already learned from the first factory."
DB: "Maybe is something different."
BOAB: "Who is going to talk to us?"
DB: "I talk."
BOAB: "And are you going to say anything that you didn't say at the first factory?"
DB: "I just show you the things for making rice noodle."
BOAB: "So we won't see anything new."
DB: "Maybe something new at rice noodle factory. At rice noodle factory."
Sure enough, 10 minutes later we're standing on AN ABANDONED DOCK, surrounded by LOCKED DOORS, whilst Ding explains how rice is shipped (it is the world's #2 exporter, btw - just behind Thailand and in front of the US). Honestly, I couldn't help but laugh.
We then went back to the mainland for lunch, where I passed on the local delicacy (field mouse) and opted for squid instead. Jenny and I did make a fun detour and walked through the REAL market, which was AWESOME - POWERFUL smells, lots of crazy characters, and no other white people for MILES. THAT was one of the definite highlights of the day.
The LOW LIGHT was when we returned to the hotel at 2 PM for departure (as instructed), only to find out that Dingbat had already loaded our bus. Consequently, Jenny and I were AGAIN separated, but this time I got a seat with a damn STRIPPER POLE between my legs, which meant that I basically had to drape my leg over the beam (Uptown Cabaret style). Again, this wouldn't have been so bad, but Dingbat steps up just as the engine roars to life:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we now drive back to Saigon. Normally this drive 4 hour. 4 hour. But today people return from Tet. Drive will be very bad. Very bad. Take long time. No take 4 hour. No take 4 hour."
THANKS. Thanks for that.
Sure enough, the drive takes SIX AND A HALF HOURS, and by the time I get off that damn bus, I'm pretty sure that I've got Deep Vein Thrombosis and will be dead by 10 PM. Other colorful moments of the ride:
1. Reading my book was GREAT until the sun went down, at which point ALL LIGHTS IN THE BUS WORKED EXCEPT MINE. I guess they want it dark when you work that stripper pole.
2. We had to pull over every 20 minutes so the driver could OPEN HIS HAND-CUT DOOR into the engine and pour water and oil on it. SERIOUSLY - THIS IS A PROFESSIONALLY GUIDED TOUR.
3. This one drunk guy (RIGHT in front of Jenny) couldn't remember Dingbat's name AND had a bladder like mine. Consequently, every 10 minutes the whole bus heard: "Hey Hong! I need to go to the toilet before I piss myself." Classy guy...
Dinner that night was a GREAT meal in the backpacker's district, after which time we walked home, THRILLED at the prospect of a hot shower. Silly Americans - THERE IS NO HOT WATER IN VIETNAM AFTER 8 PM. Oh, yes - for the second night in a row on "vacation," Team Taylor bathed in water straight from the North Pole.
Monday was a GREAT day, as we hit tons of sights and really made it count. We rolled over to the Old Post Office first, quite the piece of colonial architecture and VERY cool (and obsessed with timezones, for the record). We then wandered over to the Notre Dame (the largest French built cathedral in the world outside of France) for a quick look around before hitting what turned out to be a true highlight - the Reunification Palace.
This spot was the HQ and Presidential Palace of the South Vietnamese Government. The room you're looking at in this photo is the cabinet room where all big decisions were made. And yes - when they first discussed "Vietnamization" and "honor without defeat," it would have happened in this room. I must admit that I was pretty spellbound here, thinking about all of the dicussions that must have taken place in this room, especially as the public opinion turned and the American troops began pulling out.
The entire place was filled with GREAT treasures, as it's largely remained untouched since 1975 when the NVA broke through the guard walls surrounding it on April 30, 1975. It was really, REALLY cool, and I'm so glad we saw it. There were 4 levels, including the rooftop, where we got a chance to see one of the helipads. This wasn't the famous one from all the pictures (that was the US Embassy), but it was still neat, and one could definitely picture the scene.
On the way out I almost missed the basement, but luckily muffin mentioned it. This place was a TREASURE TROVE of good stuff, including TONS of old equipment from the 70's (radios, typewriters, phones), as well as the presidential bed. I really can't say enough good things about the Reunification palace - it is a MUST DO for everyone that goes to Saigon.
After that, it was off to Ben Than Market, where we did some HARD CORE shopping, all on the cheap. Muffin spent a solid 10 minutes with this gal on a Prada purse, and I think we got a pretty good deal on it (the gal said, "You must buy from me and you no can walk away. Is first day of new year - customers are lucky. You no want bad luck." Really? REALLY? How often does that strategy work? I guess at least once...). NB: Since coming home, the fake leather is now stained from JT's denim skirt AND the fake leather is peeling off. $18 might have been a bit too high...
The market really was neat, and we then had a GREAT final meal before heading to the airport. We bought some $2 water (normally 25 cents), and after all was said and done, we only had 6K dong (so 30 cents) and $1 left in my wallet. I was VERY pleased. :-)
What I was NOT pleased about, however, was the fact that the flight ended up delayed for THREE @#$##$@$#@ HOURS, and we didn't get home until Midnight. That made for a ROUGH start to the week, but hey - no complaints. Plus I did get to finish Michael Palin's "Around the World in 80 Days" AND "Getting into Singapore", both of which were excellent (Evelyn - thanks again for that! Jenny finished it too!).
Well, that's Vietnam in 4 posts. I know that I've joked quite a bit, but I will say that it was an AMAZING place, and I'm so glad we went. Not only did we see amazing things, but we were reminded once again how truly blessed we are to have been born in America and to have had so many experiences that most of the world couldn't even dream of. I've always known that I was lucky, but the more I travel, the more I realize that I have NO IDEA just how truly fortunate I've been.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny