Living with the past….
Day 77/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Ho Chi Minh City, Day 3
Day 78/138. Container port south of HCMC and at sea.
We were up early this morning to make sure we got the 9:00am shuttle bus Viking was running from our container port pier, into Ho Chi Minh City(HCMC). Not knowing when the shuttle bus might fill up, since we could not reserve seats, we were out on the pier and on the bus by 8:20am. Gene and Margaret were coming with us into the City today and we ended up trying a bunch of different seats, before we finally found some we were comfortable with for the hour long ride into HCMC. It never fails, the ride is an hour, no matter what time of day we depart for or leave from HCMC.
Our plan today was to walk around HCMC until meeting our private tour guide at noon at the Caravelle Hotel which was directly across the street from the Opera House, where our shuttle bus dropped us off.
Our shuttle bus dropped us off right behind the Ho Ho bus (Hop on Hop off bus), in front of the Opera House and the Caravelle Hotel (the large building in front of the bus). As soon as we were dropped off, the card seller who we had bought some cards from the day before pounced on us. I had been telling Margaret about these beautiful pop up cards and how I had only bought 5 cards the day before but wanted to buy more. The lady ahead of us was able to get 6 cards for $5US, and when I heard the price I said to the card seller “Hey, I only got 5 for $5 yesterday! You owe me a card!” so I was able to get 7 cards today for $5 and Margaret got my same deal!
Notice the socks with the flip flops! It was very hot out, but Vietnamese women do not want to tan, so they completely cover up to avoid the sun.
Gene and Margaret had been to some stores on their own the day before and Margaret wanted to show me the shops they had been in, so we headed down D. Don’t Khoi street in the direction of the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Church. Once again we ended up passing the Post Office and Notre Dame church, but this time I took a side view picture of the church to be able to see the red brick building, instead of the scaffolding. Sometimes it takes 3 times to think of the correct angle to take the photo I guess!
Beautiful red brick from Toulouse, France on Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Saigon, District 1, Vietnam.
We walked a bit past the Opera House and turned down Duong Nguyen Va Binh street which we affectionately called ’booksellers’ alley because of all of the bookstores selling both new children’s books and used books.
Entrance to ‘booksellers alley’. The nice thing about this street was there were no motorbikes, scooters or cars trying to run us over!
I looked for a box of notecards in the shops in the alley, but they did not have any. We did see a woman doing traditional bookbinding with hand made paper, which I did not photograph, but the notebooks she was creating were works of art.
We wandered into the Vietnam Silk House store to see the gorgeous silk fabrics that were for sale on the bolts on the walls of the store.
Margaret took a liking to this piece of fabric and because she is a seamstress, she intends to turn this into a stunning slip dress. I cannot wait to see the finished product. The silk was not very expensive at about $45 USD for 1.5 metres which is enough to make a simple dress.
We headed back towards the Caravelle Hotel, stopping at the Vincom Shopping Centre once again since we knew they had clean facilities and the mall was air conditioned! It was 34C or 93F outside and extremely hot and humid.
My ‘pack horse‘ as Richard calls himself carrying his big heavy backpack through the streets of HCMC.
We arrived at the Caravelle Hotel around 11:50am and met our Viatour guide Ted who quickly hot spotted my Iphone to show me the new itinerary he had come up with for our 3 hours with him today. I had been in communication with Ted and had been sending him messages through What’s App about all the places we had already been and did not want to see again. Gene and Margaret also looked at the itinerary and we made some instant revisions to it, since they had already seen the War Museum on one of their previous excursions. Ted adjusted quickly and suggested that if we wanted to make the most out of our day, we would take air conditioned taxis to local spots and do some walking in between. Perfect! With 3 hours together and killer hot weather, taxis and a bit of walking would be the best way to see the sights. Taxis are relatively cheap too in HCMC!
Ted hailed a taxi for us from the Caravelle Hotel and because we were 5 people plus the driver, we had a large, well air conditioned, SUV.
Our first stop was to the art supply store named ‘Taipoz’ which I had seen online sold calligraphy pens. After a quick 10 minute ride in downtown Saigon traffic, we jumped out of the cab, and walked down two alleys before we finally found the store. There is no way I would ever have found the art store on my own because it was so well hidden.
