Thursday, November 5, 2015

Vietnam Departed – Korean Airlines is flying me home – Chapter 10

Its lovely when you find your way to the international airport, spirit your way through check in and security, run by the maze of shops and gates until you are there, ready to board the plane. I was happily in business class on Korean Airlines, on the top deck of a 747 flying in what felt like a semi private jet with only a hand full of patrons on either side to contend with.  Then the next thing I will wake up for is landing in Honolulu.  Well, not after some movies, and dinner and some drinks and maybe if I’m lucky, some sound sleep.

No longer in Vietnam, just leaving after a short stopover in Seoul, I am no longer spellbound, and filled with guilt and grief over the Vietnam war. At the moment, I am filled with happier thoughts. For one thing, I am going home.  As much as I like to leave home, I am also excited when I return.

I had many happy moments in Vietnam, despite traveling solo, or perhaps enabled by it. It was one of my most enjoyable of trips, truly.  One exciting part was experienced at the tailor.

After departing Hanoi, Vietnam Airlines took me to Danang, where I located my youthful driver and tour guide, and then found our way to Hoi An.  The first order of business was to find a decent taylor in a town known for this craft.  I was told that more than 500 shops are there to tailor clothes for the foreign tourists who descend onto this mid country town of under 100,000 people. Of course, there is more reason than tailoring to visit Hoi An.  Indeed, it would be my first choice – as a place to live.  Charming, historical, filled with both quaint village shops, historical monuments, tailors galore, and modern beachside resorts.  In Hoi An, you can have your cake and eat it.

The tailor shop was chosen by my tour guide. I must admit that I did not do any due diligence in the selection.  It was getting late and I had to make a decision and put my order in before the shop closed.  That way they would have two full days to make me happy.

The shop was called BeBe. I immediately liked the two ladies that I was assigned to at the shop.  One turned out to be one of the owners. She was the one that determined the price.  Among the items for assembly, I requested the tailoring of two smooth vest suits to be used for dance competitions (the second one was ordered on the next day).  I had recently emptied my bank account to purchase a black vest and dance trousers from Dancemo in Germany and so I decided on two pinstripe suits in other colors; one charcoal brown and another tailored in a pleasant light tan.  Parenthetically, the cost of both suits together was about one quarter of the expense of the German made costume. The cost was wonderful, but what about the quality?  In two days, I would find out!

Brought with me from Honolulu, at the suggestion of a friend –thank you Paul, was an old smooth outfit that fit me nicely.  This was used as the template for the suit.  The material chosen I believe was a mixture of cashmere and wool, fine to the touch, but light and airy. I was excited with anticipation.  I was  told to return the next afternoon to have my first fitting. In addition, there were other items that I ordered to be tailored. I had quite a night making rapid fire decisions that I hoped I would not regret.

We returned the next day and the day after.  They had shoes for me to wear to perfectly determine the length. The shoulders needed work but otherwise, the first suit was quite impressively tailored. The truth is that I ordered suit number two only after trying on the first.  I couldn’t resist. The suit fit almost perfectly and the small alterations that needed fixing seemed minor.  Both of the shop workers were quite knowledgeable and skilled. These were not wallflower honeys selling you a used car they have never seen. When something needed altering, an army of workers would descend, take their marching orders and be back in 5 minutes with the alterations completed ready for you to try on again.  I felt like a King!

Of course, I had the greatest time. Over the course of the two days, I returned back several times for hours on end, I must have tried on both suit items more than 15-20 times. Ok, the waist is a little loose, now it’s a little tight, the length should be longer, still longer. The shoulders are still wrinkling in dance position, the chest is fine, oh, can you add a small pocket here and another pocket there? On and on and on.  The owner took over my order realizing what a pest I was becoming in order to spare her fragile staff from the wrath of my petulance and demanding demeanor.  I  was more than happy for the attention.

But I didn’t let the owner keep me from having my fun. Filled with a dozen or so helper girls, I found a way for them to parade around trying on different clothing items for my pleasure and entertainment.  One of the cute ones even was a little too enthusiastic about accepting my invitation for all of them to return to Honolulu with me. I was tempted for a moment at least.  

