February 23 was a sea day. It was quiet at the desk. Ken Mikel stopped by to say “Hello” and that was about it. I finalized a newsletter, had it printed, and was ready to deliver it by noon. It apologized for the lack of appetizers at the first cocktail party, invited them to the do-over, and gave them everything they needed to know about the shore excursion, and then some.
That got people moving, who had not before, and I had four more takers, and a bunch of people calling in their allergies. Adam, Judy and I ate in the Sushi restaurant, and it was good, but not exceptional. We had done better with the Tuscan Grill a couple of nights ago.
February 24, we docked in Phu My, port for Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. This was another case where it paid to get A&K, for transport in and a very nice tour. We loved the park, where the locals take their birds, in cages, to sing to each other. It keeps them in good voice and the sun brings out the bright colors in their feathers. I didn’t get any shopping in, which was disappointing, because the main market in Saigon, is probably the cheapest place in the world to get clothing. I did manage to get a hat, as an interim replacement for my Tilley, and we had a wonderful time. The hat looked nice on the Cyclo Panoramique. That’s how we toured the local markets, and streets where people actually live. They also took us down broad French boulevards, to The Majestic Hotel, where I had planned lunch. It has been considerably tarted up since the last time I was there, in 2016. The room we ate in was Louis V, over the top, and the food was French-Vietnamese fusion. A different experience than planned, but a good one, none-the-less.
One of our stops was the monument to Bo Tat, who self-immolated in 1963, starting a number of such protests. The Vietnamese call it “The American War” and they hate the Americans. They hated the French in the first place and were quite happy to be communists under Ho Chi Minh. We did all that for absolutely nothing. We should have minded our own business.
Our tour for five had become a tour for nine, when Luis Perez, looking for a sign with his name on it, found A&K’s sign with mine. The Perez, and their friends, were apparently stood up by their own tour guide, so we took them in. They did the negotiating. I didn’t touch it. They were very, very happy with what they got.
The do-over cocktail party, the next day, did go very well. This time 26 people attended, still a respectable turnout, and the hors d’oeuvres were very nice. It was a formal night, so there was another production show, called iBroadway, and it was very good. We have been skipping or walking out of the individual entertainers, who have not been all that good, or appealing.
On February 26, we docked in Chan May, port for DaNang, Hoi An and Hué. We were all up, bright and early, and gathered in the Rendezvous Lounge, by 7:00 am, waiting for the call to disembark. Every single person who was not coming had called me, so that when the call came on the PA, I could just send them off in the direction of the buses. Our guide, Tang, was exceptional. His English was clear as a bell and he was very well, if locally, educated. We all thought he might have been to school in England, he was that good.
On the hour-and-a-half drive to Hué, he told us a lot about the country, its inhabitants, their housing, the French-built railway, and his family. His father had worked for the South Vietnamese government, which meant he had to go a nasty re-education program in 1973. He is in his fifties but looks very, very old, now. Many Vietnamese look way older than their ages. Dengue fever is largely to blame. They have leap-frogged us in technology. Satellite TV is very cheap, as is Internet and Cellphone service. Cars are very expensive because the government is trying to keep their numbers down. The average salary is $15/day. Tang will make five times that today, just with the tip DV has authorized me to give him.
Tang explained that just about everyone has a little shop in front of his house, and they are not regulated by the government at all. So, what happens when an item, say a new noodle dish, proves popular, soon four more shops are selling it. They are battling inflation, 50% in the last five years, but they do have good health insurance, and it’s very cheap, like $34/year. That entitles you to the local government hospitals. If you want your choice of any of the private hospitals, that’ll cost you $200/year. It’s a bargain. Tang has it. He also spent $1,000 having his teeth straightened about five years ago. His orthodontist was good. His smile is very beguiling.
The Imperial Palace and TuDuc’s tomb are grand sites, in beautiful gardens, with ancient bonzais. We crawled all over them. There were a lot of steps, but there were places to wait for those who found them too challenging. Our lunch at Jardins De La Carambole, an old French mansion, was exceptional. It was like eating with a bunch of cats. Everyone was purring. We lingered a bit too long and missed the Lady Pagoda, but no one minded. They wanted to feel comfortable, not panicked, on the way back to the ship. Everyone loved our guide. He was knowledgeable, personable, and his English was perfect. A lot of us wanted to take him home.
I went to both sail-away and the show that night. The performer was a young Jamaican singer, named Monique Dehaney, and she was really excellent, peppy and exuberant. What’s more, she could actually sing. She’s just starting her career in show business. I think we’ll hear more from her.
The next day, February 27, we were in Halong Bay, port for Hanoi. The drive to Hanoi is even longer that the drive to Bangkok, and there’s no overnight. Very few people even considered it. We took a ship’s shore excursion on Halong Bay. It was damp and dreary, and the boat’s people used our table to display cheap jewelry for sale. Adam and Judy did get off and toured the caves, and pronounced them well worth it, but that may have been all of it. I complained about the chotsky vendors and got a bottle of wine. I hope my other two cabins did, too. Must check on that.
We ate in the Tuscan Grille again, and it was still very good. Urp.
Next Assignment for me – Maybe a cruise for you?
It’s a Mediterranean Cruise in October. We go Rome to Rome on the Holland America Koningsdam. I have two cabins booked and it’s a Distinctive Voyage. I bid for and got it. Who else is coming with me? Take a look: https://www.hollandamerica.com/details?webItineraryIdForAudit=E8M10B&fromSearchVacation=true&guestsCount=2&voyageCode=K862&selectedMeta=Interior&shipId=KO October 8 sailing.
It’s seriously inexpensive. Treat yourselves to a suite. Comes with a free cocktail party and shore excursion. I’ll have no trouble booking you from wherever I am. Brunch at the Monte Carlo Yacht Club, anyone? I can get us in. And yes, if you want me to take care of you, you buy it from moi.