Today was like groundhog day. It started for us at 3am Friday morning, that would be 3 pm Michigan time. Every flight was delayed, we went through more security checks than you can imagine,we ate lousy airplane food at strange times and landed safely in Detroit Friday evening at 7 pm Michigan time ( 7 am Saturday Saigon time).

We made some new friends learned a lot of new things and enjoyed every minute of this unique adventure.


Halong bay

Halong Bay, the last real stop of the trip. The bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ten years ago there were fewer than one hundred boats on on the bay. Now a thousand boats float among the karst outcroppings everyday. Halong means descending dragon. Legend has it that a dragon descended into the bay swinging it’s tail and breaking the rocks into hundreds of small islands. If it is true a picture is worth a thousand words I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. The boat also stopped at a cave called paradise cave by the tour guide.

On the bus trip to the bay the tour guide reviewed some of the history of Vietnam. The French played a large role in the modern development of the country. They colonized the country and developed large rubber plantations. The architecture, bread and coffee are part of the French legacy but the biggest contribution is the roman alphabet.





Hanoi 1

The last day in Saigon was a hurry up and wait day. Hurry and pack, hurry to the lobby wait for the bus, oops the planes be delayed…..We went to lunch at a soup restaurant across from the Hilton where Bill Clinton ate when he visited Vietnam. The traditional noodle soup is served in a large bowl filled with rice noodles and slices of meat or vegetables, it was a good trade for a delayed plane.

We assumed the flight would be in a very small plane like the one we took to Saigon, we were wrong , it was huge. Hanoi is the capital and many people travel there each day. On the ride into town we passed the only thing that has landed Vietnam a spot in the Guinness Book of World records. A three mile ceramic tile tile mural depicting the daily life and history was commissioned for the Millennium celebration. Townies take note, it was created by a local artist, they did not buy it from Germany. We stayed at the Hanoi Hilton, next to the Opera house. The Hilton had bid on the site of the Hanoi Hilton prison but it was sold to a local concern.

After a very quick fish dinner we checked into our rooms for the night.

Tuesday was a very busy day. We started at the ancient Confucius school of literature. This was the first university in Vietnam and it followed Chinese tradition. After three years of training only those who passed the exam in the top one percent graduated. The names of this elite group were engraved on a tablet that rested on the back of a carved turtle, they were awards eight hundred dollars, eight servants and eight horses. They returned to their home province were they were celebrated by all. They became Mandarins, consultants to the emperor. Those who did not pass were allowed another try, when they passed their names were inscribed in smaller letters on the tablet. Students celebrating their graduation today often come to this site as part of their festivities. While the university is no longer active the influence of Confucius on daily life is still profound.

Ho Chi Min’s mausoleum was the next stop. Uncle Ho’s body had been out for additional preservation and cleaning. It was on public display for the first time in several weeks. The area is under strict security and all visitors were expected to behave with the utmost respect as we filed past the body. I was chastised because my hands were behind my back and not at my side. Since he died during the war and his body was hidden in a cave there remain many skeptics about the authenticity of the body.

Reopening of the mausoleum

Reopening of the mausoleum

War friends

Hanoi Hilton, the Maison Central is the prison of John Macain fame. Prior to it’s use as an prison for the AMERICAN war it was a French prison for the war of independence complete with a guillotine. Only a small portion of the prison remains and little is said about it’s use as a prison for Americans.
[caption id="attachment_555" align="alignright" width="584"]Hanoi Hilton Hanoi Hilton

We boarded the bus for lunch. Vietnam traffic is difficult to imagine, if you stood on the corner of Stadium and Main and all the traffic from all the football games from the season converged on that spot at the same time you might be close to daily traffic in Saigon or Hanoi. The side streets are very narrow, barely wide enough for a bus, so the
bus frequently dropped us at a corner. Today we were dropped on street with open bins of hardware and told to turn right at the yellow motorcycle. The restaurant served us the best meal in Vietnam. Soup, fish spring rolls, eggplant, Calamari, cabbage, pork and a banana dessert. Following lunch we went on an electric car ride around the city. Then we attended a water puppet show. Water puppets were designed by farmers and they told stories about life on the farm, both good and bad. The stage is covered with water and the puppet controls are submerged.

Following the puppet show we shopped until Mary dropped.


We left the boat in Mytho and took a bus to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). Our bags were delivered to the hotel and we went to visit The Reunification Palace. The pac ace was the seat of government for South Vietnam. When Saigon fell and the tanks broke down the fence and entered the Palace the president and cabinet were waiting in the conference room to surrender. This building is now a museum and the capitol is in Hanoi. When the Vietnamese people speak of the war they refer to it as the American war. We have been told that in the early 50’s the people of vietnam asked eight times for American assistance and were ignored. When they fought for independence from the French we supported the French with weapons. The American war years later was an effort to stop the spread of communism which would not have been an issue had we responded to earlier requests for help.

Dinner was on our own. We have made friends with several women who are traveling single and spent the evening with them. We went to a small French restaurant that was owned by a young Vietnamese woman. The food was excellent. English translations can be entertaining. I had salmon and vegetables wrapped in oven, oven is aluminum foil. 2011 Asia SS 1105 to 1110 047

2011 Asia SS 1105 to 1110 046

2011 Asia SS 1105 to 1110 026 We could not get a taxi outside the restaurant so Mary directed us to the Sheraton hotel where she bought enough to earn us the use of the doorman who hailed us a taxi.

Saturday morning was an optional tour to the Cu Chi Tunnel. The NVA had an extensive tunnel network that aided their efforts in the war. The tunnels began during the war on independence and were extended during the American war. The Americans were aware of the tunnels and unable to penetrate them. The use of dogs was successful until theNVA began using chili powder along the trails. The dogs were soon neutralized by pain and fear. Flooding the tunnels did not work because the NVA built drains that returned the water to the river. Gas was not useful because they were able to seal off parts of the tunnel until the gas was neutralized. Humans were lowered into the tunnel but the death rate for “tunnel rats” was so high that program was discontinued. Agent Orange and extensive bombing had the greatest impact on the tunnels. Vent holes for the tunnels were disguised as termite hills and an extensive filtering system kept the smoke and cooking smells from reaching the surface. Booby traps were brutal, impaling American soldiers on bamboo spikes.

The afternoon trip was to the war museum… I was war weary and attempted to shop with Eileen and Mary. After lunch we grabbed a taxi and headed toward a crafts mall listed in the guide book. The surroundings looked dubious and no mall was in sight so we had the driver turn and around and return us to the hotel. The only thing we achieved was the biggest taxi fare of the trip.

The farewell dinner at the hotel was the worst meal of the trip.

Tonight the majority of the people leave for home, twenty of us are on to Hanoi.