Vietnam: Saigon 3 nights

Vietnam
I was dealing with four currencies in one day – very confusing. The VND is in ridiculously high notes – 500.000VND = 30CAD. At least my just shy of 500CNY can be put away for 20 days. I will have to be vigilant about spending, too easy to get confused and end up paying too much for something. The fact USD/CAD/EUROS & even CNY could be used at the airport – besides exchanging – surprised me. I squirrelled my money to brave the streets of Saigon to find dinner. I hoped to do some tours while in Saigon as there was no way I had enough time to work out how to get anywhere on my own.

When I first went to China in 1996 I could not believe how many bicycles there were, to be replaced by motor scooters then cars over two decades – all making for some crazy driving. Move forward 21 years to Vietnam and it is motor scooters – except the streets are insane! The noise is deafening, people jostle for a foot or wheel hold, horns toot, people shout out to passing riders to stop for a bite, parents are fetching children from school, the after school vendors are on their scooters (ready to push off if any authority shows up – happens in China too). Everyone has a place to with pedestrians at the bottom of priorities. Perhaps simply because they must not be going far if walking?

 
I somehow managed to walk to the wet market several blocks down – I had no idea where I was heading – and even tried out some street food. The French influence means some pretty tasty, crusty bread is found at many stalls. One place drew my attention when a crust had just been opened and was being filled with something interesting. The fellow holding it was also quite entertaining while he tried to entice me to try some. It worked. For 20,000VND I had dinner – bread filled with nicely done tofu, a long slice of cucumber marinating in something (most likely to keep it fresh), some pickled goodies, slightly cooked sprouts and a dash of hot sauce. No pictures, no pandas allowed out to share, too dangerous with all those scooters. Probably some fumes mixed in the meal. Picked up some milk to make coffee, then called it a night other than arranging for a full day City tour the next day. 

View from my room.

War Museum, how the hell does humanity still get so entangled to maim, torture, wrest away freedom, deny basic rights, fault religious and political beliefs, enough to kill each other? As my fellow morning seat mate said, I was crying on the inside. We did not have enough time for thoroughly learning about the atrocities of yet another crime against humanity.

Made from shrapnel this sculpture depicts the anguish of the mother’s of Vietnam.

Reconciliation Palace (not the War Museum) ignore the date – itvreally wasx taken in 2017!

While there My youngest daughter tried to call me. Her closest sister let me know then connected us with FB – seems she wishes she had met me in Saigon after all. I said to just come. Logistically it will most likely mean she will be a day behind me on the motorcycle tour. We are waiting on flights and an available driver and bike. (Update – it took a couple of days for her to organize everything so she would meet me in Hoi An after my tour)

Chinatown – sort of the same as any wet market, and wholesale goods in China. No idea why we were brought there other than perhaps to keep us amused for an hour. I think most of the participants were just confused and not too happy at the prospect of hanging around a maze of shops selling everything from spices, chili sauces, dried everything to whatever one might need in the home or office- plus items never even considered, let alone knowing what they were for, this form someone who has shopped in Chinese markets.

Incense cones – individuals buy these to be hung from the rafters. They tend to burn longer than the sticks.
Two deities in full glory – so brilliant behind glass. Note the pink seat next to it – in some cultures a most venerated monk would sit here, I am unsure if that was its purpose as I did not see such seats in Chinese Buddhist temples.

Pit stop for civet coffee. Of course this was the inevitable sales pitch to buy, buy, buy. At least the coffee served was free. 
A short stop, about 20 minutes at the Chinese Temple to the goddess of the sea. Built in the 17th c. The idols were beautifully draped in finery. I was beginning to feel rushed. Lunch stop, I finally had Pho! Naturally this was an extra charge. It worked out because everyone could order what they wanted or go to one of many other small restaurants. They all seem to work together when it comes to large tour groups.



Another Pit stop, this time at one of several (I discovered this the next day)Handicapped Handicrafts tour/sales pitch. The sign says 100% of the proceeds goes to the care of the individuals doing the lacquer work but how do we know? The Reunification Museum – where the tanks crashed through the gates in 1975 which basically ended the war – has about 100 rooms but we only had an hour to rush through maybe half of them. I know it sounds crazy for someone interested in history but I chose to give it a miss and headed to Highland Coffee outside the gates where I had an iced coffee and stayed cool. The gardens did look lovely, but I could see hem from outside the wrought iron fence. When I asked a fellow passenger what she thought she said it was only alright and they were rushed. Happy with my decision. Perhaps I will return to Vietnam.

