War Remnants Museum

Slept in a bit this morning and then got in a pretty good workout in the hotel gym here. After lunch, I decided to head to the War Remnants Museum, about a mile walk from my hotel. On previous trips, I visited the military museum in HaNoi, but this museum in SaiGon is focused entirely on the American War. Some historical information and lots of disturbing pictures.

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Hotel Majestic Rooftop Bar

My first night in SaiGon and after unpacking and walking up the Nguyen Hue street (more on this later), I headed to the rooftop bar at my hotel, the Hotel Majestic (more on this later, too). The Hotel Majestic is a classic five star hotel that has been in operation since the French opened it in 1925. Normally, I wouldn’t stay at a place like this – I prefer the smaller, friendlier boutique hotels. However, truth be told, I decided to stay here because of this bar. From my reading of the last century of Vietnamese history, this location was the iconic power meeting place during the French and American periods here.

I first came across this spot reading Graham Greene’s classic 1955 novel The Quiet American. Set at the close of the French period here and the beginning of the American period, it was remarkably prescient on how things would turn out in the end. Many scenes were set in this bar and his evocative description somehow still works here for me …

“It would ever be seven o’clock and cocktail-time on the roof of the Majestic, with a wind from the Saigon River”

Also, in the new Ken Burns documentary series on the war, he recounts a mid-1950s dinner here on this rooftop between a young Senator John F. Kennedy and New York Times correspondent Seymour Hersh where the visiting Kennedy is talking about being impressed by how well the French are doing and Hersh telling him bluntly that the French are losing.

Sitting here, on a warm, humid SaiGon evening with a nice breeze blowing off the river, I can almost imagine those days and am wondering which table Kennedy and Hersh were sitting at.

And yet … down the elevator and just around the corner is the bustling Nguyen Hue street, SaiGon’s Times Square which looks very much like Fifth Avenue in New York, Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, or the rue de Rivoli in Paris, filled with young people whose grandparents and great-grandparents would have been the people on the streets below when Kennedy and Greene were drinking up here.

And yet … while I’ve been typing this post, a Vietnamese band has taken the stage up here on the roof and is singing American popular music … next to a Christmas tree!

Time does move on. And for Vietnam, I think that’s a very good thing!

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Two New Suits

The big thing to do in Hoi An is to get custom clothes made … the manager at my hotel said that there are over 500 tailor shops in this small town. So, when in Hoi An …

I headed to a very highly rated tailor shop on TripAdvisor and started the process of buying two custom suits (one navy, one charcoal grey). Fortunately, it was not far from my hotel because I ended up going back four times for tweaks to the sizing, but in the end, I think I’m pretty happy with my purchases.

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Bicycling Around Hoi An

The steady light rain let up a bit this afternoon and I decided to take the opportunity to explore the Hoi An area by bicycle. I rented an old clunker from the hotel and, with a few directions from the helpful hotel staff, headed out to explore the outskirts of this town. As you can see by my Strava map, I covered around 20 miles and passed through all kinds of interesting countryside.

I started out by heading across a narrow bridge (suitable only for motorbikes and pedestrians) onto a nearby island that was clearly a residential area. I’m guessing that a number of the people who work in the tourist establishments in Hoi An live in this area and other similar nearby areas. The “roads” were generally narrow, partially paved paths that had continual streams of motorbikes zipping up and down.

I did pass a number of flooded rice fields and saw more than a few water buffalo.

One interesting thing I noticed was I came across at least three or four weddings going on. The Vietnamese are very into numerology (if that’s the right way to put it) and will only have a wedding on a good date, which apparently today was.

I finally worked my way over to a beautiful beach on the Pacific Ocean. I understand that the beaches were damaged by the recent monsoon that came through here last month, but I didn’t see any obvious ill effects from the storm.

The ride passed many rivers and rice fields and small villages and homes. After experiencing much of “upper class” life in HaNoi, it was fascinating to observe the current conditions of working class life in Vietnam. While it is definitely poor by US standards, I observed a thriving, functional community. Families and children everywhere going about daily life, lots of “street-level” retail (roadside shopping stands and cafes that were buzzing with activities), lots of construction going on, and generally friendly people who gave me lots of waves and “hellos” as I pedaled through their communities. It was a delightful afternoon’s ride!

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September Strangers in Da Nang – Hoi An

Here is a very nice video that was produced in the Da Nang/ Hoi An area by three of my friends from HaNoi – Hang, Chau, and Neo. Enjoy!

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What Else?

Enjoying a lazy, rainy day in Hoi An. After a leisurely breakfast at my hotel, I have been wondering around the Ancient Village (a UNESCO site) and stopped for lunch at a funky cafe called What Else hidden down a small alley. Lots of French being spoken by the other patrons.

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Lantern Festival

I timed my trip to be in Hoi An for the monthly full moon Lantern Festival. At 7:00PM they turn off the lights in the Old Village and lanterns are lit everywhere including in little paper boats that are floated on the river. I believe that the tradition is to light a candle and float it out onto the river while making a wish for the upcoming month. It was very picturesque!

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Trip to Hoi An

Yesterday I took a Vietnam Air flight from HaNoi to Da Nang where the hotel driver picked me up and drove me to my hotel in Hoi An. I flew out of the domestic terminal in the HaNoi Noi Bai airport which is quite nice but nothing compared to the new international terminal where I arrived last week.

Driving our of Da Nang I was immediately struck by the difference from HaNoi – there is much less traffic here and the roads here appear to be generally in better condition. In addition to the smaller population, I am guessing that it is due to the fact that Da Nang is becoming an international resort city with beautiful beaches and five-star resorts.

There were still many signs remaining from the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Conference Leaders’ Meeting which was recently held here at the InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort.

One of the several resort facilities that my car passed on our way to Hoi An.

Somewhat amusing … a place to create Super Kids. Must be for Vietnamese Tiger Moms!

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Farewell to HaNoi

I flew from HaNoi to Da Nang today and am typing this entry as I sit on the outside deck at my hotel here waiting for the full moon lantern festival to get started. Although I am very excited about my upcoming weekend in Hoi An and next week in SaiGon, I am a bit sad at leaving HaNoi. I find that city to be fascinating, exciting, and somehow inspirational, but mostly I am sad about leaving my friends there. It was a great week of re-connecting with old friends and meeting some new ones. Although they have all showed up in previous posts, I thought that I would just re-post a few of my favorite pictures of them from the week.

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Oriental Central Hotel

The last two times I visited HaNoi, I stayed at a hotel in the Old Quarter named Charming 2 and completely loved it. However, after five years, none of the staff that had taken such good care of me there were still working at that hotel. I have kept in touch with a few of them over Facebook and I knew that a young woman named Mary (actually Oanh, but she goes by Mary to help out us westerners in pronunciation) was now the general manager at a similar hotel called the Oriental Central. I reached out to Mary over Facebook messaging a couple of months ago and arranged for an excellent room there.

The Oriental Central is similar to many hotels located in the Old Quarter of HaNoi that cater to international visitors. Seven floors, three or four rooms per floor, and a breakfast area adjacent to the lobby. Under Mary’s management, this hotel has outstanding customer service. Everyone on the staff knows your name, greets you enthusiastically every time you walk through the lobby, and will provide any and all assistance needed from getting cars to planning excursions to advising on the best local shops and restaurants to even sending someone out on a motorbike to run whatever errands are necessary.

This hotel was located more in the heart of things than my previous one which made it very convenient. A short walk to Hoan Kiem lake (which is the center of everything there) and right in the middle of all of the crazy motorbike traffic and commotion. In spite of that, inside it was a relative oasis and a great place to spend my week in HaNoi!

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