When I was a teen all I knew of Vietnam was the war. I was in college when it was happening. I missed having to go fight by only a few numbers a blessing of the Universe. The draft had changed to a lottery system, no more deferments because one was in college or something other than medical. If your number was up you went. I even went down and had my physical. The Force was with me my number was not up. So I missed out. I knew people who went.
Other than that I knew nothing of Vietnam except from some Vietnamese I meet later in life and some food. My Kung Fu teacher was there in the Army he taught rangers fighting. This is where he meet the grandmaster of the Tai Chi Mantis system, Chi Chuk Kai and studied under him. The Grandmaster had fled China to Vietnam. There he worked and also taught the Vietnam Emperor’s guards Tai Chi Praying Mantis Kung Fu. Later I had a student from Vietnam and met a woman who studied Feng Shui with me who was from Vietnam. This was the extent of my exposure to Vietnam.
LZ loved Vietnamese food. For me it was good but not high on my list of favorite eats. Anyway so what you ask. Well LZ arranged a trip to Vietnam, she came across a good deal and took it. Oh Yeah, my Sister-in-law and her husband had to move to Vietnam for 4 years just before we moved to Japan. She did not want to go at first, but once there they did not want to come back to Japan. They had a good life. The husband was sent there to work, so they had no choice in the move. So yeah they enjoyed it once there and settled in. My sister-in -law also developed a large following for her custom-made jewelry there. Ahh one more thing the owner of Aoki Yachts was having his boats built there and went somewhat often to Vietnam. Ok so this is my Vietnam knowledge, I had no real desire to visit. Unlike China, Taiwan, Thailand. Funny how one is drawn to some places. Others not so much.
So LZ got this trip arranged. We were to spend a week there. However at the last-minute I found out I, as an US passport holder needed a visa to enter. So I had to delay my leaving for a day whilst arrangements were made. lZ left a day before me.
It was fairly simple to get a visa, I had to pay for fast service, but the arrangements were made and I was on the plane the next day after my wife. I was not all that into going, this was more of a trip for her. She was really looking forward to one of the hotels we were booked at to stay.
The flight took about 5 hours, it was smooth. Anything you wanted to eat or drink you had to buy separate, as it was a cheap flight. I landed without any problem and found my way to the immigration counter to get my visa stamp. That went pretty smooth. The people were not overly friendly but not rude, the uniforms were kind of really different from my view, well at least the colors. Very Communist through my eyes sort of unsettling. Western programing I guess.
Ok so I am past all the stuff to enter and now the next thing is to get to the hotel. My wife had said only take this or that taxi, the others can not be trusted. That was also a warning from a travel site about taking the pirate taxis. I am walking around outside the airport looking for a taxi, a guy comes up and asks “you looking for a taxi?” I said it is ok, I am fine. I walk more, the cab I am looking for is not around. Another guy or maybe the same guy comes to me again a bit later. I say I am looking only for this name cab. He does something with his smart phone and shows me the text “there is no cab from that company today”! ( a lie!! I find out later) Ehh I think, ok what about this name? He says something like no worry I can get you a taxi, it will cost you this much to go to the hotel. I do not have small change for that, he shows me where to get change. I do that, then he has me follow him to the parking lot across the street. There is a car waiting, it is a plain car, not a taxi. I say no! I want this company name or this one. He says it is ok, this car can take you. I say no! I am from the states and know a hussle when I see one and walk away. I go to the taxi stand there is a taxi there the other company. I tell the driver I want to go to the hotel. There is a bit of talk between him and the guy. The driver says I can go with this other guy. The guy shows me a text again saying “we are not trying to trick you”. Another cab pulls up from the same company. I am told I can not take this cab it is called for someone. Now I am getting pissed. I say ok I will go inside and find someone to call me a taxi and I leave.
Once inside I call my wife on the cell phone. She says no do not go with them, the taxi you want is hard to find, just a short walk and across the street in the parking lot is where they are. Hmmmm. I am on the second floor of the airport building I walk around so I can see the area across the street and spot the cabs I want! But I see no drivers. My wife says they are all on a bench sitting there. Ok, I start walking again this time I can see where I need to go. I make my way there without a problem and arrive. A driver asks me if I need a cab and I get in. We get to the hotel without any problem. It cost about $4.00 in Vietnamese money. I am not used to it. After fiddling with it for a bit the driver, helps me an takes what he needs. Ok he asks, I say ok thanks. I have arrived finally. I can now relax and breathe.
After a while we head out to find a pizza place that was recommended, by sister. It is only a very short walk. We head there. There streets are fairly beat up, like Mexico but worse. So many motor scooters, like Taiwan but more. They are parked everywhere on the sidewalks and street. Everyone in cars are blowing their horns. I guess it is a warning to the bikers they are coming or turning or something. It was wild, glad we were walking. We make it to the Pizza place. It has a Japanese owner. The staff is very helpful and attentive. Very Japanese style customer service. The food was good!
While there is a lot of people watching a soccer game across the street. From time to time something would happen and a lot of people would run over there to see the TV. Many were very excited. I thought it was some local game and the city team was doing good.
