Merlion symbol of Singapore

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Bob, Cameron, Kevin and I headed to Vietnam for the week of Christmas. We stayed on the island Phu Quoc off the southern coast of Vietnam, very near Cambodia. The island is the same size as Singapore with a population of 85,000 compared to 5 million in Singapore; a noticeable difference. The island is still very sleepy and undeveloped with one main town and airport. Most of the roads are still dirt, but they are slowly putting in a major divided highway. We discovered it on our tour of the island on motor scooters, but as only bits and pieces of the highway are finished people drive in both directions on either side of the median. Very confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it you just stay in your lane and only cross over when the road on your side ends. Luckily there is very little traffic with only a few vans and trucks, mostly motor bikes on the road. We stayed in an ecolodge made of local materials including palm fronds for a roof. The bathroom was outside and we were watched by geckos and frogs while in the shower. The water was solar heated so you made sure you took your shower before nightfall to have enough hot water. They had fans instead of A/C and coolers rather than a minibar, but it all worked out. Just a big change from the Four Seasons on Maldives! The hotel restaurants were great and the chicken mango sandwich on pita bread became the standard lunch for the group each day. We did some snorkeling and diving and one day we rented motor scooters and headed out for a tour of the island. Luckily there aren't too many roads although there aren't many signs either and we did manage to get lost and have to cross a stream and then back again before finding our way. At least on an island you can't go too far before running into water. The island has beautiful beaches and a lot of greenery, but it isn't as humid as Singapore and doesn't look as much like a jungle. 

The main town on Phu Quoc

Sunset at the hotel

Cameron and Kevin in the water ready for a dive

After the dive

Riding over a bridge on the motor scooters, no railings

Cam and Kevin on their bikes

Walking on Sao Beach

Bob on his bike

Typical village and road on our Phu Quoc motor scooter island tour

From Phu Quoc we went to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to experience city life in Vietnam, what a change. To go from a few people and even few cars and bikes to complete chaos. The taxi drivers use their horns as we use turn signals; announcing their intentions all around, but until you can move it is difficult to figure out who is going where. There are very few traffic signals and left turn on red (our version of a right turn) without stopping is a given. The city is modern with more going on than I expected. There were hundreds of motorbikes everywhere and people madly trying to cross the street in between them. We did a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong had hidden during the war and also toured the War Remembrance Museum. It was pretty anti American, but a true representation of what went on there. The people themselves are very nice to Americans and apologetic of the government's position on how terrible we were. We had a great birthday dinner at a restaurant on the river watching the boats and the city skyline in the distance. The evening ended with a drink on the outdoor terrace on the 27th floor of a building in a modern, happening night club.

The next day was the motorbike city tour of Saigon. The rest of the family was sure I was trying to do them in as we each had a young woman driver on her motorbike show us the sights of the city. Actually once you were in the flow of the motorbike traffic it was much easier and seemed to flow smoothly; not at all the appearance while watching from the taxi. It was a highlight of the trip and I would recommend it and a visit to Saigon.
Cameron in the tunnel entrance
Kevin entering the tunnel at Cu Chi

Bob in the tunnel, he didn't fit as well

Cameron shooting an AK-47

Kevin shooting an AK-47, he hit the target!

Making rice paper for Vietnamese spring rolls

Birthday river trip to visit the Cu Chi tunnels

On the way back

Tourist security officer to help you cross the street

Saigon city tour drivers with us at the Lotus fountain

Our bikes for the city tour

Christmas decorations in Saigon

Reunification Palace

Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon

Statue of Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh)

City Hall

Inside the Central Post Office

Central Post Office
Final ice cream before leaving Vietnam

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