When I was young, my goal would be to punish and make sure everyone suffered during the haggling process looking to secure the lowest price, having learned this skill from my father.  At my age, I am happy with a little fun in the process. When I bargained with the owner over the price for the second suit, I demanded $10 less than she wanted, but after considerable bartering she finally agreed. After, I looked at her and I felt bad, and told her that if that $10 was important, that I would pay her price. She looked at me and smiled and then offered a price that was $10 below the price that I had demanded. My comment struck a cord.  In the end, she was playing with me and I was playing with her all in fun.  Yes, I really liked that woman.    

I did the math. If you order enough stuff, you can save a lot of money and have nicely tailored clothes to return with.  Almost enough money to fund a trip to Vietnam.  At the very least, it is worth considering. It was just not the clothes, I had the greatest time in Hoi An.  I’m dying to return for more……….

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Vietnam Revisited – Reflections – Chapter 9

Most people have little interest in Vietnam. But some are happily surprised to see american purchases manufactured there, rather than China. But an increasing number of international tourists are now flocking to Vietnam as an exotic adventure and out of curiosity. Not as many Americans come here because it’s quite a distance to travel, unless of course if you are flying business class on Korean Airlines.

Forty years ago, Vietnam conjured up the worst of images; communism and the Vietnam war. Americans being tortured and maimed, the VC - a formidable and ruthless opponent who were much tougher and smarter than imagined…..and you know the rest of the story.  

But who cares about a war that has passed.  We have enough radicals in the middle east wanting to annihilate us, as we are reminded through the merciless daily acts of terrorism...the latest being in Paris. Not like the Vietnam war, we were run out of the country at its conclusion, but at least they didn’t come chasing after us.  In the middle east, unlike Vietnam, there will never be any forgiveness, and generations will pass with middle easterners passing their hate of the great satan to their children while simultaneously planning its destruction.  This is the world that our children will have to endure, as well as the children of their children. 

I must admit to a hawkish outlook regarding our involvement in the middle east. I have been appalled by the cowardice and lack of strategy of Obama in dealing with this present day escalating calamity. Some claim it is his ideological vanity which I interpret to mean that he will never admit that he was wrong. But I am no longer as certain about my position as I was before my trip to Vietnam. 

What have we indeed done in any of our intrusive wars of the past 50 years other then temporarily think we have made a difference, only to acknowledge years later that we have made many things worse. Of course I would differentiate our fighting to protect ourselves from outside invaders, from the pretense of protecting allies that accept our money and military support with one cheek, while funding terrorists that butcher americans worldwide with the other… Saudi Arabia for instance. And now the mess in the Middle East has taken on a more dangerous global outreach perspective that requires a swift response which cannot wait for the next POTUS to make.  

I think all Americans should tour Vietnam in this decade before it changes any further.  Twelve years between my two visits have produced tremendous changes – the country of the past is nearly unrecognizable. The Vietnamese have forgiven us and are happy to accept our friendship and money.  I have never felt any undercurrent of animosity, in part because of the age of those I was interacting with, but also because of the natural graciousness, humanity, and kindness of the people. As a country, I love Vietnam!  I can’t believe how much I love this country that I once found repugnant in another life some 40 years ago.

But the War Remnant Museum is a constant reminder of how the Vietnamese hold the united states singularly responsible for the lost lives, deformed children, destroyed cities, and in general all of the ravages of the Vietnamese War.

Every american should walk through this museum with a heavy heart and think about what we have done, and to consider how this knowledge should shape our involvement in other parts of the world.  Looking at internet images is surreal and distant; being there in person makes the experience visceral.  Your eyes will tear and you will cry, and you will feel the shame of our involvement, the guilt, the pain.  Not only for the Vietnamese but for the 60,000 Americans who lost their lives over the 10 years of our involvement.

An entrepreneur at Halong Bay 
Houses are stacked on top of each other to accommodate
multiple generations in the same family

Vietnam Revisited – Ho Chi Minh City – Chapter 8

I had two days in Ho Chi Minh city to enjoy.  Driving and walking in and around the Cu Chi tunnels took most of the day.

I can't imagine having to fear meeting this fate by taking the wrong step
We then returned back to visit the presidential palace, post office, cathedral and most importantly the War Remnants Museum.  The last day in Vietnam will be spent touring the Mekong Delta which will take all day and then back to the hotel for the last two hour massage, packing and trying to sleep a few hours before my long flights home.

Single string instrument played by lovely Vietnamese musician
Five star hotel - one of many
Post Office
inside beautiful post office
At nightclub called Maxim opened in 1924 where you can find lovely
Vietnamese girls to dance with

A beautiful park near my hotel
 I did not think that I had been to Hoi An but I had. I thought I had visited the War Remnants Museum but I hadn’t.  Go figure.  It must have been some other museum but this one was unforgettable. 

