A Travellerspoint blog

The beach at Nha Trang

The final entry from Vietnam

overcast 37 °F

As I write this, I'm actually back home in Shanghai, but since I still have one last place that I visited in Vietnam, that means you get at least one more blog.

When I made my itinerary for my trip, I decided that I wanted to spend the last few days relaxing on a beach somewhere. I had many choices since Vietnam has quite a long coastline (2140 miles!), but really only had to make my choice between two places - the island of Phu Quoc (whose territory has also been claimed by Cambodia in the past) and the city of Nha Trang, which is on the south central coast. I researched both places, but ultimately made my decision to go to Nha Trang. During the war, my dad was stationed at Cam Ranh Bay, which is fairly close to Nha Trang, so that was a deciding factor. Also, the hotel I wanted to stay in in Phu Quoc was fully booked. And I didn't notice it at first, but the Phu Quoc hotel's website says that it is a "clothing optional" hotel. Thank God I didn't go there! So in the end, it wasn't a difficult decision to make.

Nha Trang's rainy season is from mid-October to mid-December, so I just missed out on another rainy location. And even though it didn't rain, the sun was never out in full force while I was there. But it did seem to come out a bit more the morning I left (that's just typical, ain't it?).

Anyway, here are pictures of the hotel and some of the city's sites.

IMG_1618.jpg My hotel - Green Peace Hotel (the modern-looking one on the right)

IMG_1581.jpg Room 601

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IMG_1606.jpg The beach

IMG_1664.jpg Po Nagar Towers, another Hindu temple site built by the Champa

IMG_1674.jpg A view of the Cai River from Po Nagar

IMG_1697.jpg A sleeping Buddha at Long Son Pagoda (a copy of a sleeping Buddha in Thailand)

IMG_1699.jpg Another Buddha at the top of the mountain

IMG_3626.jpg Just off the road on the way from Nha Trang to Cam Ranh Bay (where my dad was, remember?)

IMG_3637.jpg I'm not sure anyone else will appreciate this picture, but I took it for my dad from the runway at the Cam Rahn Bay airport - nothing from the war still here, other than the runway itself, as far as I can see

For my last night in Vietnam, I went back to Hanoi. It wasn't originally my plan to do that, but I couldn't fly from Cam Ranh to Shanghai in one day - there wasn't enough time between flights as I would have had to connect in either Hanoi or Saigon. So I decided the best thing to do would be to fly back to Hanoi (I bought a round-trip ticket from Shanghai -> Hanoi -> Shanghai and then several one-way tickets for all of my domestic flights). To be honest, I'm glad it worked out the way it did. It gave me a real feeling of closure - my travels had come to an end right where they had started. Plus, I had scoped out some souvenirs the first day in Hanoi, then went back to those shops on my last day and bought them then. It was great not having to cart them around for three weeks that way. Anyway, here are a few more pictures from my last day in Vietnam

IMG_1719.jpg Back at the Hanoi Elite Hotel (room 201 this time)

IMG_1728.jpg It's the little touches like this that make the Hanoi Elite Hotel so awesome - a free fruit plate every day and a laptop for checking e-mail and stuff in every room!

IMG_1729.jpg The first time I saw this building, there were a few schoolgirls standing in front of it, but I didn't get a picture as I was in a van driving by. On my last day in Vietnam, I purposely walked to it (about 30 minutes from my hotel) to get some pictures. Alas, there were no schoolgirls that day, but I took several pictures anyway. I asked my driver to the airport the next day what the building is/was, and he said he thought it was an old factory - pretty cool factory, if you ask me!

IMG_1737.jpg A detailed shot of the writing under one of the factory windows. I have NO idea what it means.

IMG_1754.jpg This is the entrance to a restaurant I'd wanted to visit. When I got there, it was too early for dinner and I thought it would be pretty expensive, so I took some pictures and then walked ten minutes or so to a Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) restaurant I'd seen from the taxi on the way to this place. I got some good pictures and some good cheap soup!

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I planned long and hard for this trip and it was all worth it since everything went so smoothly. Now I only have to figure out where I'm going in 2012. Any suggestions anyone?

