#2, Taiwan/Viet Nam, Oct. 30, 1993

Dear Everybody,

I arrived in Saigon or Ho Chi Min City from Kuala Lampur in a white airplane with not one marking on it—no numbers or name—nothing! I tried the Hotel Continental, which was the journalists’ hangout during the Viet Nam war, but it was full. I finally got one night in another hotel, which was in really poor shape.

 

The next morning I changed $100 at the hotel and got D10,200 to $1—all in D2,000 bills. It made a stack over two inches thick! Each D2,000 bill is worth 20 cents, American. I went exploring with a pedicab, which, in Taiwan, is a bicycle with a seat mounted on the front of the bike. I visited the Ben Thanh Market, then went to the airline office to buy a ticket to Hue for Friday, and a ticket from Danang back to Saigon for the following Wednesday. I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral and also the Reunification Hall, which is where the South Viet Nam government turned over power to the Communists in 1975.

 

 

 

I also found the Fenix Minihotel with just four rooms, which I moved into later. The family lives in the house. Other sites that I saw were the Central Mosque, and the Hotel de Ville (city hall) followed by lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I finally found some post cards, which I wrote to friends and family and then had to use Elmer’s glue to stick on the stamps. There was no stickem on their postage stamps!

Breakfast the next day was Pho made and sold from a stall on the sidewalk. It’s their typical breakfast dish of chicken broth with scallions, some veggies, bean sprouts, bits of chicken and angel hair noodles. I got a pedicab and went to Xa Loi Pagoda, Dai Giac Pagoda, Vink Nghiem Pagoda, Tran Hung Dao Temple, Emperor of Jade Pagoda and Le Van Duyet Temple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The driver got pulled over by the police for not having the right paper or something. Anyway, I paid his fine, which was D 20,000 ($2). The pagodas and temples were fun to see.

 

 

 

 

They had all manner of decoration and some were quite gaudy. Almost all were built in the last 25-70 years. The temple people were most accommodating.

The landlady at my minihotel gave me a gorgeous hot pink and green colored fruit. Later I learned it was called Dragon Fruit. It was large, and the pulp had tiny black seeds in it. It tasted rather like a kiwi but was five times bigger, and I ate it all!

I discovered that the Art Museum had a mixture of ancient and ‘revolutionary’ art. Each room that I visited was dark and when I asked if the lights could be turned on, they couldn’t! The guide opened shutters that let some light into each room so I could kind of see the art.

Then I went to the zoo, taking a kiddie ride around the grounds to see the animals.

 

 

 

Next I visited the Historical Museum and also attended a water puppet show, which was really cute. I bought a lacquer box and ten sets of chopsticks inlaid with mother of pearl.

 

 

 

I ended the day with a dining cruise. The boat ride (1 ½ hours) was all essentially in the dark so I couldn’t see very much but the performance by Viet Namese musicians was extraordinary! Dinner was also good and I enjoyed the company of two Swiss men and two Taiwanese.

 

 

 

The next morning I flew to Hue. I stayed in the Nha Khach Chinh Phu Hotel along the Perfume River. The hotel was built during the time of Emperor Bao Dai and once served as the Palace of the Governor of Central Viet Nam. My room was round, 21 feet in diameter with a 13 X 13 foot foyer and two additional alcoves. It had windows that opened all around the room, and it had a huge lanai and another small balcony. There was a thermos with hot water and a tea set so I had tea with a Dragon Fruit that I had bought.

I hired a pedicab and went exploring. I saw Hue’s beautiful old citadel, including the Flag Tower, the Nine Holy Cannons, Ngo Mon Gate, Thai Hoa Palace, and the Halls of the Mandarins with two 17th century bronze cauldrons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I went to Dong Ba Market and bought a conical sun hat with poems in the brim, which you could see when you held it up to the light. It had a big baby blue bow to tie under my chin. Unfortunately when I stopped on the bridge to photograph the Perfume River, it blew off into the river! The beautiful weather—warm but breezy—the hotel, the location, the people, the scenery and the general ambience made this an outstanding day! I finished off the day by taking a pedicab to dinner in the rain. I ate bank khoai, a crepe with bean sprouts, veggies and peanut sauce, and some star fruit.

I really didn’t sleep very well in my big hotel room that night because there were so many things going bump in the night, probably because of the wind. Also animals were making clicking noises. The room seemed very isolated and not very secure with its flimsy door locks and I think I was the only guest in the hotel.

But the next morning another day of exploring again from a pedicab took me to many tombs and pagodas.  At one, I was invited to have tea with one of the monks; at another, I saw the Austin car that the head monk had driven when he set himself and the car on fire in protest in the ‘60s.

Today the sun is shining and I will take the train to Danang.

Carol

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