It is fairly expensive for a U.S. citizen to get a visa into Vietnam. Somehow the ship had arrange, for $6, to get us a visa that allowed us to enter Vietnam for the day twice! The first stop in Vietnam was the port nearest Saigon. Give that we were a group of 10 and given that it is difficult for us to load everyone in and out, we made arrangements with the ship to have a van and driver for us. I suspect we paid a lot more than we would have if we had just arranged it with a local tour operator, but they provided a guide who spoke excellent English (not to mention being personable and funny), a van, a driver, and even someone to help load Dad's scooter on and off.
OH, did I say a VAN? That is what we thought we were renting. As it turned out, we got an entire bus! We could have sold tickets and paid for the whole thing with Chinese tourists coming on board.
So, the Kelly express took the drive into Saigon. I think several of us went to sleep, but I really enjoyed riding along and looking at the countryside. People in the cities live differently than people in the country. Rice fields, water buffalo, houses made of blocks, or straw, or whatever is available--these are the things people experienced every day.
Strange things pass for tourist attractions in Saigon. Our first stop...the post office. It was built by the french in colonial times. It is a pretty building inside and out. But after a long drive, what I was most excited about was finding a bathroom. The Catholic Cathedral across the street was a beautiful structure. A couple outside were preparing for their wedding. At least, I think that's why she was wearing a wedding dress. For some reason, the groomers were primping the boy as much as the girl. In front of the church is a statue of Mary. Some 20 years ago, locals noticed the statue weeping. (I think it was raining at the time, but they were able to notice her tears. Perceptive of them.) So the statue has become quite famous for Vietnamese Catholics. I kind of wonder what she was crying about. Was she weeping over the city, or did she just stump her toe?
Our guide's name was Naaahn. Or something like that. The problem is, of course, Vietnamese is a tonal language. You have to go up in inflection as you say his name or you end up saying something like "wounded pigeon cud." But, two kinds of inflection go up. It's the short one, not the long one. Go ahead and practice saying his name. I'll wait.
OK, so we walked along this cool new walking street and looked up at a building with a great observation deck. Hm. Not sure the observation was going the right way. There is some new agreement between 11 Southeast Asian countries. All the flags are at the end of the walkway. I'm pretty sure my nieces were not impressed at Asian flags being pay-off for a long, hot march.
The guide took us to the Vietnam War memorial, or, as they would call it, "the war of American Aggression." As an American,I left with two impressions: 1) the Vietnamese government has done a stellar job of re-writing history. The conflict is no longer between South Vietnam wanting to be free and North Vietnam wanting to align with the new communist states. Rather, America started the whole thing, with a bit of help from the French. 2) The real losers in the war were the Vietnamese people. Such horrible pictures of the affects of war on their lives.
We made our way back to the ship and paddled up the coast to Nha Trang. As near as I can tell, Nha Trang was not much of a tourist destination until very recently. The Vietnamese government seems to be grooming the town as the next Cancun.
The absolute most amazing thing about Nha Trang is that Naaahn (inflection up, but not up too much) arrived at the dock to meet our tender boat. We were helping Dad off the tender. I looked up and the other pair of hands lifting Dad belonged to Naaahn. "Woe! Where did you come from?" He had ridden a bus all night to be our tour guide for another day. I guess my tip was better than I had expected. I mean, when I am using foreign currency, I'm never sure if I'm giving someone $126 or $1.26.
We caught an aquarium. A native music show. Naaahn had figured out Vietnamese coffee was a hit on the Kelly bus--Oh, yes, we did have another 40 passenger bus to cruise the city--so he found us a little coffee place. We saw a temple on the top of a mountain and a needlepoint factory. Now, you are probably thinking the needlepoint is like a monogram like your granny used to sew onto your shirts. These were exquisite works of art that took months to produced. If I hadn't forgotten my billfold on the boat, I probably would have bought a small one. The big ones were quite expensive.
So, that's Vietnam. My family will always remember it as the place where we spent a few bucks and got a private bus. Huh.