Taipoz Art Supply store in Saigon. Ted, our guide is discussing the pricing with the shopkeeper. I was able to get a good quality 8 pen calligraphy set with ink, an extra ink well and 4 different colours of ink for $32CAD.
We walked back to the busy main street and Ted quickly called another SUV cab for us to take us to our next stop, which was located in District 10. We had not been to District 10 before, so we were anxious to see what was in District 10.
We had not had lunch yet and were walking by this street vendor so we asked Ted what he was selling.
The items in the forefront on the grill are deep fried bananas. Ted bought 2 of these unusual looking fried goods for us and we hungrily ate them standing by the food cart. We all proclaimed them ‘Delicious!’ We also saw some round buns inside the plastic area of the cart and asked what those were? Ted said they were sesame buns made out of rice flour, so we got a couple of those to split as well. The buns tasted like coconut, rice and sesame all in one mouthful. Again, these buns were delightful and we would not have stopped at this food truck for street food, had Ted not been with us.
Entering Ho Thi Ky Flower Market located 4km from Saigon Centre in District 10.
Founded in the 1980’s the flower market in HCMC is the largest flower market in HCMC and supplies the city and some provinces in Southern Vietnam. The market is open from 5am and closes at 10pm, but the busiest times are early morning for wholesalers and the evening for the public. Flowers from the market are from Dalat, Mekong Delta, Hungary and the Netherlands. The market also has food vendors selling other delicacies and snack foods too and was a really bustling place.
Chicken and pasta anyone?
Seasoned, cooked Chicken instead perhaps?
Rice cake flat breads with bananas anyone? I hope that cigarette ash doesn’t fall into the cooking!
We actually bought a black sesame rice cake to bring home with us. It was good. Like a crunchy rice flatbread, but without any cigarette ash.
Margaret and Ted admiring the beautiful flowers in the market.
Richard and Gene solving all the world’s problems in the Flower market.
White flowers are for Buddhist funerals in Vietnam. Purple flowers are for Christian funerals.
The array of flowers was overwhelming and so was the scent, but mixed in with the scent was this strange smell of spray paint. As you can see from the gold roses above, those are not natural flowers! They have been sprayed gold.
And there sitting on the shelf are the culprits! Cans and cans of coloured spray paint waiting to be used on the fresh flowers.
And how do you think that the vendors pick up their flowers from the narrow streets and alleys of the flower market?
That’s how! I do not know how anyone could possible drive that many flowers on a motorbike in HCMC traffic! Absolutely crazy!
The flower market vendors do a bustling business in HCMC where an average retail bouquet of flowers sells for $15CAD.
One of my favourite shots today was of this woman sitting in the Flower market sitting outside her place of business on a low chair, counting out Vietnamese dong. After she counted her money, she passed it to the man in the back, who looks like he is doing the bookkeeping. Capitalism is alive and well in Vietnam and our guide Ted, was proud of the fact that Vietnam allows citizens to thrive through owning their own businesses.
After walking around the Flower Market for awhile it was time for a 10 minute walk to a traditional Vietnamese coffee shop. We walked single file along through the tire shops located in District 10. HCMC is very well organized with similar products all sold in the same area. With the traffic being so bad there is no way anyone can price shop across the City, so having all similar product vendors located close to each other, makes it a lot easier for consumers to shop.
We had to walk single file in District 10, because as you can see the businesses spread out onto the sidewalk, making it difficult for pedestrians to pass by on the sidewalk.
We soon came to a very happy place!
I’m not sure how Happy this Hotel is, but at 2 stars, I do not think we will be checking in for an overnight stay!
Ted brought us down a small alley to the traditional Vietnamese coffee shop after quickly crossing this very busy road. We would never have found this coffee shop on our own.
Heading to the coffee shop.
Richard leading the way.
CHEO LEO CAFE. The oldest coffee shop in Vietnam, hidden down an alley way in District 3. Unlike other coffee shops, this one looks quite plain, but who needs a fancy sign anyway, when the coffee shop has been around for over 80 years?
Since I am not a coffee drinker, I had fresh coconut water and so did Gene. Richard and Margaret enjoyed the coffee from Cheo Leo, with Margaret trying the traditional Vietnamese ice coffee that has sweetened condensed milk on the bottom, ice and then coffee poured over it. After we had our refreshments it was time for us to visit the back of the coffee shop to learn how to brew the traditional Vietnamese coffee.
