Cambodia!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10, 2014 by saigongary

One of the advantages of living in Saigon is the availability of side trips to the surrounding countries. We took a break from Vietnam to travel to Cambodia this past weekend. It was fun to keep track of the differences between the two countries. My top 3 impressions of Cambodia were:  1) no motorbike helmet law 2) more dogs than cats 3) tractors and tilled fields. The Cambodia people were friendly and the food was great. I will definitely return!

Of course a visit to Angkor Wat is a must. The faces at Angkor Thom were amazing, each block cut and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. The effort boggles the mind!

Angkor Wat Shiloutte

Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

 

 

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

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Urban Scapes-Saigon’s Changing Skyline

Posted in Saigon with tags , , , , on February 4, 2014 by saigongary

Saigon is changing at an unprecedented rate. Western culture has invaded Saigon. Burger King, DQ, Carl’s Jr are open and in just a few days McDonald’s will join the ranks of the westernization of Vietnam.

Saigon’s Bitexco building, designed to resemble a Lotus Flower, dominates the skyline. If you are lost in the city you can scan the skyline for the Bitexco and make your way back to familiar territory.

Bitexco Building at night fall. GMP0995-Bitexco HDR

TET Saigon 2014

Posted in Tet! with tags , , , on February 4, 2014 by saigongary

Yes I have been missing in action. I hope to maintain this blog this year and not let time slip by. I do not make New Years resolutions, so don’t assume that that in my intention. Actually the last NY’s Rez I made was to never make another one…and I’ve kept that one for years.

Sadly this Chinese Lunar New Year, TET in Vietnam is brought to you by………

TET brought to you by...

“Puttin’ on the Ritz”

Posted in Ho Chi Minh, Saigon, Tet!, Travel with tags , , , , on February 5, 2013 by saigongary

Saigon is “Puttin’ on the Ritz”! In district one the lights are out and shining brightly. The streets are crowded with families, couples and tourists out to see the extravaganza. The frenzy reminds me of Christmas in America. Saigon like much of Asia is preparing to celebrate Tet ~ the Chinese Lunar New Year. Gift giving is a large part of Tet as well as “Tet” light displays. The mood is both hectic and electric (no pun intended) as the Vietnamese prepare themselves for a long holiday away from work. Most will travel back home, flights to North Vietnam are full. I have been told that the busy streets of Saigon empty out, I can’t wait to see that!

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Vietnamese non la “hats” light up the night

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This street is brought to you by Saigon beer!

As in America merchants have their say. Over a traffic circle the light display of doves and raised hands proudly proclaimed it’s sponsorship! Not sure if I should laugh or cry. Saigon is changing so fast and picking up some bad western ideas too.

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Traffic circle display courtesy of good old American fast food…

GMP-9153 Rex Hotel

The Famous “Rex” Hotel

To be sure I am a free market capitalist. Free markets made America great, the opportunity to take a risk, to succeed or fail. Here is Saigon the old French buildings are being torn down to make way for new shopping centers. Last April one of those building was under siege, today there is a shining new shopping center, boasting a very western style food court. YUK!

Obviously I am no fan of modern shopping centers. I believe Saigon is losing her past as she strives to compete with the rest of Asia.

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Saigon Centre high end shopping in the heart of the tourist district.

 

Dalat!

Posted in Dalat, Travel, Vietnam with tags , , , on April 24, 2012 by saigongary

I was sitting in the pressing heat waiting for the bus to Dalat dreaming about the cooler temps to come but not looking forward to a 5-6 hour overnight trip. With many stops along the way the journey seemed endless I finally fell asleep only to have the bus make the mid trip  passenger comfort stop. Leaving the stop the road turned into an uphill curve fest, the driver passing at every opportunity even on blind curves, guess I didn’t know it was a race. Arriving at the Dalat bus station I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, to feel the cool almost cold air amidst a thick fog. We arrived at our hotel only to find out the owner would not let us stay because I only had a copy of my passport. In Saigon hotels no longer hold your passport, but take a copy to report to the authorities. Not so in Dalat! We were blessed to be able to stay that night at our relatives house, despite the remodeling they are under going. The next day our hosts had to take my passport, drivers license and a written guarantee to the police. Then we could stay at the hotel. Only in Vietnam! My wife’s uncle had recently retired so he volunteered to be our tour guide. Our first stop was at Xq Thanh Thue, an artist colony dedicated to hand stitching art. Yes the large mural is all hand stitched!  

The art is amazing, a must see stop in Dalat. We followed up the art with a wonderful street food stall. Tourist will never find this place but he locals know the best eats in town. A rice flour batter is dipped into small bowls heated over a charcoal fire. Then egg, meat and veggies are added covered to cook then served with a dipping sauce made with scallions and fish sauce. Yummy!

The following day we started our tourist pursuits with a breakfast of Bun Bo Hue a spicy beef noodle soup. Then off to get Vietnamese iced coffee. Properly prepared to face the day we set off to Prenn Falls. Winding through the Dalat mountains I was startled to breathe in the warm pine scented air. For a second I was back home in Minnesota! I am so pleased to find a place like this in Vietnam, I now know where to go to bask in Minnesota memories.Prenn falls is a true tourist stop with all of the associated gift and food stalls. The falls are beautiful. A cable car moves over the falls for a birds eye view. I have to admit when we loaded the car with 6 adults I was a bit doubtful of a successful trip.