Presenting a bunch of war artifacts did little to interest me but it was the pictures and the narrative told from a Vietnamese perspective that got to me. My eyes were teary from the start and it only got worse. I cannot believe the contrast from how the Vietnam war was understood by Americans at the time of the war, and the harsh realities of the resultant aftermath.  Told from the Vietnamese perspective, the imperialistic motives of the US were coupled with numerous crimes against humanity committed against the Vietnamese people - sounds unfathomable and resoundingly un-American.  But we cannot deny the historical facts, that we subjected the VC to torture and harsh treatment of prisoners, committed mass killings, and utilized napalm and agent orange that still is having aftereffects....both in the Vietnamese as well as Americans I might add. But it was no party for the Americans either, especially if you were caught by the VC, but that is another story. 

Importantly, our involvement in this civil war had no positive benefit in attaining the primary outcome sought, which was to limit the spread of Communism and to protect the south Vietnamese people from the VC. Instead, it contributed to an increase in carnage of the civil war, as well as contributing to the destruction of many parts of the country through relentless bombing and the use of poisons that we covered much of the country with.  And we clearly were responsible for creating generations of deformed Vietnamese at the hands of Agent Orange. 

The stories at the museum are told from the eyes and mouths of the Vietnamese; I did not want to attribute this outcome to the country of my birth, until now, when I can no longer deny its veracity.

I was never in that war
I couldn’t pray for more
I still feel guilty as sin
Its not because we didn’t win

For what we did to the Vietnamese
Burning and shooting them down with ease
Young soldiers were brainwashed to kill
Nearly 60,000 now lie still

In the end the North still WON!
Out of their country they made us run
We left them their country destroyed
From the guns and solders we deployed

To see it as told by the War Remnant Museum
A perspective few Americans have every seen
From the moment of entry I began to cry
My tears were real, I do not lie

For pictures do not lie
Still smiling until they die 
They show the dead and deformed
To this I was sadly informed

Americans have fought with incredible zeal
Our soldiers are brave with nerves of steel
But we continue to mistake wrong from right
We seem only to know how to fight

We have not learned our lesson today
We continue to fight far far away

We have created a monster
That no one will sponsor
The world disorder has been created
It still has not abated
We know not what to do
This I believe as you
This violence is a cancer
For which there is no answer

The Vietnamese have forgiven us now
I really do not comprehend how

We still have not learned our lesson 
God only knows what is in store
Except for more, more, more and still more

Guns and death and sadness abound
The earth will be left with no one around

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Vietnam Revisited – I Love Vietnam - Chapter 7

Good Eye!

When the master chef was teaching us how to cook, he attributed good health to many of the ingredients that were used commonly in Vietnamese cuisine.  One of the health benefits was good eye sight. He made the observation that very few Vietnamese wear glasses as compared to people in Western countries.  At the time, I wondered whether this was because many Vietnamese could not afford glasses if they were indeed needed, but I really did want to believe what he was saying.

Good eye sight is essential to surviving the streets! To be sure, no one can have the 360 degree peripheral vision necessary to avoid an inevitable collision in the making while attempting to navigate the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.  How citizens manage to stay alive passing through these treacherous paths is beyond my comprehension.

Last night I was returning to my hotel after visiting a dedicated Vietnamese HIV researcher who I knew was  affiliated with the University of Hawaii. We met at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh. The cab ride to the hospital took about 20 minutes and cost $2.50.  The maze of people on motor cycles and bikes, cars, pedestrians, and cyclos was just too much to believe. It was a total blur and my eyes went from hysterical nystagmoid back and forth movements to shutting down.  As dusk settled in and the humans and machines dissolved into the twilight, I closed my eyes in disbelief and hoped for the best.  How do these people know when to go, when to stop, or when to slow down? I imagined myself blind – finding my way across the street with a walking stick reaching toward the masses of flesh and metal, searching for the slightest opening, and fearing that my life depended upon the good graces and navigating skills of hundreds of nearly colliding strangers.  This reminded me of the physical principle:  “No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.” 

Everyone is Young

The masses of tourist have shown their faces to me, and hardly anyone from any western country is as old as I am.  The overwhelming demographic is 20’s and 30’s young attractive couples traveling lightly, fit and adventuresome and eager to experience life. Questions come to mind: Why them and not more of the cruise ship geriatric variety?  Who pays the bills?  How do young people needing to make their way in the world have the time and energy to travel?.

