Hanoi,Da Nang, Saigon,Cambodia-names that bring back the voice of Walter Cronkite reporting the war details on the CBS evening news. Never would I have guessed even 10 years ago, that I would be setting foot in those far away places that were such a tragic place of conflict in the 50’s,60’s and 70’s. While there are still the must see spots for the American tourist like the “Hanoi Hilton”, the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Saigon and the Presidential Palace, southeast Asia is a vastly different and dynamic area today. A young population, most born after the war, a liberalized economy and trade and, of course, the impact of tourism have made this region a new hotspot.
Our first stop was Hanoi along the Red River and the county’s capital. A city tour, a water puppet show, the exciting cyclo-ride through old town and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum were some of the highlights here. There was a small marker along the lake behind our Sofitel Hotel marking the spot where John McCain’s airplane was shot down during the war and we visited what was left of the Hanoi Hilton prison, most has been taken over with modern construction, and a sobering tour of the prison and the miserable conditions they endured.
A loooong drive to Halong Bay, but well worth it and an afternoon on our own private boat-with great food. Amazing scenery with over 1000 limestone islands rising sharply from the bay. Chance to swim and explore a cave and then a loooong drive back to Hanoi.
Short flight to Da Nang airport-American built in the 60’s- and pass by the local hospital- American built -on really nice roads-yeah we built that ,too-and a stop at China Beach. Beautiful coast here,tropical weather in May. Continue a short drive on to Hoi An. Well preserved wooden houses,silk shops,lantern factories- we got to build our own. Lots of tailor made suits, ties, dresses were purchased here at bargain prices! Then a local boat ride to the Red Bridge cooking school where we were entertained and educated as we tried our hand at cooking like a local- and we got to eat that for lunch- quite tasty! All except Adam’s special aged duck egg, a local delicousy- it’s an aquired taste. The local Lareau beer does go down easy though and for under $1.00 a real bargain.
Back at our beach resort,Palm Garden Beach Resort, for a little down time-spectacular beaches as far down the coast as you could see-Cancun like, but without all the development- but it’s coming. Building a Hyatt and just completed a Jack Nicholas golf course nearby. Early morning beach walk and watched a water buffalo being led around the beach pulling a weighted board to smooth the sand- guess not Cancun.
Short flight to Saigon, I mean Ho Chi Minh City, and you immediately sense the difference between the political capital of Hanoi and the economic capital of Saigon. Glass skyscrapers downtown, new buildings and shops opening all over and much faster pace. City tour including the central Post Office, Notre Dame cathedral and the Presidential Palace was quite in contrast to the modern growing city. A fascinating day about an hour north of the city at the Cu Chi tunnels, part of the extensive complex that funneled the guerillas from the north into the heart of South Vietnam. After crawling through one portion, I could not believe that people lived here for weeks or months at a time and the extensive network reached into Cambodia.
Then another short flight to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. You don’t have to be a history or architectural buff to be simply amazed by the vast temple complexes in this area. This was the heart of the Khmer Empire, along with Angkor Thom and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm all within a few miles of Siem Reap you were able to get a feel for the powerful, wealthy society that developed here 100’s of years ago.
Great little city of Siem Reap, shops and stalls sell it all and at a bargain- and all in American dollars-even the ATM’s dispense them. If you’ve never had a Dr.Fish foot massage-gotta try it. Hundreds of little fish attack your feet when you put them in the tank and in 20 minutes they feel like new- all for $2.00 which includes local beer. Great bars and nightclubs with live bands on Pub Street. Take a Tuk-Tuk to get around town.
A fascinating visit to a silk factory where they grow the silk worms, harvest the silk, dye and spin into amazing fabrics. Then on to Tonle Sap Lake the largest in the region and the floating village. This lake grows to 3 times it’s size in the rainy season-June-December and the floating houses,stores,churches,post office all pull up anchor and move with the rising lake. A really different way of life.
All too soon we’re boarding our flight back to Chicago, by way of Seoul. Covered a lot of territory in a short time, but a lot more to see. Looking forward to returning in the near future!
John & Joan