SOUTHEAST ASIA – Part 3 of 3
FEBRUARY 10TH – VUNG TAU, VIETNAM
Steve was 17 years old in 1975 when the Vietnam War ended. One more year of battle, and he could have been drafted. As we approached the port of Phu My on the southeast coast we traveled up the McKong Delta passing miles of impenetrable bog that swallowed the sunlight and stretched on forever. I remember seeing pictures of this forbidding landscape on TV during the war… but traveling up the same river as all those men destined to fight the spread of communism and reflecting back on the staggering loss of life was so very sad.
From the port we took the shuttle to visit Vung Tau. Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon) was over 2 hours away – so we opted for less bus time. Because of the Queen Mary’s size, she often has to dock at (out of the way) container ports as most cities do not have facilities to accommodate her in “downtown” settings. We knew this before taking the trip, but it does get frustrating when some of the “major” sights tend to be really far away. It’s a Catch 22. Living on a big ship means less (or almost no) movement in seas that would toss around smaller ships. Remember my description of crossing the North Atlantic? Plus, we have a large stateroom, big balcony with comfy chaise loungers and a full bath. All of these features are really important to us, given the length of our stay. Not to mention the planetarium, movie theater, gym, etc…
When we really want to go somewhere, we bit the bullet and opt for the longer journey. In this case, we were perfectly content bathing in the local flavor of a seaside city. On the drive into town, we were shocked to see mile after mile of beautifully landscaped center median. Chocked full of ornamental trees, exotic flowering plants, and perfectly trimmed grass. Not one single weed dared to grow. It was absolutely perfect.
Vung Tau really surprised us. It was a sleepy and peaceful place. And, compared to the craziness of our last few stops, a welcome respite. Tourism is in it’s infancy here. The only aggressive sales people were the ubiquitous taxi drivers who swarmed around us every time we pulled out our street map or stopped on the sidewalk to glance around. I swear they had a tourist radar system. Or more likely, we stood out like sweaty white beacons pulsating under the blazing sun. Multiple “No Thank You’s” were never enough. We were usually followed for at least a block, providing plenty of time to change our mind and/or come to our senses.
Throughout Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, most of the road signs and business names were written in the local language and english – due to the long history of british trade. No so in Vietnam. We did not find an english word written anywhere, and very few people spoke our language. We asked at the front desk of a hotel where the “fishing boats” were docked, and the receptionist handed me a piece of paper to write down the words. After looking up a translation through Google, he directed us to the waterfront.
Hundreds of colorful fishing boats haphazardly at anchor jammed the harbor. Here, we saw an ancient mode of transportation that was new to us. The “water taxi” that ferried fishermen to their vessels was a man in an elongated row boat that powered the oars with his feet instead of his hands! His back was supported by a wooded board, and his legs did all the work. Very smart design, and much easier on the body. Perhaps this is where the makers of the fist recumbent bicycle got the idea.
This area along the coast is mountainous and we spent the afternoon hiking along the trails. We passed by the 100 foot high sculpture of “Madonna and Child” that US Soldiers erected in 1970; perched on a bluff, greeting the sea.