Back to a leisurely start to the day and the usual relaxed routine before a swim in the Conservatory pool, which is all under cover and the temperature in the water must have been about 30 degrees plus. Lovely.
A very nice lunch that was so good, I just had to have a second plateful – a bit of a rarity for me on board. This was followed by a visit to the tropical fruit buffet where we had the opportunity to try various items we normally wouldn’t see or have the courage to try. Maintaining 5 portions of fruit/veg per day is so easy. Jackfruit, lychees, massive guava, chocco, pineapple, dates, paw-paw, oranges and no doubt others I missed. (Please note Mrs Wallace, 8 fruits on my plate...) Very nice too.
We didn’t win at trivia.
After a dinner that included two mains – prawns and veal rack, (I skipped on the soup) we went to see Maurizio in the Explorer’s Lounge, rather than his usual spot in the atrium where he has a massive following. This was more a concert than the usual sing-along /dance-along. Very enjoyable but ruined for us by some woman of foreign extraction seated just behind us at the rear of the area, who yapped all the way through. Turning round and glowering had no effect.
With an early start tomorrow for a tour to Ho Chi Min city (Saigon), we crashed early. We had a 6am alarm set as Paula wanted to see the sail in.
Day 8 Vietnam
The sail in wasn’t really very interesting but it did give us time for a quick breakfast before the 2 hour run to Hi Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
Until I’d seen the UK’s “Top Gear in Vietnam”, I had no real wish to visit, but for a programme that is based on cars, they did a stellar job of promoting Vietnam. Although we didn’t get out and about to see the real beauty of the countryside, this was a fascinating stop. Our guide “Ho”, looked a lot like a slimmed down smiling Buddha, with a round face and he did smile a lot and was also quite gentle with his commentary. I just love to analyse some of these guides for mannerisms, as they all seem to have them. Ho’s mannerism was repeating half of the last sentence or phrase at least twice, so the day went something like this.
“In Vietnam we have 85 million people and 70 million motorbikes: - motorbikes. The adults have to wear crash-helmets: - crash-helmets, but not the children: - children.”
The journey in from the port at Phu My was interesting, as for the only time of this trip, we drove on the “wrong” side of the road. Having said that, watching the kamikaze motorcyclists, you could so easily have been forgiven for thinking that they drove on the left. Our very skilful coach driver took no prisoners and when making right turns from lane 2, across the motorcyclists, he turned quite slowly and the motorcyclists continued to dive in front as we were turning until we were well through and then they passed behind. Scary! Seeing the stuff they carry on the bikes is mind boggling, but it seems that whatever you want delivering to your house, it arrives on the back of a bike. We passed a couple of bikes carrying not one, but 4 single mattresses. As most families have just the one bike, seeing mum, dad and one or two kids on at the same time was the norm. (Families are limited to two children...) Amazingly, throughout the trip, we saw no accidents so it does make you think. NZ prices motorbikes off the road, (the registration fee is higher than for a car) yet in many countries we have visited this year, including some in Europe, it is the most efficient means of transport.
We had a “Happy Room” stop about 1 hour in, and as I hadn’t packed enough leisure shirts, I was happy to buy 3 genuine Ralp Lauren polos for $20. (Yes, I have spelt the label name correctly!) I didn’t bother bargaining but others managed 3 for $10! Needless to say, on the return to the ship, there were quite a few passengers supporting Ralp Lauren.
Our first stop on the tour was a 45 minute stop at a lacquer factory, where just for the tourists, there were about 10 operatives showing the different processes including some intricate work using mother of pearl and even egg shells! I have to say that this was one of the better of these showroom stops. We duly got back on the coach and waited; and waited; and waited. Twenty minutes after our due time, two passengers who are from world’s third largest continent, finally made it to the coach, which was parked at the showroom exit. They received the slow handclap from the rest of the passengers. They couldn’t understand why they were given the treatment until someone told them in no uncertain terms how selfish they were. Our next stop was the Post Office for 20 minutes – but they didn’t get off the coach... It was left to a further two of their countrymen to be a further 10 minutes late...
On then to the market. As with all indoor markets, hot and steamy with in this instance, the outer ring of stalls manned by government employees and everything at fixed prices, so no bargaining. Once past them, the bargaining started in earnest - it is almost a national sport. NOT bargaining they find quite disappointing. Paula did well here and bought a few more items to add to the Ralp shirts and also a couple of coolie hats we’d bought at the stall inside the post office.
Thankfully, no one was late this time and the coach dropped us off at Duong St in the city. We led the rush to a “Gloria Jeans” coffee shop, where they took US dollars and provided a superb coffee. Just what we need before strolling up and down the street, marvelling once again at the motorbikes travelling on whatever side of the road took their fancy. We walked as far as the river, but wisely I think, elected to not cross over the road. The general rule here seems to be, amble across the road at a steady pace and whatever you, do, don’t run. The traffic should (repeat, should) flow around you. If you stop or run, the oncoming gaggle of bikes has no idea whether to go in front or behind.
A quick photo stop at the palace where we were allowed inside the gate, but not more than about ten metres from it.
Almost the whole journey back to the port, the road was lined with small businesses. Far more interesting than passing large modern factory buildings. In Vietnam and Thailand, I think I could have cheerfully taken my time passing through and taken enough interesting photographs to fill a book or two. There was just so much of human interest and the people are very likeable.
Very noticeable was that in NZ and most western countries, there are always car sale yards, here there were a lot of yards selling second-hand construction equipment such as cranes, rollers, diggers etc. There are many road side eating establishments as the food is so cheap and with people working long hours, it is easier to eat out rather than cook. Many of these road side establishments had hammocks for the use of clients. Now that is something that the west could offer! On the outskirts of Saigon is an amusement park that looked quite large but I have no idea what it was called, though there was a massive rock structure, not quite as big as Disney’s Matterhorn, but pretty impressive. We were back the ship at 5:10pm with once again, our driver skilfully using any of the three lanes available, but the run was noticeable by the number of broken down trucks in the ‘slow’ lane.
A visit to the buffet then to an 8:15pm comedy show by Don Ware. Don was for six years, a script writer on the Cosby show - and at times he even spoke like Bill Cosby! His recall of his Bangkok hotel with free massage was hilarious. Totally non PC – thank goodness - and with a fair bit of picking on the audience. He challenged one guy, who was escaping for a cigarette, “ Who cut your hair? Stevie Wonder?”. My kind of humour.
A coffee in the atrium – virtually the only place you can get one.
Now we have three days at sea to look forward to, when I may give our comparisons of the Diamond and Dawn Princes ships - if I can find the time of course - and if there is internet available. With 2700 passengers, compared to the 1950 of the Dawn, the pressure on the internet is so much greater, so getting connected and getting anything done, such as viewing emails on line, sending them or posting blogs, is not that easy. We may now have to wait for Darwin before we can upload, so what you are reading today may have been written days ago.