13 months
Dec 5:
good morning, vietnam!
Dec 7:
cyclo vs. moped
Dec 17:
ha long bay & cat ba island
Dec 18:
hanoi low down
Dec 21:
food, glorious food
Dec 24:
ambassador colonel sanders
  Dec 26:
ho chi minh low down
ho chi minh
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Halong Bay
Vietnam, Dec 17, 2004

vung tau

Okay, I confess, I’m writing this one quite a bit after the fact. But I’ll wait a bit to get into the nitty gritty of the entry and first relate a discussion that Susan and I had about it. It went something like this:

G: “What was the name of that place?”
S: “Um… you’re going to have to give me a bit more information.”
G: “In Vietnam…”
S: [understandably still waiting for more info]
G: “Outside… uh… Ho Chi Minh.”
S: “Mekong Delta.” (with the speed of a game show participant)
G: “We didn’t go there… a place *we* went.”
S: [giggle, then long pause, then…] “Phloen Cit!” (pronounced “Plen Sit”)
G: [another long pause, trying to figure out why that sounded soooo wrong, then finally] “No… that’s a train station in Bangkok. Nevermind, I remember now; it’s Vung Tao.”

I tell you this to illustrate that it’s difficult to keep track of everything (*and* that Susan has a really bad memory, but that’s beside the point) … all the names and all the places can get jumbled up. Sometimes when we’re moving around a lot we wake up and ask each other where we are (meaning, which country). That might sound strange, but it happened several times now. Weird.

our transport

So, anyway, on to Vung Tao, which is an island about 45 minutes from Ho Chi Minh City. You get there by, of all things, an old Russian hydrofoil. They have a small fleet of them. Apparently they were once used for military transport, but have long been out of active duty. Our hydrofoil had certainly seen better days, but it was pretty nifty once it got going. Most of the passengers spend the trip inside (it’s air-conditioned), but we decided to crawl out the back hatch to see where that would take us. We ended up on a small platform at the back of the craft, enclosed mostly by handrails. This was a great vantage point, so we spent a fair amount of the 75-minute trip like dogs in the back of a pick up truck. Most of the journey was down the Saigon River, and it was interesting to see everything from one-person boats to enormous cargo ships to flatbed boats piled high with dirt and cranes, each with their own itinerary, all unbeknownst to us. We also saw a couple other hydrofoils going the other direction. This was neat since it was the only way we could really get a good grasp of how our vehicle worked. The very last part of the trip is over a small section of open ocean, and then we reached the island and town of Vung Tao.

one of a hundred boats (all with eyes) that we passed on the way

A quick taxi ride got us to the other side of the island where we found a small restaurant and had lunch. The food was average, but the open-air view of the ocean was very nice, and there were very few people on the beach.

After lunch we decided to try to find the shipyard (our friend John Moon had recommended this to us). But this proved more difficult than we had originally guessed. First of all, taxis seemed to wait only by the dock where the hydrofoils arrive, so we had to hunt around for a while to find one on this side of the island. And when we did find one, the driver had no idea what we were trying to say since he didn’t speak any English. The next driver understood us, but told us that there was no shipyard on the island. We even went into the only hotel we could find and asked the staff there, and none of them had any idea where the shipyard was, or could even verify its existence. There was a small glimmer of hope when the concierge at the hotel figured out what we were looking for with a quick game of Pictionary on hotel letterhead, but then he insisted that there wasn’t one on the island. This all seemed quite strange to us since 1) our friend John surely didn’t imagine his recent visit to the shipyard, and 2) this island is small! – shouldn’t the local population be aware of some type of shipyard if there was one? Finally, the third taxi driver we met grasped where we wanted to go (I was making hammering movements which didn’t really help, but when Susan started sawing movements, that did the trick), and he even seemed to think that it existed, so that seemed promising. So off we went, expecting to find a dinky little shipyard somewhere.

our new shipyard posse

We were so surprised when we arrived at a relatively huge shipyard. There must have been several hundred boats in various stages of construction and repair. We asked our taxi driver to give us about an hour or so and happily jumped out of the car. (Well, okay, *I* jumped out happily because boys like vehicles of all types for some inexplicable chromosomal reason. Susan, on the other hand, was basically along for the ride on this venture.) We walked for a while through all the boats. Most vessels that were being repaired looked to be of the fishing variety, while most of the boats being newly built looked like the ones used to take tourists around Halong Bay (see vietnam: halong bay & cat ba island).

everybody checking out the results of the
most recent photo session

I pulled out the camera to take some pictures, and this seemed to be very amusing to everybody there. I guess very few folks actually visit the shipyard, and perhaps, if you work there, it seems a silly topic for pictures. But nonetheless, everybody was friendly, and I was having fun photographing the boats and people. We eventually attracted a small crowd of kids that were interested in what we were doing. I took some pictures of them and showed them the results on the camera’s mini-screen. Apparently, and understandably, this was a new treat for them, so a long session of take-a-picture-then-see-what-it-looks-like ensued. Even some of the adults came over and gestured enthusiastically that we should take pictures of them, too. A fun time was had by all.

Too soon, we decide that we better head back, so we waved goodbye to our newly found posse and walked back to the car. The kids ran alongside the car and waved until they couldn’t keep up. Even short relationships with people can be amazingly rewarding.

To see more pictures, check out the vietnam: ho chi minh gallery.

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