Notes Dame Cathedral, built in the 1880s, was on the list of places included in the tour – too bad they did not bother to mention, until we were there – that it has been closed past three years for major renovations. All we could do was peer through the fence and take photos from a distance. I would have loved to see inside. However, with the Central Saigon Post Office right across the street I might have managed some interesting pictures. The post office was built in 1886, busy times back then, with a definite French architectural influence from the time. This is a favourite stop for tourists to buy a postcard, buy a stamp and have it postmarked from Ho Chih Minh – I wonder if they mail the postcard to their address. 

The arched, high ceiling of the post office.

That ended my first full day. I foolishly booked a 5:30am early morning tour plus the Cu Chi Tunnels for the next day. It was time for bed.

Day Two

Time for my early morning tour. I opened the door to don my sturdy, comfortable, Clarke’s sandals that used to be my mother’s….to discover they were not there. I looked inside, I checked my room, I checked all the rooms, although I knew full well I had left them on the door sill. Someone had stolen my shoes. So much for trying to live like the locals. I thought I was doing what everyone does by removing my shoes before entering a home. Seems they also bring in their footwear before retiring, I was furious and angry. I hoped the shoes would bring him nothing but misery – perhaps trip and break a leg; a possibility considering they were a size 8 whereas most women in Vietnam wear a couple of sizes smaller. Perhaps it was a man. So, that place will not be recommended.The poor guide who met me was unsure what to do with a sobbing woman the age of his grandmother when I informed him I did not know if I was up to a tour. All I wanted to do was pack and go home. 

I persevered, we headed out to see the sun rising, feel a cooling breeze and watch the city wake up. Although my guide, whose name has now escaped me, suggested I turn around to watch the sunrise I chose to watch the reflection on the river and buildings in the centre of the city . Much prettier than the garbage and rat I saw scurrying nearby.


Saigon has a massive population of over 20 million, very little space and few tall buildings to put them in. They do however have the Saigon River and many people live on the water selling a variety of goods. Most of these people come from further north, only going home during major holidays. Their children stay with grandparents to attend school. The one boat we were hoping to visit was not yet pulled into shore so we chatted about the lives of the people and some of the goods they sell. This one appeared to sell plants and, like nearly every other boat, coconuts. Each boat has living quarters and a small kitchen at the bow and lots of space for goods. They all had large, stylized eyes painted on the prow looking down to frighten away any evil spirits lurking in the water. Unlike many fishermen off the westcoast of BC when I was young up boat dwellers know how to swim – we discussed this and came to the conclusion that it is easier to climb out of a river than an ocean if you fall in. I should note that nowadays fishermen in Canada tend to know how to swim and have all sorts of flotation equipment. 

My guide was sweet, he asked if I felt any better and could he give me a hug. He was an awkward 22 year old so I thought it was alright. I did indeed feel better. Our next stop was the wholesale flower market. Flowers, flowers and more flowers. Made the me think of the musical My Fair Lady where everyone is preparing to sell and buy flowers for the day. The market never closes, 24 hour flower power. Deliveries of flowers from the delta arrive in the early morning – usually by 4:00am – and flower shops from all over the city pick up their choices starting around 6:00am. Not only were there flowers to sell in large quantities though; some stalls had astonishingly large arrangements prepared, others were preparing fancy arrangements and everywhere was busy. I learned that a display including purple and white flowers are for funerals whereas ones with red flowers are for good luck. We stopped at a stall where roses and orchids are sold where my guide presented me with a red rose. I knew it was a gimmick but his sincerity washed that thought away. 



The next stop was to a park for breakfast where people gather to hang their bird cages, sip coffee and eat breakfast while visiting. Hundreds of bamboo cages were hanging above the low tables where the birds could have fresh air and provide some rather pleasant birdsong. I would have though so many varieties of birds would create a cacophony of noise. It was actually rather pleasant. Of course we had coffee. I am becoming good at saying absolutely no sugar although I do get some stares of horror. Thick, heavily sweetened, condensed milk added to a Espresso shot is practically a national drink in Vietnam. In addition, a glass of iced green tea is often provided to help cut the bitterness. Coffee and Pho, not a bad was to end my early morning tour. We went past the two hours so had to hustle to my next tour – the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chih Minh.


The war in Vietnam was a tragedy, as is, in my opinion, any war. The politicians do not suffer the indignities or war. So, again, how often do we need reminding?  The tunnels are about a 1 1/2 – 2 hour drive from the city centre. We made one stop at yet another Handicapped Handicrafts site – a chance to stretch my legs while avoiding the sales pitch. 

The Cu Chi Tunnels were built and used by the Viet Cong from the 1940s, hidden in the jungle, as a way to escape the French during the Indochine war and eventually from American soldiers into the 1970s. The Viet Cong lived in the tunnels when absolutely necessary but otherwise had camps above ground also. Rather gruesome traps were built to prevent discovery, hidden air holes were drilled and hidden for staying underground for several days. Quick escapes into and out of the tunnels were built and camouflaged. I did try one of the tunnels, these are nasty places even now with low lights to guide visitors. I am only 5’2″ but had to stoop to pass through. It is impossible to carry a bag on your back and in some spots it is necessary to nearly crawl forward close to the ground – I did not make that attempt. Not a place to visit if claustrophobic.

