Foray to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Radio silence on the blog. Necessary. Kick-start the creative juices with the New Year, and welcome to Sunflower Journey 2015. I’m not quite sure of its direction, but at least this blog is my moment in time to remember and reflect. Thank-you for being with me along the way. Somtimes you tap a message or comment of support for us crazy Legges and I thank-you for keeping me motivated along the way.
Despite its absence online, Sunflower Journey has been very much in full swing with the Christmas break based with friends in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and a sneaky 5-day trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Why? We had envisaged our natural progression from Cambodia to be on to Vietnam through the Mekong Delta. So in a round about way and a few months later than expected, it was time to fulfill this passage.
All reports of Ho Chi Minh had led me to believe the city would be hot, stinky and oppressive such that I selected a rather remote spot on the outskirts of the city for our accommodation at Saigon Domaine Residences. Of course the apartments look considerably better on the website than in the flesh, but still you can’t complain with your own balcony overlooking the Mekong.
Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh
Our first evening was straight to a famous Vietnamese water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Theatre and we were completely transfixed for the duration of the 50-minute show. We walked the length of Dong Khoi street marveling at the sheer volume of motorbikes, carefully planning a route with as few road crossings as possible. Why were we feeling strangely unruffled by it all? It was obvious, our weeks, months in Cambodia had done its utmost in stretching our collective comfort zones such that this next experience was all the more easy to slip into.
You know me by now, and what better way to welcome ourselves to the city than the roof bar at Hotel Rex, slurping I Love Saigon cocktails. It wasn’t just the effects of the cocktail, there was something in the air in Ho Chi Minh that made us all feel content and happy, a vibrant yet strangely calm character to the city.
Day 2 – Ho Chi Minh
A secret treat was in store my man and boys with Ho Chi Minh Cooking Class in the suburb of Ho Chi Minh, Cu Chi. We were met out at the agricultural village by Chef Tan and introduced to his organic farm land with a wealth of fruit and vegetables. Armed with a basket, we each foraged for herbs and fresh produce from fresh lemongrass and Vietnamese basil, to white radish and papaya for our 4-course cooking extravaganza. Chef Tan is truly a charismatic chap who had the boys cooking full menus alongside the adults – spring rolls, papaya salad with BBQ pork, honey chicken and banana spring rolls. We ate each course and cooked the next, no rush, no hurry. And this is EXACTLY what I love about travel – the stimulation. Travel is a total stimulation of the senses, learning, hearing, observing.
Following on from the cooking with full bellies we learnt the local method for rice paper and on to the Cu Chi tunnels, the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. The boys absolutely loved learning about this complex network of tunnels which had housed the Viet Cong soldiers.
Day 3 – Ho Chi Minh
A day for ourselves to explore the city, taking it slow and enjoying our surroundings aside the Mekong. Disappointing for the boys, this was a shopping morning for Mum and Dad, heading straight for Saigon Square and Cho Ben Thanh Market. Again this was not the crazy hustle bustle I had expected from the reviews of the place, and we enjoyed looking at the vast array of goodies. Addicted to the local coffee, we stopped nearby at Frescoes, Le Loi Street for another shot of the deliciously strong and sweet Vietnamese Coffee.
Our afternoon took in Notre Dame, The Post Office and the War Remnants Museum and this was our real learning of the true cost of the war, fascinating but horrifying, and we were careful to keep the boys away from the horrific footage of massacre, torture and the result of Agent Orange. This visit was made all the more poignant having chatted to locals, marveling at their ability to look forward and not back, to be grateful for what they have now and not live in the past. This was so similar to the nature of the Cambodian people in the recovery from the devastating years under Polpot.
Day 4 – Ho Chi Minh
A 2-day trip west to Ben Tre Province in the Mekong Delta with Mango Cruises, and with an excellent guide who was both fun and informative, the day was one of the best I can remember. We simply had everything in a day, tuk tuk rides, river cruise, countryside cycle tour, and navigating the river channels by rowing boat.
We visited rice noodle and coconut factories, drank green honey tea and sampled the famous coconut candies. Our home for the night at Mango Homestead was magical, sundowners over the Mekong whilst the boys fished in the farm lake and yet more delicious Vietnamese food.
Perhaps the highlight visiting Mr Tuong, formerly a solider who had fought the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, based up near Battambang (our home for several months earlier in the year). We drank tea and listened intently to stories from such a horrific time Mr Tuong was remarkable, so kind, gentle and eyes that actually smiled despite both physical and emotional injury from the horrors of war.
Day 5 – Ho Chi Minh
A slow, gentle start to the day and back on the bikes for a longer cycle tour. The boys were ecstatic to be back on bikes, as were we, exploring local villages, markets, and a surprisingly interesting brick factory.
We were sad to leave which says it all, but as the saying goes, best to leave on the crest of a wave and I know there is plenty more of Vietnam we are more than ready to explore.
This jaunt to Ho Chi Minh was a good reminder of the true essence of Sunflower Journey, to open the boys eyes, to stimulate their senses and create memories that will enable them to feel comfortable to explore new places and grow to be forever curious adults. A firm foundation for their future is to welcome customs, traditions, heritage, and other ways of being.
This trip was perfect to reconnect with our memories of Cambodia, so many similarities but with the essence of a more developed and progressive country on the rise.