But the real lesson is this: DON’T WAIT ANOTHER SECOND TO TRAVEL TO PLACES ON THE EARTH THAT YOU WANT TO SEE BEFORE YOU ARE LONG GONE, or before the countries you are visiting are unrecognizably different a decade later.  I only wish I had visited China a few decades before I did to see the contrast and appreciate the incredible transformation into a thriving capitalist economic monster. Vietnam is currently undergoing the same transformation and will be unrecognizable in 10-20 years.

I Love Vietnam

I truly love this country and I’m not sure why.  I have already fallen for Hanoi and while I didn’t think Ho Chi Minh would interest me all that much, I explored a totally different city than I did on my first trip.  I love this city as well.  But Hoi An is where I would live, in a cute sea side city with history, charm and with lots of places to make clothes at a reasonable price!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Vietnam Revisited – Traveling Solo - Chapter 6

Well its been three days since the last chapter.  A lot has happened. On the first full day of visiting Hoi An, we (tour guide, me and a smattering of other tourists)  spent the first part of the day mulling around a coffee shop, then to a remarkable open food market, then we took a little tourist boat to a far off location where our host AKA master chef gave us an entertaining and informative cooking class.  Truly, we all enjoyed this lengthy enlightenment, even me, the man who hates cooking!  Then we ate what we cooked and it was delicious.  Of course one of the instructor’s helpers immediately singled me out as the moron of the group and hovered around me guiding me through the steps.  But I was fully engaged and listening intently to the presentation.  Indeed, the master chef was might funny, poking fun at everyone during his presentation, prompting bursts of laughter especially from me – probably the crowd thought I was taking dope or something.  But now, I am even more in love with Vietnamese food than ever before.  A healthier food I cannot imagine.

Funny Master Chef who taught the cooking lesson

83 y/o and still working!

Things are not always what they appear - more later on this topic

The second day was spent learning about fishing and that was also a wonderful experience, albeit very touristy and controlled.  We spent most of the time on the water in a tourist boat and then we somehow found our way onto little bisected spherical bowl floating miracle – four to a bowl -  not much larger than your bathroom tub. This took us to various locations while learning about how the Vietnamese fish and the politics involved.  It was truly a splendid experience, not too long and everyone in the group was interacting and having fun in these little spherical tubs.  The afternoon was spent enjoying a walking tour of old Hoi An, which was very also enjoyable.  The town of Hoi An is not that large….under 100,000 population, and so the streets were not too crowded, the tourists not too intrusive in behavior or number, and the sites were preserved very well and historically interesting.  When I crossed one of the major landmarks, this very old bridge that was built by the Japanese in about 1590, I realized something very interesting.  This was not the first time I had crossed this bridge; I had done so on my first trip to Vietnam about 12 years ago.  I just didn’t remember the name of the town, but I remembered the excursion from Danang that took us to a town about 40 minutes away – which now I recognize as Hoi An. Yikes, what more can I say about my memory of the past.  

just a glimpse of part of the circular tub we used to navigate the river
This Blog:

Writing without pictures is both challenging and rewarding. Instead of focusing on a pretty picture to lend credence to the narrative, it all has to be imagined.  Of course, I plan to edit these chapters (already done) when I get home and access my mac air which hopefully I will remember how to operate.

Traveling Solo:

The greatest trepidation of this trip was in traveling solo.  Not for a lack of trying, I just could not find anyone free enough to join me. That begged the question of whether I was being controlled by the situation and my friends availability or I was in control of my destiny.  Having taken a Silversea cruise to Japan and Alaska a few years back, I was even more concerned with how this would come down because I was not all that happy with cruising alone. But I would not let circumstances get the best of me.  How much more time on earth do I have to enjoy the world?  That is  just as much of a question as this one:  Does my enjoyment of the world depend upon someone else or can it come from within?  Well I think the first question only God can answer, the second one has been answered during this trip.

Indeed, I am not the same man on this trip that I would be traveling with a companion, which typically would keep my experiences and outgoing advances limited and insular.  Not having any notion of how I would do or whether I could get anyone to even talk to me, I seemed to naturally gravitate to be friendly, ask obvious looking tourists where they are from, comparing notes and sharing travel tips, poking jabs at the local customs, etc, etc….  I have also been much more sociable to the local Vietnamese and they have returned the favor.  In short, its been very easy to interact with just about anyone who comes my way and it has been immensely enjoyable.  