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog and sending messages to me (directly or indirectly) about what I've been doing. I'm thinking about continuing the blog in China this year - one of my resolutions is to do one "touristy" thing each month. When you live in a city, you pretty much go to the same spots all the time and then wonder why you don't get to see everything the city has to offer. That won't be the case for me this year. My time in Vietnam has been a great experience and has definitely brought some changes to the way I see things and plan to do things in the future. Until next time...

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Posted by feiheli 20:49 Archived in China Comments (5)

More from Saigon

overcast 78 °F

I feel that I owe everyone something light-hearted again, after such a serious post on Christmas Day. Plus, I still owe you some pictures of my hotel in Saigon, and my hotel here at the beach in Nha Trang.

Also, I should give you an update on my second meeting with Quy. I enjoyed a late breakfast on the 26th, then asked the owner of my hotel where I could go near the museum to hang out. He said that the museum was closed on Mondays, but gave me the name an address of a place to visit near the Reunification Palace (formerly the home of the President of South Vietnam). I know that lots of museums are closed on Mondays since they're usually open on the weekends, but he told me that there was a chance Quy might still be in the area trying to sell his books.

So I went to a little cafe named "Au Parc" and had a drink and some spinach artichoke dip with breadsticks and crudites (I had to look that word up - the French sounds much nicer than "sliced veggies"), then made my way to the museum. It was open (I thought I had seen a notice that said it was open every day, other than during their lunch hours), so I bought another ticket and found Quy almost exactly where I had run into him the previous day.

We sat down in the shade and chatted a bit while I looked through his books, before buying two. I really enjoyed talking with him and my heart felt much lighter than it had the afternoon previously. I got to learn several things about him, such as the fact that he's also missing his right leg (he showed me his prosthesis, which starts somewhere above the knee), that he has two children, that he likes to collect foreign money (I gave him some of the Chinese money I had with me) and that the woman selling drinks nearby takes care of him at work. She holds his other books at her drink station and can bring him new ones when he's sold any, and I also saw her take money that he'd made during the day and transfer it to the wallet in his back pocket for him. He said she's like his mom, and I agreed that it's nice to have extra moms. I didn't try to talk to her, but she did indeed have a very kind smile.

I can't adequately describe just how much better I felt yesterday. I wish I'd had even more time with Quy, but after a few minutes of talking, he got up to try to sell more books. He was at work, after all. I'm so glad that museum was open again and I got a happy ending to my story! And I hope that Quy can soon afford the new prosthesis he said he needs.

I'm including some pictures of my hotel "Ma Maison" now. When I first started looking for hotels in Saigon and saw this one, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to stay here. Unfortunately, when I first tried to make a reservation, there were no available rooms. I don't really know why I looked again a month or two later, but there was a room available. It was the biggest, most expensive room, but without any hesitation, I booked it. While the previous hotel was in the most beautiful surroundings, I think Ma Maison had some of the most charming rooms I've stayed in. Judge for yourselves...

IMG_1481.jpg The dining room

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IMG_1357.jpg Room 201

IMG_1358.jpg French Doors open onto a balcony (not much to look at outside, though)

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IMG_1387.jpg Orchids in the courtyard

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Since I didn't join a tour group for my vacation, I looked for short one day or half-day tours I could take. There were quite a few motorbike tours to choose from in Saigon (that's probably the best way to see the city), so I chose one called XO Tours. The reason I chose this one is primarily because all the drivers are women. I didn't want to have to hang on to some strange man through traffic, so I went for the women instead. However, after about 5 minutes, I felt comfortable enough that I didn't need to hang on to the driver or the bike. I enjoyed the tour and the feeling of being on a motorbike so much, I'm seriously considering buying one in Shanghai!