Like an enemy soldier, it is possible to stand on one of the escape hatches without knowing it is there.

When I finally made it back to my room there was still no sign of my sandals. They were truly gone. I went in search of dinner, got turned around at one point – not a good idea in a city maze – finally made it to my corner, bought my dinner then was stuck where I was when a major rainstorm hit. An hour passed, I ate my dinner, sat on a chair provided by a shopkeeper and watched as water poured from the sky, down the road and into ditches. We were nearly inundated. I finally made a dash for my corner again to be stopped by water that would most likely go half way to my knees. So I did the only sensible thing – I bought a pair of pink thongs (flip-flops).
Fast food in Vietnam.

Exciting last night in Saigon. I would be heading out in the morning on a ten day motorbike tour – I hoped for sun.

Vietnam visa 25USD; SIM 15CAD;Taxi 165,000VND;Room 1.9 mill (106CAD) includes brkfst; Lunch 51,000; Entrance fees 15,000; Tour 9USD; TAXI 62,000; Iced coffee 49,000; Dinner, water, milk 42,500; Morning tour 25USD; Tunnels 125,000? + 110,000+ lunch 70,000 Pho & bottle water; Dinner: bought two eggs 6000VND; one orange 12,000!; donair because caught in a rainstorm 17,000; thongs 39,000

Or, to make things easier, I spent about 75.00CAD per day. 

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Pins and Needles

Did I really say I would blog twice a week? While still at home, revving up my engine to leave, I have time. Once in China I might have the time – just not easily accessible sites. I do have a VPN, it worked last year. I do hope I will post about the trip at least once a week plus the mother of the bride insights on Wedding Wednesday. Not that any of this has to do with puns, nor needles.

Pins, I had a notice from Stillpoint Community Acupuncture offering a free session the week of my birthday that I thought would be foolish to pass up! Considering one session is $40.00 – although the sliding scale starts at $25.00 – it was a great way to prepare my poor aching knees for lots of walking and climbing. I will still wear the interchangeable stabilizing brace, just not right now as it seems to have scratched and rubbed my leg below the knee (unless it was Mozzy my cat, although possible it is a strange mark for it to be a cat scratch).

Needles, I know it is a good idea to take along a small sewing kit, I just cannot seem to find mine! If I do not I will most likely just throw a standard needle (with a wide enough eye I will not need a magnifying glass) and spool of thread into my tiny first aid kit. Perhaps a bobbin will fit better. The whole plan being prepared without overdoing it. 

Pins and needles. Perhaps needless to say but I am now approaching that waiting on pins and needles stage. All the last minute changes, items to still pack, currencies to buy, and visas are pretty well dealt with. I have my visa for China and ordered the Vietnam visa letter that is supposed to fast track things once I arrive. Unfortunately, although most likely easily fixed, I ended up ordering three visas! All because my debit visa would not work. A call to the bank showed no problems. Thank goodness http://www.cheapvietnamvisa.net has several ways for payment to be made. I chose this company solely because my daughter used them last year – time will determine if I am satisfied. I am also pleased it was only 7.55CAD (6.00USD). The actual stamp will be paid upon arrival – 25.00USD.  

We were using his chair for guests so he found a bag to curl up on after.

No more needles? I hope to cut the Cartrophen for Mozzy, it is not making his leg better and he hates going for the 30 minute drive – one way – then being poked and prodded. We have a weigh-in appointment, discussion with the vet to decide if Mozzy might survive the next two months, then some serious decision making. I may need a needle, or a shot of something.

Eternal posy for my 60th birthday the other day – my daughters said this way I will always have flowers from them.

To Market, to Market

Some of the fare at the two markets I visited in Kingston was fabulous! A veritable feast.

Very similar to Portuguese egg tarts sold in Macau and China. I have been craving these.
As the card says, bao.zi is the favourite snack food in China. I can barely wait until Sep 18th when I will be in Shanghai. I know some pretty good places!
Nothing like fresh, local strawberries
I did not buy any; just admired them
Lovely, simple bunches of flowers.
Samples of churros. Delicious!
Of course I bought lettuce!
Grab a handful and toss in a sandwich or on a salad.
I loved how the zucchini was displayed
Sour dough bread – manna.
Heavenly!