Have I been lonely? – NO.  Have I felt like an outcast? – NO. In fact, I feel rather liberated in this independent travel experience. People want to talk to me precisely because I am traveling alone, seeing me as brave rather than a loser who can’t find a single human on earth to travel with.  And in the end, I don’t really have to ask anyone about how they feel about doing anything on the trip. When nature calls in the middle of the night, I turn on the lights and march to the bathroom without worrying about waking anyone up. When I decide to sit at the bar and order Pho and skip a full dinner, I can decide this without any concern over the other person’s feelings.  

Yes, I can truly say that I have made the correct decision to travel solo.  At least up until now, I feel this is one of the most enjoyable trips that I have taken in the recent past.  And it motivates me to begin planning for the next adventure, to another south east asian location, perhaps Laos, Cambodia, or Myanmar.  Stay tuned……

Friday, October 30, 2015

Vietnam Revisited – Be Prepared for the Unexpected – Chapter 5

The tour guide and driver picking me up at the Danang Airport were much different than those in Hanoi.  Younger and more playful, not quite as experienced but definitely more fun.  We immediately drove to Hoi An from Danang soothing past a smattering of traffic as compared to the massive traffic confusion of the Hanoi proper.  My driver took me to a tailor as requested to begin to catalogue my request for certain clothes and presents to be made over the next two days prior to my departure to Ho Chi Minh City. 

I immediately liked the ladies who were serving me at the first shop.  So I didn’t have the energy or the heart to haggle endlessly with them about price which was not particularly inexpensive to be perfectly honest. Yes, there are many shops that lined this corridor of town that were all waiting for the hoards of tourists to entice.  I could have spent the next day and night looking for someone less expensive or perhaps more skilled.  But there were so many items on my schedule to accomplish over the next few days that I had to concede my tendency for through research and investigation for the sake of expediency and efficiency.  Hope I’m making a good decision.  

A quick dinner with driver and guide at a local restaurant had us all sampling the local Pho.  The cost of the dinner with three local beers to wash down the noodles for the three of us came to $9. That was both a miracle and a great surprise.  

But the real surprise was the hotel that was booked for me by my tour company.  It was a resort on the beach, the Palm Garden Resort, which I was not all that happy with in the original booking. Indeed, I wanted to reside closer to Hoi An to be immersed in the city’s chaos rather than a beach side resort.  After all I live in Hawaii.  But sometimes you have to let things just happen.  

Turns out that the resort is really lovely, modern, massive but well done and charming.  My room was huge and comfortable.  To be sure, the bathroom was larger than the room from the previous night’s cruise ship nightmare.  

Before turning in for the night, I decided to do a little exploration. The biggest surprise was finding a bar with live music provided by two Filipino performers.  Playing a variety of danceable music, my body lightened with the fantasy that some ladies would suddenly appear to dance with.  But that was not destined, as I was the only human there paying any attention to the music or showing any interest in dancing.  In the end, I could not allow myself to just sit and listen, so I asked the singer to dance with me, expecting outright rejection. 

To make matters worse, I had not changed out of my travel clothes; I was wearing my walking shoes and t-shirt covered with the day’s dust glued to the dried perspiration of the long journey from Halong Bay.  I was truly not putting my best foot forward. But what the hell….life is short.

Very poor quality pics of singer in a wig, and musician husband performing at
Palm Garden Resort during Halloween Party

You have to be prepared for life’s rejections but also the serendipitous moments that work in your favor. To my surprise, the lovely singer obliged me and was happy to share the next 20 odd minutes dancing while the male instrumentalist - her husband - was playing for our enjoyment and benefit.   What a great night, ending in pure joy and leaving with something to look forward to for the next two nights since she promised me more of the same - including at the next day's Halloween party.  And I will be prepared to dance appropriately dressed including my dance shoes - since I was lucky enough to pack them for this – just in case possibility.  

