Dear readers, after a rather impromptu departure from our Going Global tour, and a prolonged stay in Europe, Helmut and I have recently returned to the leafy avenues and colonial grandeur of Ho Chi Minh City. Why the extended absence? Well, let’s just say that to the delight of our local wine merchants, we are now firmly back on our feet and believe it or not, rehab is NOT that bad!
Inside the inner courtyard and amid thick clouds of burning incense, there is an air of serenity and contemplation – the perfect place for me and hubby Helmut to reflect on how the Middle Way explicitly refutes the extremes of both eternalism and nihilism, the illusion of reality, and the price of a shot of gin
On our second day back, a cultural and historic surprise presents itself. Dear readers, who would ever guess, that located a short distance from where we reside, the picturesque Museum of Vietnamese History houses objets d’art likely to make even a sailor blush?
Bombay Sapphire: Can be obtained quite easily, from shops, bars, clubs and hotels, but no harm in stocking up! Vietnam, of course, is a socialist country, but somehow, socialism and alcohol seem to blend so well together.
Food – delicious, plentiful, fresh, cheap. Vietnamese cuisine varies slightly from region to region, with many regions having their own specialties. Generally, northern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being bland, while southern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being spicy
Other Saigon facts, which are not quite as interesting as the first two:
Architecture: colonial-style and for the most part, the city is still charmingly devoid of tower-blocks and mega-malls.
Numbers: Saigon is a city of nearly 8 million inhabitants and covers an area just over 809 square miles
Seasons: Saigon has two seasons – wet and dry.The wet season usually starts in May and ends in November. The dry season is from December to April. (or in our case: dry, when we run out of Bombay and wet, when we locate a bottle)
Currency: The official currency in Vietnam is the DONG (VND). Helmut and I try to use our Dong at every opportunity, which means shopping daily. Luckily, we get a lot of Dong for our Dollar, hence, when an item is extra cheap, we say it’s “going for a Dong”
The Museum of Vietnamese History
Set in the Botanic Gardens in the centre of the city, the Museum of Vietnamese History is worth a visit for its location and architecture as much as its collection.
Although the Lingam has been interpreted by some Western scholars, as a symbol of male creative energy or as a phallic symbol, to practicing Hindus the Lingam represents the inseparability of the male and female principles and the totality of creation. Judging by the generous dimensions of the carefully crafted stone blocks, it seems that when it comes to creation, size DOES matter.
Our dear hosts seem very interested in this philosophical and abstract interpretation and take an annoyingly long time in this section of the museum. Later, they both have to recharge their video, camera and cell phone batteries….
Towards the end of our Saigon stay, Helmut and I head north to the stunning World Heritage site of Hoi An, a beautifully preserved coastal town that has miraculously escaped war damage. At the airport, Helmut makes a new friend, an old man dressed in his pyjamas, who, spotting Helmut from across the terminal, shuffles over, and sits holding his hand until it’s time to depart
Helmut and are SMITTEN with Hoi An! There is something magical about this ancient seaport and the colours go to my head. Or could it be the pre-cocktail shots from one of the many tourist bars lining the high street? It’s hard to tell..
Hoi An Facts:
Situated almost 600 km north of Saigon and 30 km south of Danang, Hoi An lies on the banks of the Thu Bon river
The town has a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets; the original structure of some of these streets still remains almost intact
Houses in Hoi An are made of rare wood, decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese characters. Pillars are also carved with ornamental designs
While Hoi An’s old-fashioned charm is always visible, on the 14th of every lunar month modernity takes another step back. On these evenings the town turns off its street lamps and fluorescent lights, leaving the Old Quarter bathed in the warm glow of coloured silk, glass and paper lanterns
The next day, we take a boat trip and visit the ruins of Vietnam’s very own Angkor Wat at My-Son, the site of a Hindu temple complex dating back to the 7th century and consisting of Champa temples and burial chambers, in a valley roughly two kms wide, surrounded by two mountain ranges. Funnily enough, as we hunt among the ruins, we discover even more evidence of the inseparability of the male and female principle and the totality of creation
During our last Pho noodle meal with our dear hosts, we bid farewell or pho-well, as Helmut jokingly quips, to the city we have grown so fond of
Helmut, true to his Babe Magnet reputation, has gathered more than a few admirers during our stay, but being used to so much attention, how will he cope with no attention at all, in our next port of call – Tokyo?