IMG_1479.jpg My guide, Nga, for a motorbike tour in Saigon

IMG_1397.jpg At the Opera House

IMG_1402.jpg Ho Chi Minh Square with Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in the background

IMG_1414.jpg Inside the Post Office

IMG_1419.jpg Notre Dame Cathedral

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IMG_1427.jpg Inside the Cathedral

IMG_1435.jpg The confessional area

IMG_1449.jpg Another panning shot

IMG_1453.jpg At the Reunification Palace - the war effectively ended when a tank drove through the outer gate on April 30, 1975

XO1.jpg No, I didn't get to drive - this was just for the picture

IMG_1468.jpg Inside the Jade Emperor Pagoda

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IMG_1475.jpg The dog is wrapped up because he has a skin infection

XO2.jpg The other travellers from our tour - they're from Japan, Malaysia & Singapore. I even ran into the guy from Singapore the next day, the travelling community seems to be that small here. It actually wasn't the first time I've run into a person I'd met previously here in Vietnam

If you asked me to think of one word to describe each place I've been in Vietnam, my word for Saigon would have to be "rumbling." The noise on the streets is absolutely incredible and has to be heard to be believed. Especially at a traffic light. All you can hear is the rumble of hundreds, if not thousands of motorbikes, just waiting to get moving again. It was exciting to be on a motorbike myself and in the midst of the chaos. You certainly do feel like you're part of the pulse of the city.

IMG_1498.jpg Christmas Eve traffic

IMG_1503.jpg I just love how you can see one driver waiting in the midst of all the traffic going around him

IMG_1512.jpg Yes, that's Santa on the motorbike in the middle of the picture

IMG_3557.jpg A family (presumably) on a scooter. The most people I saw on one scooter was 5, but I was in a taxi and didn't have my camera out to get a picture.

IMG_3581.jpg A delivery motorbike

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IMG_3587.jpg It's a real cathedral, but looks like it belongs at Disney World

Posted by feiheli 09:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Christmas Musings

sunny 75 °F

I’m honest to a fault, so I have to tell you that this Christmas has been quite a depressing one. Partly that’s to do with being away from family and friends (both in the States and China), partly that’s to do with not getting to church for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but mostly it’s to do with the fact that I chose today of all days to visit the War Remnants Museum here in Saigon.

The outside of the museum was fine – just a lot of tanks, planes & helicopters left over from different branches of the US Military after the war. I met a local man out there named Quy (pronounced We) selling some books. He had lost both of his arms from mid-forearm down and his right eye appeared damaged. He said he lost his arms in a mine explosion in 1978 when he was 8 years old. He’s only five years older than me, but his experiences seem to have made him even older than his years.

If you know anything about the war (I’m assuming people my age and younger reading this don’t have the knowledge that our parents and others from previous generations have), you know that the war officially ended in 1975 – April 30, 1975 to be exact. So Quy was hurt AFTER the war was already over. In fact, I read a statistic today that said about 2000 people a year are killed by mines left over from the American War. I guess Quy should be considered one of the lucky ones.

I told him that after I finished going through the exhibits inside, I’d see him outside again and maybe buy a book. And that was my intention. Lord knows, I have enough books, but I wanted to help someone who’s working for money, rather than begging for it. Quy touched me – physically and emotionally. He held out his stub for me to shake it and it was as soft as baby’s skin. He also gave me a sad look, like he’s probably heard that line before. And it WAS my intention to find him when I finished inside. However, after spending about 15 minutes inside, I had to get away from that museum.

Upon first entering the first floor, there are several human casualties of war on the left-hand side. None of them look to be older than 30 and all are deformed in some way. To me, the worst was a teenaged boy who was blind, sitting at a keyboard. He didn’t seem to have any other problems, but where there should have been eyes, it was just skin. Imagine a clay figurine before the artist creates the eyes – that’s precisely what he looked like. But these kids are there, working (and entertaining on the keyboard?) as best they can, to make souvenirs for the museum patrons to buy. Of course, the sale of these trinkets helps to pay for their needs, both physical and otherwise. I looked at the souvenirs, but after I saw the boy at the keyboard, I had to walk away or burst into tears right there.

Upstairs was worse, though it was mostly just pictures. We’ve probably all seen the picture of the little Vietnamese girl running naked down the road after being covered in napalm (in fact her name is Phan Thi Kim Phuc and she is now both a Canadian citizen and a Christian!), but that was only one of the pictures on display. Other pictures show disfigurements far worse than hers and the worst part of it is that many of these are in children born after the war. The chemical, “Agent Orange,” has been found to be very toxic, and it’s these toxins in the soil and water than have affected babies in utero. The museum also has some preserved misshapen fetuses on display, but I couldn’t linger there. In fact, I couldn’t stay in that place any longer. Again, I felt that if I stayed, I’d burst into tears.

