Saturday, February 4, 2012


We took a 5 hour bus from Phnom Penh, Cambodia across the border to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam - better known as Saigon.  We were unsure of what to expect of the bus ride as the tickets cost just $12 each, but it was actually quite an enjoyable and painless journey.

 At one point the TV  on the bus played pornography

 Lady in the seat next to us eating crickets

Lunch stop

 The buses drive onto a ferry to cross the Mekong

Wilder waiting in line at the border

I was also a little uncertain about the apartment I booked through as it had no reviews from previous renters.  At less than $115 per night, it turned out to suit us well.  It was new and modern and located in a quiet area full of international schools and expats, and staying there showed us what living in Saigon as an American might feel like.  We shopped for groceries and cooked a lot.  Mark and the kids made use of the exercise facilities and we all tried out the roof top jacuzzi (never got warm.)  It was a quiet week, and that was just what we needed.

View from our rooftop

Of course as Americans when we think of Vietnam we think of the Vietnam war, or what they refer to here as the American war (and only once that I heard described as the Civil War.)  In everything we read previous to arrival there were assurances that the Vietnamese people would greet us warmly with no left over animosity.  I would say we found this to be absolutely true of the many people we met and interacted with, but visiting the "educational" sites about the war we got a very different feeling.

The only real touristy thing we did in Saigon was the Chu Chi Tunnels.  This is a site just a little bit out of town that lets you experience some of the 200 plus kilometers of tunnels that the Vietnamese used to live and hide in, and launch attacks on American held Saigon.   First though you get to watch a 1960's era propaganda film.  I lost count of how many times they gleefully referred to "killing Americans."  As the daughter of a Vietnam vet, I found this disconcerting.

Mark and the kids spent 10 minutes negotiating just 100 yards of a tunnel that had been widened to accommodate Western size bodies.  They didn't enjoy it and couldn't imagine how people had spent years down there.  The site also featured lots of examples of booby traps made with sharpened bamboo and scrap iron.  I had trouble not imaging our American soldiers in them.

On the way back we stopped at a government operated factory that employed victims of Agent Orange to make lacquer artwork.  We generally avoid places like this just because we know we aren't able to buy anything.  Our guide assured us though that just looking was fine, and it was interesting to see how the beautiful items were made.

Just around the corner from our apartment was a lovely five star resort situated right on the river.  We went there once for linner (our word for our main meal generally eaten at about 4pm)  and a couple more times just to enjoy the ambiance.  Mark and I even had a rare date without the kids.

Central Saigon itself was crazy busy and crowded but a lot more civilized seeming than Cambodia had been.  We went it to buy our train tickets and have linner, but generally we preferred our quiet suburb.

After a week in Saigon we will catch an overnight train (departing midnight) for Danang and our next destination, the lovely historic port town of Hoi An located half way up the Vietnam coast.

Right now though we are really struggling to finalize our plans for the rest of our trip.  There is a super cheap cruise option ($900 per person) that could take us from Santiago, Chile up the coast of South America, through the panama canal and finishing in Ft. Lauderdale.  This is very tempting as flights are looking almost as expensive as the cost of the 15 day cruise.  Also it would get us Machu Pichu which otherwise we won't manage.  The problem is the last cruise departs March 11.  We would have to skip  some stuff (Laos and more Thailand) and speed everything else up quite a bit to make it - but the biggest problem is the flights.  Our supposedly flexible tickets are turning out not to be, and Iberia airlines, who are in charge of servicing the tickets, are no help.  So for now the next 3 months (and therefore our return date) are still up in the air.

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