I have arrived in Ho Chi Minh City to meet with a group of 11 travelers who arrived over a week ago in Hanoi. Although they are all traveling on the arrangements I made for them with a local tour operator, I was not able to meet them earlier due to health issues at home. But now I am here and the fun for me begins. Join along as I spend a short time in each of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
This city, still known by the locals as Saigon, has grown exponentially between my visits as if seen on a time delayed photo of swift upward growth. It is the same but different with ever increasing layers of new larger buildings only possible through the demolition of the traditional small narrow shopfronts. Great megaliths of shopping complexes and office building now stand in their place. The stores and products for sale are as modern and enticing as anywhere — except for one thing: the sidewalks in front. Broken up, with large chunks of concrete cracked and sitting at various angles, there is the necessity of constant vigilance at every step. There are attempts at planted trees, which do so well in this climate that the roots further split their surrounding enclosures. The trees appear to be garbage magnets at their bases, although in general trash on the streets is not an issue here. It is as if the further the buildings rise, and the more glorious the high expanses of glass and steel, the less attention is paid to the fundamentals down below. The phoenix rises from the ashes of the wars and destruction that this city has lived through. But the ashes remain.
I arrived here this morning, traveling through the luxurious Singapore Airport and the efficient Vietnamese immigration, to the warn humid world outside the arrival area with large crowds of families waiting for loved ones to arrive. I realized that my group might still be in the airport area, flying in from Danang, and through the magic of WhatsApp found out they had just landed and met up with our tour family.
United together, I was able to glean over the course of the afternoon that the group of 11 has formed cohesive relationships, have enjoyed each other’s company and have had a fabulous time on their journey: from political Hanoi, to the beautiful hills and countryside of Pu Luong, to the magnificent karst protrusions and water world of Lan Ha Bay, and down to Hoi An, materialistic shopping capital in a socialist land, with the old relics in My Son of ancient kingdoms and more recent bombings nearby. And today is a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnel area, used by the local guerrillas to harass their enemies, including the local South Vietnamese troops and the Americans who supported them.
It is sobering to remember and easy to forget how many people in this country were injured, in body and mind, by the “American” war, and how ingenious people had to be to survive
Dinner was a fabulous affair at a local restaurant near the Opera House, all 12 of us sitting outside in the warm air, eating delicious preparations that the Vietnamese know how to do so well.
Bill and I walk back together in the dark, carefully stepping over the holes and obstacles, passing by tremendously beautiful arches of light put up for the upcoming tet, New Year, happening in few weeks. Exhausted, after a 25 hour flight and a full day, my bed feels like heaven.