I completely ignored the top floor of the museum and headed out. I looked briefly for Quy (and actually saw him with other tourists near the CH-47 Chinook helicopter), but in the end, didn’t buy anything from him. I was too ashamed, because my plan before going inside had been to buy a book, then ask to take his photo. I’m really into photography and thought he would make a great subject. When I saw him again, though, I realized that he might agree because he thought it would be the only way I would buy a book. Also, I didn’t want to risk offending him or seeming like an insensitive tourist. So in the end, I lied to him, probably just as he predicted, and left without buying anything from him.

After leaving the museum, I walked down the road a bit to a coffee house, went inside, ordered a coffee and sat for 2-3 hours. For at least the last hour there, I sat, sniffling and crying to myself over what humans are capable of doing to each other. Some people may leave the museum feeling anger or hatred towards Americans or towards war in general. But as an American, I can’t feel hatred towards my people. Instead, I feel guilt and grief. Vietnam was just one war, and while the method of inflicting pain or suffering during this war may have been different, there’s pain and suffering in every war. There’s even pain and suffering in a life that hasn’t been touched by war.

Being Christmas Day, I have to cry that we’ve messed up everything that God has created for us. He gave us the greatest gift ever when He gave us His Son, but we’ve gone as far from the perfection He created as possible. That’s why He sent His Son to earth for us. I know that there’s a lot of good on earth too, but it’s not always as easy to see the good. And I think I saw much more of the bad today than I ever had before, so it’s hit me pretty hard.

I’ve been having a rough few months (I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that crying fits haven’t exactly been unknown for me lately), but today was good for me in one respect. It definitely gave me some perspective – nothing that I’ve gone through can compare with what Quy or the blind boy or the others have gone through every day of their lives. And if they can endure with what life’s handed them, then I know that I can too.

I hope that each of you gets the gift of perspective this Christmas, without having to see the ugly reality that I witnessed today. Be grateful for what you have – your faith, your health, your family, your friends, your pets, your hobbies, your jobs – whatever it is that makes you happy. And if you can, reach out to help someone else. I’m looking into becoming a regular donor to some charity that can help the victims of mines or toxic poisoning here, but I’m also going to be looking to help people in Shanghai right where I live. It’s so easy to see the need around us, and so common to think “what can I, one person, really do to help?” So the usual course of action is to do nothing. But I want that to change and I’m going to make sure that it does.

It was a little embarrassing to sit in the coffee house and have the tears run down my face. I’m sure that people must have noticed, because I had to sniff and blow my nose at times, so I wasn’t exactly silent. I felt a little bit like Sally in the TV show “Third Rock from the Sun” who described crying as “leaking.” (A bit of background may be necessary here – this TV show is about a group of aliens who come to live on earth to research what it means to be human. Since this is the first time any of them has cried, they aren’t exactly sure what it is or why it’s happened. So when Sally cries for the first time, she panics and asks “what’s wrong with me? I’m leaking!)

It was a humorous part of the show, and one that I’ve never forgotten. Also an apt description for me today. That’s what my crying has been like – no loud sobs, no actual breaking down, but tears streaming down my face uncontrollably. I can stop for two minutes, ten minutes, even thirty minutes, but then it happens again. I’ve been leaking for the last six hours. And in that time I’ve been asking God, “why did you have to give me such a sensitive heart? If I didn’t have this heart, I would be able to control my feelings better.” But then He gave me the realization that these emotions, this sensitivity, this “leaking” is far better than the opposite, which is what I’ve been for too long. I’ve been able to walk past all sorts of deformity and suffering and poverty in Shanghai, past many an outstretched hand and feel nothing, do nothing. But like I said, that’s going to change.

I leave Saigon tomorrow evening and go to the beach in Vietnam for three days. But before I fly out, I have plenty of time to go back to see Quy and do what I said I would. I don’t know if he’ll remember me, but I hope that I don’t see the same sadness and disappointment that I saw there today when I initially put him off. Tomorrow is a new beginning for me and my sensitive heart.

Posted by feiheli 06:45 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

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