Cheo Leo brews coffee the old-fashioned, almost extinct way of brewing coffee with a clay pot and a cloth strainer. The three sisters Tuyet, Suong and Sau who own the shop use tap water to brew the coffee, but before it can be used, the water must sit still in a tank for three days. Their father who started the coffee shop many years ago, followed this practise to get rid of all of the unwanted smell of disinfectants in the water.
Cloth strainer with ground coffee in it.
At Cheo Leo they still use an old wood burning stove that their father had specifically made just for boiling water. They then pour the hot water into a cloth strainer containing finely ground coffee. The strainer is placed in a clay pot. The coffee sits in the strainer for a while before being poured into another pot, which is then placed near the stove, to keep the coffee warm and maintain its perfect flavour. The coffee shop opened in 1938 when the rural neighbourhood was uninhabited. The name Cheo Leo means ‘high and dangerous’ in Vietnamese, being inspired by the fact that the coffee shop stood on an isolated plot of land, quite far from the nearest houses.
What a neat stop at Cheo Leo! When our guide said we were going to a traditional Vietnamese coffee shop I was mildly interested, but after seeing Cheo Leo, I felt like we were living in history at this traditional Vietnamese coffee shop.
Ted called us another taxi to take us to our next stop. It was nice to put the air conditioning on full blast for a few minutes while we drove, as it was extremely hot and humid outside.
As we arrived at our next stop we saw this woman and her push cart hanging out in HCMC.
I’m not sure how much more she could get on this cart.
This next section might upset some people so please be prepared, and if you wish please skip past to the photo of the embroidery shop.
Thap Mo Venerable Thich Quang Duc Stupa.
The tribute to the Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death in this very spot on June 11, 1963. Thich Quang Ducwas protesting against the persecution of the country’s 70-80% population of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government lead by NGO Dinh Diem, a staunch Roman Catholic. Photographs of his self immolation circulated around the world, drawing attention to the policies of the Diem government. President JFK himself said ”No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” The photographer Malcolm Browne won the World Press Photo of the Year for his photograph of the monk’s death.
Directly across the street from the more personal memorial we just visited was the Thich Quang Duc Memorial which was completed in 2010.
The statue of Thich Quang Duc is 6 metres high, weights 12 tons and has a diameter of 4.5 meters. Thich Quang Duc was made to be calm and unconquerable in the fierce fire, sitting on a lotus leave on a round pedestal. The alter in front of the statue is always full of flowers offered by Buddhists, Saigon people and visitors. Candles of incense are always burning too, to respect the patriotic monk, his love of the nation and Buddha.
A history of Vietnam.
Disturbing, but reality, on this relief.
Behind the statue, and up a curved staircase is a relief behind the statue that illustrates the story of Thich Quang Duc, Buddhism and the nation in the Vietnam War. Lines of monks and Buddhists are sitting on their knees and standing and praying while the monk burns. As the panel continues, Saigon people including women and the elderly fight for nationality, Buddhism and peace. I found the reliefs and the entire area very moving, and disturbing, but yet this history happened and I could either choose to pass by it, or take it in and feel moved. I chose the latter.
We chatted for awhile with our guide Ted, at the actual photograph taken by journalist Malcolm Browne, of the burning monk. (I will not post that photo though as it is very disturbing). We talked about the religious freedom that the Vietnamese people enjoy now despite Vietnam being a communist country. Ted said that while most people in Vietnam do not openly practise religion, when someone dies, they call the Buddhist monk to help with the arrangements. Interesting.
Ted called another taxi to take us back to District 1 where he had a very special stop in store for us. And the spot was air conditioned too!
XQ Silk Hand Embroidery in District 1 just up the street from the Opera House. Richard and me had walked right by this shop yesterday, never thinking to go inside. We are so glad we went inside today, and that is the benefit of paying for a private tour with a guide. We got to see places today that the bus tour would never have taken us.
Hand embroidered fabric.
More hand embroidery.
Each of these framed pieces of art are all hand embroidered. It can take 2 embroiderers more than 3 months working together to finish a piece of embroidery.
A simple piece of embroidery.
