ABOARD THE VOLENDAM, PART 2

Our cruise ship: Holland America’s Volendam

In our last post we told you about our visit to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Here are a couple more pictures from there.

The centerpiece was the visit to the former Presidential Palace, now called Reunification Hall. It was here that the North Vietnamese tank #390 crashed through the front gates on April 30, 1975. The “war” would soon be over.

The famous Vietnamese tank.

Like me you probably watched that event on television and felt the sadness of a long, futile struggle coming to an ignominious ending. The building remains in good repair—we quickly toured the reception and dining rooms of the President’s quarters as well as the basement, which is still full of the American-made telecommunications equipment and other memorabilia.

Vietnam museum’s depiction of the salvaging and repurposing of war materials.

At the City Museum, a rather anachronistic mid-19th century French colonial building in this very modern city, we examined more artifacts of Vietnamese culture in general and the “American” War in particular, including pictures commemorating the communist struggle for power.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) today, as seen from the observatory platform high up on the Bitexco Financial Tower.

We told you we were on a cruise, but we also spent many hours aboard excursion buses:

A familiar sight at every port. One of these awaiting buses is ours.

Hue was our next excursion, where we looked around the Imperial City of the Nguyen emperors who reigned from 1802 to 1945. The Citadel is a pretty impressive place, beginning with the Mon Gate which we passed through to reach the main pavilion, the Palace of Supreme Harmony (an ironic name for a fortress/capital, don’t you think?). The Palace is largely a ceremonial venue, resplendent in ornate columns and furnishings of red and gold. The Tet Offensive of 1968 took its toll, but restoration work continues.

Entrance to the Emperor’s tomb–which he personally designed.

We also took a quick look at an imperial tomb nearby, this one built by Nguyen Dynasty Emperors. It served as a place of recreation and then finally as the final resting place of Tu Duc—although apparently no one knows exactly where he is buried—to prevent robbers from desecrating his grave. If we hadn’t been told we were at a tomb I’d have thought it was simply a smaller palace replete with the lake, gardens, hunting grounds, and other ornate buildings. My democratic/republican convictions have trouble reconciling how well the emperors took care of themselves in life and death and how little thought they gave to the conditions of the peasants who supported them.

BTW, Tu Duc had 104 wives and concubines, but left no heirs. It’s amazing to think that he could have tried to get progeny from so many women, all of whom apparently were infertile. It surely could not have been his fault. He was the emperor, after all.

Several times our guides explained the prevalence of ancestor worship in this predominantly Buddhist part of the world. It would take a foreigner–

Ancestor worship encourages extravagant cemeteries.

at least this foreigner–some serious time and study to separate the strands of religious observance here: Buddhism, animism, ancestor worship, Christianity, Islam, communism, and other minor ones.

Nets for night fishing

It was in this area that we observed a fishing technique new to us. The above nets are submerged at night to capture the prey, then lifted very early the morning to get the fresh catch to market.  Apparently this time-honored method works well.

Vietnam in soccer finals; bars reverberated with the shouts of the fans.

The most memorable sight in Da Nang was the many crowds glued to large screen televisions set up in shops along the street. By their enthusiastic roaring we were sure Vietnam was trouncing Uzbekistan in the Asian Cup games. We weren’t alone in our conclusion. On board ship that evening the assistant cruise director announced the victory, only to have to apologize the next evening for his mistake. Uzbekistan scored in the last 20 seconds to defeat Vietnam. We were sad.

Ha Long Bay’s most photographed island or rock

From the first day we began planning this SE Asia cruise Joy insisted we get to Ha Long Bay if we went nowhere else. She and Candy had been in Vietnam in 2011 but missed this stop which other tourists in her group insisted was a must. So we went, taking a luncheon cruise aboard a converted fishing junk and exploring Thien Cung Cave.

Ha Long Bay’s grandeur

This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s easy to understand why. Our boat passed by many (I lost count) of the 3000 limestone islands that dot the bay. This is the count our guide gave us; the brochure said otherwise: “Ha Long Bay is dotted with an estimated 1,969 islands spread over 900 square miles.”

Ha Long Bay

Our guide exaggerated some other facts as well–or was it my unreliable hearing?– so I’ll stick with the brochure’s number. The full name is Ha Long Bay of the Descending Dragon. The guide had some tall tales to tell about the dragons, also.

I was satisfied that Joy had made the right decision; the bay alone was worth the price of admission, which included an excellent seafood lunch. I liked it all. Joy wasn’t excited about the fish served with head (including the eyes) intact, but the meat was good.

Thien Cung Cave

Then came the Thien Cung Cave. Over the years we’ve explored several grottoes. I’d rank this one at or near the top of the list—although Joy reminded me of the magnificent Oregon Caves, which she thought even more dramatic. Her pictures capture something of the splendor, but this is a case in which “you had to be there.” I felt the same about the bay islands.

Cave stalagmites

The brochure warned: “You will stop at Thien Cung Cave and wander through the cavern to marvel at its stalagmite and stalactite formations (suitable only for the agile).” I’m happy to report we were among the agile.

As our cruise ended we did not enjoy saying goodbye to the delightful people we met aboard. Here are four of our favorites, the Bodners (Marty and Gladys) and Brintons (Michael and Elaine) from Victoria, B. C. Three of them are retired school teachers and Michael’s a retired civil servant. Their zest for life is contagious.

 

Asia cruise friends. A rare incident: the Hat (minus hat) spins a yarn for the captive audience.

JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS

Rice paddies provide the Vietnamese diet’s staple.
Farmers life near Da Nang
Poles that secure tires in which oysters grow their pearls.
Da Nang street sweeper
Buffet sweets. Nothing here is gluten free.
Varieties of Vietnam’s fruit. ALL GLUTEN FREE!