Vietnam revisited Chapter 3 & 4

A Calm and Gentle People:

One uncannily aspect of Vietnam is despite the apparent hustle and bustle in the streets observed by the unaccustomed eye, filled to the brim with people planted everywhere trying to find their way, there is a relative calm and quiet that abounds.  In fact the flow and tide of traffic on the streets, no matter how disentangled and chaotic it must appear to the unaccustomed visitor, is remarkably calm and casual.  I mentioned the analogy of the flow of water down stream that is partially obstructed with debris, and I think that is a good analogy. The debris affects flow in a predictable manner and the resultant appearance of the stream is not chaotic or uncertain.  It flows slow in parts and faster in others. That's the way traffic works in Vietnam.  And the tenor of movement and behavior on the sidewalk and in the shops mirrors this non-chaotic chaos.

French architecture

where Ho Chi Minh dined

Ho Hoan Kiem

One Pillar Pagoda

 People are not loud or unruly.  Storefronts are not playing loud music; you are not cajoled by the locals to enter into their shop with coercion and harassment.  And you are not automatically assaulted at every corner by someone looking for a handout. People are respectful and gentle, have a decent sense of humor, are quiet and understated and have proper respect for your space.  This makes being a tourist in Vietnam a pleasant experience as compared to many other countries on earth. Contrast this experience with my travels to Tangier, probably the worst of the worst towns to attempt to enjoy while the constant harassment of the populous beckons you at every corner.  

An Interesting Lunch:

On day two, my tour included a lunch to break up the day of tourist activity.  I was taken to a tourist approved restaurant where ostensibly the food was safe to consume without worry.  There they served me a 4 or 5 course meal that I really did not need, but tasted wonderful.  I sampled most of the courses, devouring some and then felt guilty the rest of the day observing my tummy shoot out like a 5 month pregnant woman as I stuffed too much food into  my gastrointestinal corridor.  There was a couple at the next table, a little older than me – if that is possible – who I began talking to. Nice to have some company since I was the only loser in the restaurant sitting alone feeling like a leper.   

They were an interesting and engaging couple from LA, well traveled and gracious, in what appeared to be their second marriage. We shared our life stories to amuse ourselves and make friends.  She had just lost a son, he had just survived a second cancer treatment, and I talked about losing my wife 20 years before.  

He asked a question that I could not answer.  While taxes are collected from Vietnam citizens – roughly similar to our own tax structure, it is unclear to what benefit this brings the people of the country.  Apparently, they do not receive any type of government paid or subsidized health insurance, no free schooling beyond high school, and no social security at retirement. I was struck by his concern, unverified but nevertheless alarming news for a county with such a history of occupation and oppression.  

Vietnam – Halong Bay – Chapter 4

Did you ever notice a beautiful woman or beautiful man from afar, only to focus on his or her defects when you close in - to detect the imperfections. This is how I have reacted to Halong Bay, this my second visit to this magnificent world renowned site. My first trip to Vietnam, roughly twelve years ago witnessed the pristine magnificence and splendor of the bay, a site heretofore never experienced through my eyes.  Truly I could not find enough words to express the joy, eerie beauty, and calm of this site, tiny Vietnamese fishing boats - junks - abounding in the clear blue sea, the unique volcanic protrusions shooting up all around you creating a surreal artistically beautiful skyline. It felt more like a dream in heaven than any reality on earth. It felt like I was floating in an artistic rendition of the bay rather than really being there, it was that beautiful.    

Well, to my dismay, my experience on this trip did not match the previous recollection. I probably should learn from this experience not to return to those sites that I hold in such regard. Indeed, this is not the first time that a second look, decades after the first, has tarnished my positive memory forever.  Bergen, Norway is an example. Rhodes, Greece is another. All for the same reason.

I will not detail my concerns, other than to globally blame it on the unfettered effects of tourism.

Moreover, my experience in Halong Bay was not improved by the quality of my experience on the little cruise ship that floated us around the maze of scattered land masses and beautiful caves that we witnessed on Day 3.  An average ship, small, barely adequate rooms, and decent but not special food.  At least we were not crowded like sardines. Fortunately, this is not the high season of travel for tourism in Vietnam, although we have been very lucky so far with the weather which has been quite tolerable.  And I met some very nice people, a couple from Hong Kong, a pretty Japanese girl with a beautiful smile, a gay couple from Brazil, and even flirted with a very attentive female cruise staff worker.  

I’d rather focus on the positives of this trip rather than its shortcomings.  I came to Vietnam wanting to love this country, having only the fondest of memories from my first taste more than a decade ago. My next experience will be in Hoi An.  Today is a day of transition….from the ship to the car, from the airport to the plane, from Danang to Hoi An, and finally to settle in at the next hotel. More later.  Gosh, I need another two hour massage!