Day 10 (I think): Belleville

One of the jobs my daughter does when training patients to do their own dialysis is to visit them at their homes soon after to see how they are doing. This worked out for me as it meant I could be dropped off at the nearby town while she headed down a dusty country road. (I admit that description was solely in my imagination) This particular day I visited Belleville. Early. In a sleepy, quiet town. I was doubtful I would find a place for a cup of coffee until my D called me from her car – Bluetooth is great – saying she had passed a place. 

Very impressive Belleville City Hall.

By this time I had walked past the rather stunning city hall, around the block plus some and noted there were several churches, upon a second tour, slightly extended, around I discovered that one of the main streets is aptly called Church Street. My day was planned. Find a washroom, then coffee, then explore. At 8:30 in the morning it is not always easy to find facilities in a small town. (Or is this only an issue for older travellers?) However, most towns with a decent population do have a city/town hall that have public facilities – I suggest to anyone travelling to seek out this public building, after all taxpayers pay for it and you are a guest. Information can also be found about the area if an Information Centre is not available, closed or on the outskirts.

Next on my agenda was to find one of two cafes. I was hoping for The Brake Room, and had actually passed it on one my earlier circuits. A perfect blend of two of my favourites, cycling and coffee. A fabulous idea, open a bicycle repair shop combined with a coffee shop that is situated near one of many trails and, “they will come.” It helps if the fare offered is good, and it was. They promise locally sourced food and quality coffee. I was not disappointed. A flat white and a maple scone (finally a scone that was not so dry or overly fluffed with baking soda to choke a person) to tide me over. Although the seating area was not exceptionally busy at the time there was enough coming and going to think this place will stay in business for some time. I did have a fleeting thought about how slow things must be over the winter months. I also thought that if I knew how to repair bikes I could sink my teeth into a similar business. Not in Victoria though, I believe the bike repair and the Cafe market is saturated despite not having a combined shop. I was ready to take on the rest of Belleville.

Thinking as a cyclist I checked out possible paths where walking was also encouraged. My first stop was at the railway station. “Belleville became an important railway junction with the completion of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856.” Unfortunately it appeared the station was closed so I walked further on to admire some of the condos and townhouses along the river – minimal glimpses. Some very nice boats tied to private docks. No access to trails that way so I headed back to the railway station. This is where one of my few prejudices kicked in. (I will not go into detail as to why; suffice to say I do have a legitimate reason) Two men, who appeared to be insufficiently homed and possibly inebriated (this was before 10:00am), were sitting on a bench at the entrance to both trails so I approached the trails around the backside in the hopes of not creating any friction. In either direction the main arteries were closed due to flooding. So I had to backtrack to the crosswalk, smack damn in front of the aforementioned benches and occupants. To raise my blood pressure one of the men sauntered towards the same crossing I was heading for. I crossed, waited for the next crossing to go to the opposite side. Of course this fellow saw someone he knew and crossed over part way up the street. I know I was overreacting but knowing should never be discounted when in an unfamiliar place. I headed to a Church Street.

The river appeared very close to lapping the tracks

Of course, once again, none of the churches were open. This makes me think about my daughter’s PhD focus on the interconnection of Sacred and Secular spaces – where tourism flourishes. I expect locking the doors is a direct impact of too few congregates, priests and pastors and the various individuals who make a church run smoothly. As steeples seem to fascinate me I took photos of those rather than poor ones of stained glass. The United Church, sitting on a hillock above the street, had a quite an ambitious garden going. I have a strong belief that churches should use the land for gardens to “share his bread with the poor.” On that note it was time for lunch.


Like I had passed the Brake Room, I went by Paulo’s Italian Trattoria a couple of times during my wandering. My daughter had a couple of hours before seeing her patient again and sent a text suggesting an early lunch. I was checking out the menus when a server and then the owner said I could come in although it was not even 11:00 and they would not open for another half hour. Coffee was put on to brew, water provided. I was duly impressed without even eating anything. Lunch turned out to be delicious. Warm bread with butter, and a hearty soup. It had been raining off and on all morning. Great service, all within the timeframe before we had to rush off. 

I was dropped off at a nursery where I am sure the owners thought I had been abandoned. One can only traverse the aisles of a small greenhouse and the outdoor paths of a small operation for so long. I probably walked 5000+ steps! When I was finally picked up we bought some lovely flowering plants and I thanked the owners for letting me hang out. 


The numbers: $7.00 snack $ coffee; $35.00 for train meals and snacks while in Quebec; 20,000 steps

Abkhazi Garden: an oasis from a mad, mad world

Royalty in the ferns
Baby pinecones
Majestic trees share the one acre garden
Resident turtle. Down from two.
Installations of sculptures in various forms are new.
Rhododendron bushes are over 50 years old. If only I could look so beautiful as my age advances!
Calla lilies and driftwood by the pond.
Peonies, another flower to blend the East and West life of the original gardener.