China and South East Asia 2001-2002 travel blog

Cham Weaver

China Beach

Cobra Wine

Dragon Fruit

Fishing China Beach

High School Uniform

Incense Bundles

Inside Cao Dai Temple

Japanese Covered Bridge

Mekong Market


Priestly Mosaic

Sitting Monks

Copyright 2002

Dave Rich

Vietnam the South

Vietnam is vestiges of viva la France, miniature Eiffel towers in the center of every town, piping hot baguettes on every corner and cities jammed with French modern architecture quaintly called Vietnamese modern. The architecture is absurd and attractive, absurd because most buildings are a single room wide; taxes are levied on linear frontage so homes are three and four stories high, attractively columned pastels in pink, blue or tangerine.

Ho Chi Minh City is called Saigon by most, 8 million people crazed by the exploding number of motos, from one and a half million three years ago to three million today, multiplying fatalities. For a measly dollar the adventure traveler motos from the airport to the center of Saigon, enjoying the ride of his or her nigh extinct life.

You immediately notice the Vietnamese work harder and longer than anyone in the world. Vendors start at 6 a.m., still going strong 12 hours later, trying to sell you stuff you've never seen, bottles of snake wine with two cobras for $5, the $7 biggie crammed with many hooded cobras chomping little green snakes. Alternatively you cherish a Vietnamese pointy hat for $.33 or save your lungs from moto exhaust with a $.20 plaid face mask.

Grab a tour of the rich Mekong Delta where the Tibetan-sourced river gives up and empties branches into the South China Sea. There are Viet Cong hideways, floating markets, stilt houses, Cham weavers, sacred mountains overlooking the border with Cambodia and resort islands to stir the imagination. You boat back through miniature canals and finally find the way to the main tributary of the north Mekong River, toasting the captain with snake wine.

Escape humid Saigon to the fresh airy hills of DeLat, a miniature San Francisco built around a claret lake and surrounded by waterfalls. De Lat is the honeymoon capitol of Vietnam, built by the French as a getaway, boasting wild west Texas Vietnamese style, Vietnamese cowboys in ten gallon hats, a sight seen to be believed. The close-by main Cao Dai Temple exhibits coiling dragons, gargoyles and brocaded columns in indigo, chartreuse, sienna, teal, blue red, pastel pink and a dozen more colors. The Cao Dai theology amalgamates the world's major religions, a mishmash with tons of flash, priests in red or blue, nuns in white.

Scoot up the pristine South Vietnamese coast to China Beach with roaring surf, sands shiny under towering misty mountains, fishermen in ancient dress brandishing ten foot poles. Or stop at any beach along a 300 mile stretch of choices. Halt abruptly at Hoi An, ancient Vietnam's most important port, hosting Portuguese, Dutch and other sailors for a millennia until it silted up. Historic building survive along with 200 tailor's shops, French catalogs for inspirations in silk and cashmere at sub-basement prices: $5 for a silk shirt, $35 for a cashmere suit and everything in between. You can go no further north lest you leave, Vietnam the south.

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