Next stop: Bao Dia’s Dalat palace. Bao Dia was Vietnam’s last emperor. The palace is preserved in it’s original decor. I am surprised it was preserved but is is great to see some Vietnam’s history still intact.

It was now time to go crazy! How you ask? Why to the crazy house of course!!! This is truly the crazy stop. The house reminded me of Tolkien’s trilogy. I expected to see a Hobbit at any moment. We walked over the top of the house on a very narrow and low walled stariway. Each twist and turn revealing a new vista or room. Definitely a house worth seeing. It is still under construction so a return in a few years is planned. Although I think they will never finish, keeps the curious coming back!

Our final site was the Dalat Flower Park. Every flower lover should visit the park. Extensive in size  make sure you have enough time to see all the flowers and try not to go in mid day as it was quite hot.

We walked to the park and passed by the Dalat Golf Club. Established in 1922 and built by the French it offers 36 holes of beautiful Pine tree lined fairways.

I highly recommend a trip to Dalat, I know I will return.

I must confess…..

Posted in Ho Chi Minh, Saigon, Vietnam with tags , , on April 13, 2012 by saigongary

 The truth must be told of our latest adventures. Yesterday we had a fun double date with another couple. Two married couples out on the town. How much trouble could we possibly get in to? We met for lunch and coffee in the park and then the fun began. Now to properly set up the story we must return to an untold story from our Singapore trip. At the end of our Sentosa park day we had tickets for a free ten minute fish dip. Sound yummy? This fish dip had nothing to do with eating. We entered a spa and cleaned our feet. Then we had the choice of big or little fish in a wading size pool. We chose the large fish pool. Dipping our feet into the pool caused a feeding frenzy! Oh my I laughed so hard I cried as the fish nibbled away on my feet and legs. When the ten minutes were up I noticed they not only cleaned off the dead skin leaving very soft feet but also that my lower legs we now bare!

Fast forward from Singapore to Saigon. The ladies decided we needed to go for a body massage. Ok I could enjoy a good rub. All was fine as my muscles relaxed. Oil aroma therapy with a fine scent of lemon . Nice until I realized I was also getting my first facial. Yep…deep cleansing, massage, steam, face cream and then the machine. Eyes closed I heard a sucking sound like at the dentist’s office. Next thing I know my face is under the nozzle removing what I have no idea. Guess I don’t have to worry about pimples. Then more cleansing and massage. About this time I heard my friend snoring, he was out, way more relaxed than me, he’s used to this massage. Me? I’m worried about cameras popping out and my facial memorialized on my wife’s facebook page.

Okay laugh all you want but I’ll take a 60 minute body massage for only $10 anyday…the facial I’m not so sure about!

Singapore Swing

Posted in Singapore, Travel with tags on April 6, 2012 by saigongary

 Singapore that steamy, exotic port in the heart of Asia stirs up visions of tramp steamers, intrigue and danger which color my thoughts. Unfortunately for me the Singapore of novels and the 1940’s is gone. Replaced by gleaming modern city whose inhabitants are engulfed by technology. Riding the MTR, the mass transit subway system, I am surprised by the great numbers of people lost to their surroundings, heads down numbly staring at their smart phones.

Singapore has perhaps the most modern skyline in the world, well at least what I have seen of the world. Cool buildings everwhere. There seems to be a mall on every corner and no shortage of shoppers. Even the mass transit walkways have stores and 7-11’s. We visited a 6 floor electronics mall. If you cannot find it there it isn’t made!

This is a city of the super rich with a huge divide between the classes. To own a car here is to be rich. A basic Chevy Cruze costs $80,000. You must first buy a certificate from the government which I am told costs as much as the car and is based on the engine size in CC’s. The idea here is to control the number of cars and who owns them under the guise of keeping congestion down. I have not seen any damaged or very old cars. If you hit a pedestrian you go to jail, even if they jump out in front of you and it is not your fault.

Public housing begins at $400,000 for a small apartment. Everyone pays into a housing fund ($350-500 per month)which is non refundable but may be transferred to your children. Basically it is a savings program for home buying but you cannot use it for your retirement. First times home buyers must use this fund, only second time buyers can get a bank loan. I talked with a young man from Paris and he said he was paying $3000 per month rent for his apartment!

The mass transit is super clean, fast and easy to use and makes money. It makes money because when you pay $12 you get $7 in fares. If you refund your cards they keep $5 per card. The system is heavily used and I heard today that it breaks down frequently but we experienced no problems.The bus schedules are easy to read once you learn a few stops and the hotel prints the bus numbers on their hotel cards so you know which ones to ride. Of course my brother-in-law took a picture with his cell phone at the stop across from our hotel…smart! Our taxi drivers were great, funny, informative and friendly. But they do drive on the wrong side of the road, the reverse of our system in the USA

Singapore is friendly and you always make new friends like the couple in the photo.