Saturday 1st April
This is the fourth and final blog from my Vietnam odyssey.
We checked out of our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and headed south west towards the Mekong Delta.
We stopped at Tay Ninh a visited a Cao Dai Temple. Cao Deism started in the 20th century and is a multi-faith religion which fuses east and western religions and secular philosophies. We travelled through the largely agrarian landscapes (check out the photos) and eventually we boarded a motorised sampan boat for a sail on the Mekong Delta. There was a stop at a farmer's house where we were entertained by some local musicians and artists recalling old folk tales. We sampled some local seasonal fruit which included the notorious Durien. This fruit is quite edible. However the smell when it is opened is quite frankly like..manure. It has been dubbed 'the world's smelliest fruit.' It tasted fine mind. You could eat with one hand pinching your nose!
Back in the boat and then after some time a number of us took the opportunity to transfer to small rowing boats which took two or three people. All of the rowers were female. We then travelled through small waterways eventually meeting back up with the main boat. Once our sail was completed we were picked up by our bus and were taken to a confectionery making operation. We saw through the various stages of production before heading to the shop where I got some popcorn style bars and toffee. We also had an opportunity to taste snake wine. Like Poteen I suppose. A one off! Check out the photos of the jars it is distilled in. Our last stop was in Can Tho at the Munireansey Khmer Pagoda. This was very ornate and similar to temples you can see in Thailand.
Our hotel was the Victoria Can Tho Resort, a lovely hotel with two nice pools. Recommended!
As I opted out of activities the following day, that is really the end of a packed tour from my perspective. To be honest I was so tired that I didn't even take the ten minute walk from the hotel into Can Tho central area!
Reflections on Vietnam
I'd like to finish with some reflections on the trip overall. I wrote most of those on the plane on the way home but have had the benefit of some post trip thoughts as well as seeing some of Michael Portillo's train journey's in Vietnam which were on BBC4 the week we returned.
Firstly it is not possible to cover a country like this in two weeks so this is just a brief personal overview based on what I saw. We didn't really go off the beaten track and were in the major tourist resorts, staying in high end hotels so for all I know the real Vietnam may have escaped me, but if you are a general tourist, you'll probably cover most of what this group saw.
To say anything other than that this is a beautiful country would be an understatement. I hope that the photos bear this out. Lush verdant landscapes and beautiful coastlines with bustling cities and towns being a pleasant contrast. In the cities I can say that I didn't feel unsafe once, even when venturing out in the evening on my own in Ho Chi Minh City. If I was to pick one place to revisit I would choose Hoi An. Its small scale offering, with so much variety and history really took my fancy.
The first thing I noticed in Vietnam was the influences of the past, from the ancient temples and pagodas to the stylish French architecture. It was unusual to me for an Asian country to have so many shop signs written in English or French. Possibly a nod to these countries involvement last century?
The people of course usually make any place you visit. I found the Vietnamese to be very friendly and open towards visitors, making every attempt to help out where possible. (And not just our guide Jimmy who was terrific). In comparison to many other countries there was a less pushy approach to selling. Although I'd heard Vietnam spoken about for travelling to over many years my impression is that tourism has still to take off big style and when it does maybe a harder, more competitive edge will take over attitudes to visitors. I hope not.
The food is amazing. I can't think of any other country I have visited that had a better selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. When you see the agrarian landscape you'll know why. The seafood is abundant. I think I had at least one seafood dish every day, as we were getting eight plate banquets it was more of a sampler but very acceptable. Then there are the ubiquitous spring rolls, either freshly rolled or deep fried. There was only one day I didn't have them! The pork and chicken are great. The home grown beef is reputedly tough, so an imported variety is given to tourists. The presentation of food is amazing and surpasses anything I've seen.
Re drinks I'm sure none of my readers imbibe meths at home so they could skip the snake wine. The Vietnamese wine is not rated so we only saw imported varieties on offer but why come here to drink Chilean Malbec? Soft drinks were much cheaper than at home and they brew their own beer which is perfectly acceptable. Can't comment on spirits or cocktails but I assume they were mainly imported.
A random observation is that I only saw two black people the whole time I was there and one was a tourist. Am not sure why that is.
As a scuba diver I checked out the waters we travelled through and though that the pollution seems terrible. The locals are blaming the Chinese for sending it their way. On that note the Chinese being the big neighbour does seem to raise some hackles. What is normally called the South China Sea the Vietnamese (we were told) just call it the South Sea!
The politics are very interesting and as in many communist/socialist countries it is not always possible to pick up the vibes on a short trip. We were told that 'there is freedom of speech but there are limits to freedoms. We are not the West but we are not China!' Advice given was not to engage locals in political talk which is telling. On the other hand, when you look at why the US was in Vietnam, which was to stop the spread of communism and prevent a domino effect in the region: nearly fifty years on the place seems to be teeming with capitalistic enterprise. On the surface it does not appear socialist or communist at all. The surface of course was all we saw.
Looking at the history, the people of this wonderful country have been battered by many invaders. China ruled for one thousand years, the French for decades, the Japanese during WW2 and finally the USA through the late 50s to 1975. They have been resilient. In any examination of the detailing of these conflicts the numbers of dead are always in millions. One cannot help but admire their tenacity. Yet they continue to make visitors welcome to their country.
In summing up I hope that through the blogs and photos you have had a good taster of the Vietnam experience and may even enjoy a jaunt there yourselves. Prepare for the heat, especially in the south. I returned to Glasgow and the next morning the temperature on the app was 4c (feels like 1c). The day I left it was 33c (feels like 41c)!
Enjoy the blog and photos and as I often say, if you notice any mistakes please be kind and let me know. Corrections gratefully received.
Finally thanks to all the folk I met on this the trip. You made it even more memorable.
All the best
PJ Claffey Well done Murdo. A great recap of our trip and reminds me of all we saw.
Trish Great Murdo I love having this as a recap of the trip. We saw so much and went to so many places it’s brilliant to have this blog as a reminder. Thank you xxx
Norman M Really excellent blog and photos. Makes me want to visit this fascinating country even more. thanks for putting this all together.
Pat o Leary Great blog Murdo. You really captured the holiday. Till we meet again. From Pat and Angela. Thank you
MURDO Thanks for all your kind comments. Much appreciated
Gil THis was great, Murdo. Thanks for sharing. It brought back lots of memories.
Gil And I remember Nicky coming back from Vietnam with Durien sweets which he passed off on his nephews.
Brian Mc Cabe Well done again Murdo. Very good analysis, which I would generally share. I think we were lucky in when we were there i.e that they had not yet re-admitted Chinese tourists. You will recall Cheung ('Jimmy') telling us that if we had been there before Covid, the places would have been full of Chinese tourists. Also about the lobbying which was going on to try to persuade their Government to legalise gambling - and everything which would go with that. I was struck by their antagonism towards the Chinese, but that is probably understandable, given their history. A friend of mine, who had been out there before me, said that he had been very impressed by their resilience and independence - but then, as he said, they were probably the only country in the world who had defeated three of the members of the UN Security Council i.e the French, the Americans and the Chinese!
impressedme do you have a photo of the snake wine please ? thank you.