Sunday, March 05, 2006

Saigon Reloaded...With Family















A good backpacker guesthouse/hotel: You are provided with toilet paper and a towel.

A great backpacker guesthouse/hotel: You are provided with toilet paper, a towel and a hot shower.

An excellent backpacker guesthouse/hotel: You are provided with toilet paper, a towel, a hot shower and a shower curtain.

An outstanding, luxurious backpacker guesthouse/hotel: You are provided with toilet paper, a towel, a hot shower, a shower curtain, television (of mostly TV shows you cannot understand) and airconditioning.

So you can just imagine what it was like for me to stay in a 5 star hotel after flying to Saigon to meet my parents and Aunt and Uncle. Not only was there a television, air conditioning, hot water and all the rest, but there was a pool, a massive breakfast buffet and you could actually flush your toilet paper (everywhere else in SE Asia there is a dirty garbage can reserved for used toilet paper).

It was great to get a few days in Saigon with my family who were on holidays from their trip to Japan - and not just because of the hotel. Besides the shopping (sunglasses, 2 handmade silk Chinese lanterns, a t-shirt, a photocopied copy of the Laos Lonely Planet and another paperback book - all for less than $20!!) and the fact that I loaded my family up like pack mules with things I no longer needed to carry around Asia, the highlight of the few days in Saigon was our trip on the Delta Mekong.

Hiring a small boat and guide, our first stop on the river was a factory where terracotta tiles, pottery and cats (yes, pottery cats) are handmade in huge kilns. Our second stop was a nursery where we were shown local fruit trees. We were quickly greeted by the crazy 85-year-old owner of the property, a man who looked exactly like Ho Chi Minh who spoke no English. We stopped for a taste of local fruit grown on site and Uncle Ho came and joined us, bringing a nasty powerful wine that he makes himself. After a few toasts - Uncle Ho yelling "Yo!" with great vigour - it was apparent that he was quite the boozehound. He drank a lot of wine while we were there, but our guide Nam told us not to worry, that everyday he "gets drunk, goes to sleep, wakes up and then feels better."

Heading up river, we passed houses along its banks and boats where people lived - washing themselves in the river, laying in hammocks or hanging out laundry. We stopped at a local factory where were shown how puffed rice, coconut candy and rice paper are handmade. I tried to make some rice paper myself, but while the woman who taught me made a perfect, uniform round rice paper, mine was mangled and filled with holes.

On the way back we passed through a floating market where boats hung whatever it was they were selling - jackfruit, mango, banana - from the mast of their ship. It was amazing to see how people live in this area of Vietnam. It is so different from home.

Leaving Saigon to fly back up to Hue to cross into Laos, it was a sad goodbye. It was especially sad because I realized that over the last few months I have had too many teary goodbyes. So almost halfway into the trip, I am happy to be traveling and having the most amazing trip, but also looking forward to some happy reunions - with friends and family - in the next few months.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Sandra in Japan said...

It was great having you in Ho Chi Minh. You forgot to mention the 2 hour happy hour with munchies, and unlimited internet (also included with the room). How are the new glasses working out? Check out "homelyplanet.blogspot.com. You will see a picture of you modeling the latest in Vietnamese hat fashion. Love from the 4 of us.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Jay in Japan said...

And flying down the river on the suspiciously rusty Russian Hydrofoil. A reject from the Volga ferry service, it did get us their an back! Fantastic sharing some of your adventures and we look forward to you pioneering the way for some of our future excursions!
Possibly that Nun who gave you directions was giving a subtle hint that it was time for a visit to the local church?

7:20 PM  

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