Look at the very fine, detailed stitching on the fish and the reeds! I was fascinated by this piece of embroidery!
I liked this piece of the old Vietnamese lady smoking her pipe. The wrinkles on her face were unbelievably realistic and the piece looked like it could have been a painting or a photograph, instead of a piece of embroidery!
We said goodbye to our guide Ted and thanked him for showing us around this amazing city of HCMC. Ted is also a tour designer and I would highly recommend him if we ever came back to Vietnam. Ted was telling us over coffee that we could have hired him for the overnight stay in the Mekong Delta, which would have allowed us to have more of a bespoke experience than the one that Viking was offering over a 10.5+ hour day which involved 6+ hours in a bus and 2 hours on the hot Delta waters in a big open boat. Next time, we’ll call Ted and have a private experience doing some other things outside of HCMC!
And after our 11,000+ step day of walking and heat in HCMC it was time for me and Margaret to go back to my favourite air conditioned foot massage joint and have ourselves each a 45 minute foot massage, which also turned into an arm and shoulder, neck and back massage! Just what the doctor ordered and for $17USD each, I think everyone who visits HCMC should finish up their day with foot massages. With all of the walking that we did in a day in HCMC, it was such a treat to be able to get on the shuttle bus for the 60 minute ride back to the Neptune, with contented feet!
Someone is pretty Zen….!
I gave each of our therapists a generous $5 tip. They were fantastic!
Richard and Gene enjoyed a cold beverage at a local hotel patio, while we were having our feet massaged. We met up with them with our contented feet, and walked back to the Opera House, to get in line for the shuttle bus for our 1 hour bus ride back to the ship.
The traffic was so crazy on our trip home that people were walking from the back of the bus, to the front, to take pictures of the traffic in front of us. Crazy!!! Unless you see a picture of the traffic, you just cannot explain it in words.
We visited the local market after we got off the bus, to see what we could spend our remaining Vietnamese Dong on.
I had 197,000 dong left, which was about $10 CAD. We were able to negotiate for a few things at the market, but figured that the last day (tomorrow) might bring us some better deals.
Happy Birthday to Gene and to our friend Sue from the U.K. who are both celebrating birthdays onboard the ship today!
We had to hand in our Vietnamese tourist cards before noon today, so we wanted to go to the market set up in the container port parking lot one more time with some U.S. dollars to pick up a few last minute things we had thought about overnight.
It looks like everyone else had the same idea to visit the market this morning!
All manner of ‘knock off’ clothing could be found at the market.
Richard looking a bit perplexed at what he should buy.
My new $6 hat that Richard bargained for. It looks better on me than on him!
When we got back to the ship and handed in our Vietnamese tourist cards, we called up Gene and Margaret to see if we could stop by to give Gene his birthday gift.
Gene modelling his new ‘dork’ shirt that we bought for him in Semarang, Indonesia. At least he can match the other guys who also bought dork shirts, while onboard the Neptune! Anything that is not a t-shirt to Gene is a ‘dork’ shirt.
I spent most of the afternoon writing the blog from yesterday since we had such a busy last day in HCMC. It seemed like a strange day, being in port, but not able to go anywhere. For people who had stayed off the ship, and there were a fair number who either went to hotels in HCMC or a golf resort, the late departure time today, allowed them time to get back to the ship for the 1pm back on board time.
And at 2pm we sailed away from Vietnam. The shipping lanes were very busy with all manner of ships as we left Vietnam.
We enjoyed a lovely evening in the Chef’s Table this evening celebrating Sue’s birthday in the private dining room. There were a lot of laughs and the Mexican themed meal was delicious; especially the dessert which was a triple dose of chocolate!
We have a sea day tomorrow to recover from the heat, humidity, hustle and bustle of Vietnam as we sail towards Thailand which we will reach the day after tomorrow.
Reflecting on our time in HCMC I would love to visit Vietnam again and explore farther afield by staying downtown HCMC and also going north and visiting the Capital city of Hanoi. I feel like we were really experiencing and immersing ourselves in the culture and history of this formerly strife riven country and I was left wanting more. More time to understand how the country has evolved so well since reunification and more time to experience the foods, which we never seemed to have much time to do. Next time. This is definitely a must go back place for me and I think Richard feels the same. TAM BIET or Goodbye Vietnam!