DAY 43 - 22 February 2023
ENROUTE TO SINGAPORE (REPEAT PORT CALL)
Queen Mary 2 World Centenary Voyage
102 days, 31 ports, 18 countries.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reporting live from Queen Mary 2
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and is located bear the Mekong Delta. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French Colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975 when the Vietnam war ended. The city is still known by its previous names, Saigon and Hanoi.
On a previous visit to Ho Chi Min City, careering through the streets of Ho Chi Min City clinging to the waist of a stranger on the back of his vespa, was certainly an adventure. One I will not forget, but am not eager to repeat. At breakneck speed the good Samaritan, who spoke not a word of English and I who spoke not a word of Vietnamese, communicated by nods and smiles as he squeezed his bright red scooter down narrow alleyways, no wider than his one-and a-half seater vehicle.
Without flinching, he ducked and dived in and out of moving traffic including cars, trucks, buses and hundreds of scooter delivery riders. I had no idea if I was to be returned to the safety of my cruise companions from whom I had become disconnected; or held to ransom as a clueless tourist, who should not have been allowed out alone, now found wandering the streets, map in hand, in one of the busiest cities in the world.
My new friend was actually fixing the underground electrical cables on the street outside the city’s Hanoi Hilton, when he rescued me. But that’s another story!
I pointed out to him the name of the cruise company on my excursion ticket, and tried not to show I was seriously close to a major melt down. By sign language, this charming, young man persuaded me to hop on the back of his scooter, put on the spare safety helmet and hold on tight to his box of tools. Without further discussion, he took me on a magical mystery tour to a city centre hotel where a dozen excursion coaches were parked up as cruise passengers enjoyed lunch. He refused all attempts to pay him but I admit, he looked much relieved to hand me into the safe keeping of the cruise company tour guide.
“Quick, go, eat,” she said, “it’s nearly time to go back to the ship.” That was pre – covid.
My current visit to Ho Chi Min city, also known as Hanoi, also known as Saigon, was not half as exciting as that previous visit. I was determined this time not to get lost.
“Good morning, Vietnam,” our tour guide, Trang, shouted into the microphone on the comfortable, flowery fabric sets of our coach as we gathered early morning in the Phu My cruise terminal for a 2-and-a-half-hour ride to the city. “Did you hear me?” he repeated.
Talking about the war in a country where there is living memory history, always demands a degree of good judgement. It’s generally a question of, “Who will mention it first?”
“Good morning, Vietnam,“ was the aggressive greeting American bomber pilots used to warn the local population during raids in the Vietnam war in the sixties and became a catchphrase in the blockbuster Apocalypse Now film starring Marlon Brando as well as the feature film staring the late Robin Williams.
During our day in Ho Chi Min City/Saigon/Hanoi (the city is known by different names in different areas of the country) we made photo stops at several buildings that played a major part in the war.
The roof top building where the last helicopter took off as the American forces pulled out of Saigon. A part of that story is told in the award winning Broadway musical Miss Saigon. A photo stop at the five-star Rex Hotel, where the international press gathered to report the ongoing narrative in the theatre of war.
Overlooking City Hall, next door to Chanel, the Rex Hotel has been rebuilt and extended. Vietnam goods were embargoed for 20 years after the end of the war in 1975. Since that time, the population has doubled from 47m to 97 million and the country has a thriving economy in the global marketplace exporting rice, cashew nuts and tiger prawns.
Vietnamese annual household income is calculated at $4,000 USD though there are huge inequalities while many investors, entrepreneurs and business people earn much more. The expression used in other places to describe income earned in the black economy or under the table, in Vietnam is called “making business under the moonlight.’ That may be why a roadside advertisement on the highway from Phu My port to the city, extols luxury villas in a new development called, “Moonlight Villas”.
The Vietnamese like to sugar-coat situations. They refer to themselves as “The Smiling People” and public toilets are called “Happy Places”. Vietnam is a naturally beautiful country, with lush countryside and lakes and agricultural areas and animal farms. Flowers are planted on the roadside and in the medians of highways and local streets are kept swept and washed by the owners of businesses and the homes that line the local thoroughfares.
Street markets are orderly and often managed for multiple generations by the same family. Nearly 50% of the population own businesses; a one shop storefront with forecourt with single- or two-story accommodation built on top of the retail space. The forecourts provide spaces for the ubiquitous scooters which often offer shared ownership between two and three people and are used for work, transportation and ferrying children and animals. Scooters cost around 900$ US.
At the Water Puppet Museum, a crew of young people in satin outfits, enthusiastically put on the show that farmers play out for real in seasonally waterlogged fields. Water puppets featuring fiery dragons, happy husbands and wives working together in the fields and children joyfully playing and splashing in the waves.
After the Puppet Show, a visit to the Temple of the Goddess of the Waterways makes a fitting place to continue our city sightseeing. The Temple is hundreds of years old and the most popular one in the city, even though less than 20% of the population are Buddhists, other religions in the country are
Hindu, Muslim and Catholic. English is a second language and is taught in schools; education is provided for children of all school ages but parents are obliged to make payments for uniforms, books and the upkeep of buildings.
After the pandemic many people chose to remain in the countryside and the move away from urbanisation has brought a new era of self-sufficiency. Vietnam is a country that has the ability to touch your heart. For all the modern, spectacular high-rise towers and five-star hotels, corporate offices and mega shopping centre, there is a level of highly visibly poverty. Women rush from one tourist stopping place to the next as they try to make sales of hand-made-crafts, paper fans and ridiculously cheap faux designer handbags. Young children, with angelic smiles, know how to persuade.
One mother followed our coach to stops throughout the city, her smiling daughter in tow. “Thank you, my friend, “ said the child when I made a purchase. “I hope I will see you again.” Indeed, she might.
The colourful magnet that reads “I love Vietnam” will find a place on my fridge back home and be a heartfelt reminder.
Happy Sailing. Ellen...
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Current position of Queen Mary 2: Under way from Phu My to Singapore
Departure was 1 d 3 hrs 15 min ago. (at 19:00 h local time)
Arrival will be in 7 hrs 45 min. (at 07:00 h local time)
Traveled distance since Phu My: 489.86 nm (907.21 km)
Remaining distance to Singapore: 134.87 nm (249.79 km)
Traveled distance since Singapore: 2,138.41 nm (3,960.33 km)
Happy Sailing ... The Journey continues... Ellen
NEXT PORT - SINGAPORE
23 February 2023
Photo of the day (from the archives of JD Schwartz)
Further updates will be posted as soon as we get them from Ellen onboard Queen Mary 2.