We finish eating and leave to head back to the hotel. Once in the room, shortly after there is a lot of noise, horns blowing, people yelling. We can hear the din of noise even on the 15 th floor. I look out the window the streets a full of cars and bikes, full! I guess the team had won. This went on for about 30 min. I go downstairs to check on things. The noise is huge! I step outside the hotel there are flags and people on motorbikes covering the sidewalk and streets, it is mayhem!
I find out the Vietnam team had won the semi-final match in China against Pakistan, the people were going nuts!
We were suppose to go to get a massage across the street in an hour. I figured it would calm down by then. Wrong. It was still going strong an hour later, we slowly made our way through the crowded street and then across. We got our massage and returned and hour later. The streets were still packed , flag, bikes, men women, kids! Slowly slowly we made it back.
We rest a bit then headed up to the rooftop lounge. It is now 4-5 hours later the crowds are still at it. We can see and hear from the roof top. It was wild!
The next morning all was normal again. Wow!
Ok the next day, there is light rain but not bad. We were going to change hotels that day, but my wife wanted to see a couple of things before we checked out. I wanted to get a vegetarian meal at one of the nearby restaurants. I also wanted to visit a temple I could see the roof of one from the hotel. She headed out to do her thing. I set out walking. I did a little research before-hand on the temple and had general idea where to go. The walking was interesting, this was into the real city of Vietnam to local section. I got to where I thought the temple should be , but I ran into a block. The street ended and I had to go right or left on the crossing street. I turned on my Zen sense and walk left. After a very short bit I thought I would ask just to be sure. There was one man working in his open shop. I made a few hand motions and looked around. He figured out what I wanted and said I was going the right direction, just turn at the next corner. I was good. I bowed in thanks and took off. I walked and came across the temple, and several others. none had the roof line I could see from my hotel, this was not it, but it was a big temple and I thought it was part of what I was looking for. It was not I found out later. Anyway, I past one guy on the street, just at the temple. He said something I did not get I bowed and kept walking up to the temple. The guy comes over to me as I am standing looking through the gate. He says something to me, I did not get again. I ask, signal can I go inside the temple ground? As the main gates was closed, but the side gate was open, then I see someone go inside. He does not understand me. He puts out his hand for me to give him money. This I understand. I say no and walk inside the temple grounds.
Inside I look around and go up to the main building. A monk and some others are sitting outside. I am told , by sign language I can go in. I start up the steps,. But am told I need to take off my shoes outside on the steps. I do so and go up to the main door and look in. I signal to the monk asking of I can enter, yes I am told, so I do so. I look around, a pay respects to the spirit figures. After a bit I take out my Shakuhachi and just play a lone note as an offering. I did not know if it was cool or not so I keep low-key. A short while later another monk or maybe the one from outside come into the hall. He does a small ceremony and chanting. I stand and bow with him and the gong as he prostrates himself. I thought this was a good thing, I could offer a prayer for My wife’s “Auntie” of sort, who just passed away the day of her leaving Japan.
When it was over the monk left as did I. I next went into the yard ground walked around. I was going to spend a little time at the two outside shrines. As I was about to settle in and take some pictures the same guy comes inside the grounds now and over to me again with his hand out. This person did not look like he was suffering or homeless, just begging. Again I said now, and signaled go away. He continued. So I changed my plans and left…irked!
As I am walking back to the hotel I passed the temple I was first looking for. I could tell by the roof line. I went in here as well. I Said a few prayers took a few pictures. This temple was closed. It looked like some work was being done as there was piles of sand and bricks and stuff around. The temple itself was closed, but the grounds were open, there was someone else also there praying. After I finished again I headed for the hotel.
Once I got back to the hotel I got oriented with directions and set off to find the vegetarian restaurant. It took some effort and I walked past it at first. The map I had sucked. There was no internet service in the street so I just had to look. I was about to give up and was heading back and going to find another which was nearby, when I spotted it. I went in and nothing was written in English, I walked up to the counter and a woman shows me the menu that says there are veggie dishes and take me to a seat. I spend some time trying to figure out what was what . They woman comes back and helps me, she speaks some English. As time is running out before we need to check out of our hotel and change to another, I order something simple, fried rice. While I am waiting I am sitting with some locals. I watch they do, I see they take out the utensils on the table and wipe them with a napkin before using. When my food arrives, I do the same. The food is good, I add some spice to give it a little kick! I rush through eating since it took me longer to find the place than I planned. I finished eating quickly and made my dash back to the hotel to meet up with my wife to pack and check out.
When I arrive she has everything packed and ready to go. She was on her way out of the room going to carry one bag at a time down to the lobby. I grab my stuff and we check out and grab a cab that is at the curbside. This is the same taxi company that we arrived in, they hang ouyt there at check out time. So we knew we were in good hands. So we are now finished with the business hotel and on the way to the resort hotel for the next two days. This was something that LZ was looking forward to. We left the downtown local area and headed to the upscale location next to the ocean.