Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vung Tau, Vietnam

Map picture

Lost In Vietnam

Our tour experience yesterday was somewhat surreal. Neither Lisa nor I could tell you at the end of our five hour excursion where we had been, or even why in the world we had bothered to go there! Last night and again this morning, people would ask what we had done yesterday, and we both would look at each other and shrug our shoulders and admit that we did not have a clue.

Before you think we have gone nuts, allow me to explain. Yesterday our ship docked at the port of Phu My, which is the access to Ho Chi Minh City, or to the Mekong Delta. We had been here just 8 days ago and took the nine hour day trip into the old city of Saigon, and so on this stop we decided to do something different. At the time we signed up for shore excursions, the trip to the Mekong Delta was not offered, and our only alternative was a five hour day trip to some city nearby the port. In fact our fact sheet told us what we would see, but not exactly where we were going. And thus, we dutifully signed onto tour 205A, and assumed it would be a fun day.

On boarding our bus we were confronted with a guide whose English was almost non-existent. She droned on and on and on, but neither Lisa nor I had a clue for the most part as to what she was saying. I know that we left the port as we had before, and when we got to the main highway we turned right rather than left towards the city of Ho Chi Minh. We drove for two hours non-stop, passing towns and villages whose names we could not read until finally we reached the seashore and our first stop. Sadly the day had dawned very foggy and overcast, and it remained that way all day with limited visibility.

After some research this morning, I have learned that we traveled to the city of Vung Tau, which is located on the coast of the South China Sea. The city is rather new and has been built since “the great liberation” and the “reunification” of Vietnam after 1975. Having travelled for two hours across a landscape of poverty arriving at this carefully built mecca for tourism was somewhat shocking. The government seems to believe that if they build a nice beachside resort with 4 and 5 star hotels, then the tourists will follow. In my mind, that remains to be seen.

Having arrived at our first stop, we were confronted with a long climb up a steep driveway to reach our destination, which was the Villa Blanche Museum.


Built as the home of the French Colonial Governor in the 1800’s, it was briefly used as the summer palace of the Emperor Bao Dai. Today it sits atop the hillside affording good views of the harbor below, but the building itself is not all that impressive and is not in good shape. It had a collection of china that had been recovered from a shipwreck off the coast, but since most of the lights did not work, it was difficult to see through the dust covered glass cases. The furniture in the building was not original, and so in rather quick order, we crossed that stop off our list and moved on. We did not have to move very far, because just at the bottom of the hill, we again stopped, this time for refreshments at a local venue.

There is an interesting story that develops while there. We had not really noticed but as we entered the city an entire caravan of street vendors had set off in pursuit of our bus. We had noticed how our bus was surrounded on both sides by Vietnamese women holding up items and waving at us, but we did not realize until we stopped outside the museum grounds, that they had been following us on our journey. Indeed, as we moved on, the entire caravan packed up and moved with us. So, if you showed any interest in something at one stop, but did not buy it there, it would be out and available at the next stop with variations, so we constantly had renewed opportunities to purchase. The women were really nice and after a while it was nice to see them there. If I got mosquitoes on my back, they would rush to brush them off for me. So, of course, everyone on the bus ended up buying something from them. A side story worth noting is that in Vietnam a light complexion is prized for its beauty, so when women are outside, particularly on their motorbikes, they wear a face mask, and they cover their arms completely with long gloves; this makes for an interesting sight. The masks are many times simply surgical masks, but in some cases they are brightly decorated.


I saw one woman in particular who wore a bright red helmet with an equally bright and matching face mask and gloves, over which she was a fashionable pair of sunglasses. It was eye catching to say the least.

Back on the bus, we travelled all of five minutes along the shore before having a quick photo stop, as it was described. Now I had a little trouble figuring out what it was that made this a “photo” stop, but I dutifully snapped a few pictures, and climbed back on the cool bus.

DSC_4345(2) In spite of the overcast, as the day progressed, the heat and humidity started to take a toll and the bus quickly became our haven. Once again we set off for no more than five minutes along the coast before stopping for a brief “photo” stop. Here we could take a photograph of a recently completed 100’ high concrete statue of Jesus Christ sitting atop a small hillside. So back on the bus for yet another five minute drive.


This time we stopped on a side street and as always were immediately surrounded by our travelling caravan of vendors. Facing us was a steep alleyway which we needed to climb to our next attraction, a local Buddhist shrine. More than one person on our tour had problems with the steep climb, but finally we arrived. I will admit that the small shrine did have a nice reclining Buddha within its halls.


I do not know what it was made from, because our guide droned on about how many steps there were in the temple, and what each step stood for, etc, until I just tuned out – in truth because I could hardly understand her anyway. So, you will just have to enjoy the photographs.

Back down the hillside we went and back into the bus for another five minute drive to our next stop the Lang Ca Ong Whale Temple. I feel terrible having to admit that neither Lisa nor I got the significance of the Whale thing.


Essentially we were told that long ago a whale washed up on shore. Many years later the bones were recovered and a temple was built around them; now you know as much as we do.

I am sure you can guess my next line; yes, back in the bus for yet another five minute ride to the local market. Here we were told we had 20 minutes before needing to return to the bus. The market was a dark covered cavern filled with stalls, smells, and people all bustling this way and that, and after a few minutes, we had enough of that and scampered back to the bus, as did everyone else for that matter.

And so, there you have it. I slept for most of the two hour trip back to the ship and was just glad to be “home” as it were.

Now at least I am in a position to tell people what we did for five hours yesterday. In summary, we drove and drove to see an old Villa at the top of a steep hill. Then had a photo stop to see a 100 ft. high concrete statue of Jesus, followed by a quick visit to a local Buddhist shrine, also atop a steep hill. This was followed by a visit to some temple built around some old whale bones, with a quick stop at a dark, noisy and very smelly market before enjoying another two hour ride back to the ship. I think that just about sums it up.

Today we are again at sea headed north to the port of Chan May in Vietnam. This will serve as the gateway to a tour of either the ancient city of Hue, or alternatively the city of Da Nang. We have selected the tour to Hue, which will involve a 10 hour day – I can imagine how tired we will be when we return, but at least the following day is once again a leisurely day at sea.

I hope everyone is well; and remember the blog is posted at:

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