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Published: March 1st 2013
Maison Centrale built by the French Colonialists
We docked in Chan May which is the port for DaNang. This is our old stomping grounds as Kevin was stationed here during the war and I flew into DaNang airbase for five years during that time. DaNang wasn't much of a town then, it was just a big military base. Now it is the third largest city in VietNam. Our young guide knew everything about the war. Phong could name the type of reconnaissance aircraft that Kevin flew. He was intrigued to talk with someone who actually served here during the war.
To get to DaNang from the port, it is necessary to travel through one of the longest tunnels in Southeast Asia. The Hai Van Tunnel is almost four miles long. We drove by China Beach and Marble Mountain en route to the ancient trading port of Hoi An. Merchants from Asia, the Middle East and Europe came here for the gold and sandalwood beginning in the 15th century. Even Abel Tasman stopped here before sailing on his voyage of discovery to the South Pacific.
Hoi An is so quaint that it is almost like a movie set. We enjoyed walking the few streets of the central
HOI AN COVERED BRIDGE
Built by Japanese traders in the 16th Century
village where there are the usual tourists shops nestled in with traditional houses, temples, pagodas and scenic bridges. The Japanese and Chinese were the trade masters for several centuries.
When we were here six years ago Kevin bought a silk shirt for $7. The same shirt is now $20. The economy is definitely improving in VietNam. There are many more motorbikes than bicycles and the legal age for marriage is now 21 for girls and 23 for boys. In neighboring Cambodia girls can legally be married as young as 14.
Our guide told us why it was so difficult for Vietnamese to learn English. All words in Vietnamese are just one syllable with no accent, so it is easy to learn pronunciation; whereas most English words are multi-syllabled and accented. Phong said it was almost impossible for him to figure out where to put the accent on English words. He spends most evenings watching American movies in order to improve his language skills.
In our next port, HaLong Bay, we hired a private van with Peter and Nancy and Sandra and Bob to make the long trek to Hanoi. It is a painfully slow ride lasting
"This little piggy went to the market..."
over three hours each way but well worth it to finally see the capital of VietNam. On the way up we saw all sorts of animals being taken to market. The interesting thing is the mode of transport which is usually on the back of a motorcycle. We saw pigs and chickens and ducks in big pens balanced carefully on these two wheeled livestock carriers. Duc, our guide, said that the weirdest he had ever seen was a water buffalo trussed up on a motorbike. We have seen refrigerators, whole families, trees, and boxes of toilet paper being carried on bikes and scooters.
We passed mile after mile of rice fields each one dotted with small spirit houses filled with the remains of the landowners' relatives. In this ancestor-worshipping country, it is easier to keep the relatives close by so that their graves can be tended daily.
Our first stop in Hanoi was at the Metropole Hotel for lunch. This is one of the classic French style buildings that make up Hanoi. The city is built around lakes. We passed by the lake where Pete Peterson crash landed in 1966 and was a POW at the Hanoi Hilton
for over six years. In 1997 he became the first US Ambassador to VietNam when relations were normalized between the two countries.
We took a pedi-cab ride around the Old Quarter. The streets are named for the crafts that are created and sold in each section. We also saw the food market where fortunately there were no dogs for sale. Duc said that since this is the start of the New Year it is considered bad luck to eat dog meat.
We visited what is left of the Hanoi Hilton, the notorious prison which was first used by the colonial French to house Vietnamese and later held U.S. pilots. We saw pictures of John McCain and many other aviators. It was not a happy place.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is the centerpiece of Hanoi. Every year Uncle Ho's body is shipped to Russia for a tune-up, so we weren't able to see the old revolutionary. Then it was time to hit the road for the long, dark ride back to the ship.
We spent the next morning at the Bai Chay Hospital with one of our guests. Ken had to have some surgery as the result
of a fall. Our mission was to get him back to the ship prior to sailing. Fortunately Ken passed his final medical tests. After much prodding and urging Shirley was able to get all the necessary paperwork, secure the proper stamps and pay the bill. One oddity was that we were charged to use the elevator to go to the 6th floor in the International Wing. I guess we could have walked it, but time was of the essence. We all piled into the port agent's car and happily returned back to the ship...mission accomplished!
Now we are heading to China and other northern ports. For the next month we will be cruising in wintery weather. We are hoping for a real early spring.
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