We caught an in-country flight from Hanoi down to the city, formally known as Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. It was an evening trip and we were headed just about due south so we were able to watch the sunset right off our right-wing – beautiful! We only spent a few days in the city before catching our bus to Phnom Penh but we were able to see a few sites. Our walking tour took us past the French built city hall which now stands as the backdrop for this statue of the city’s namesake striking a very familiar pose.
I would not say that getting to the island of Cat Ba is precisely like trying to reach that island in the Pirates of the Caribbean (that can only be reached by people who have been there before using a magic compass) but I will say that one does not reach it… simply. Our trip there from Hanoi required two bus rides separated by passage on a small, rusty, clanking, ferry, packed so tight from stem to stern with tourists, motor bikes, bundles and backpacks that it rode, obviously, well below the little craft’s recommended minimum free-board – it was awesome! We had a nice place in the open air, mid-deck, between the motor bikes and the actual passenger compartment, sitting on little plastic stools the crew provided.
As we were making our final approach for landing, music began to play over the plane’s loudspeaker system. It was a song I had never heard before, performed gently by a female singer – surprisingly I thought, in English.
“Tell me all about this name that is difficult to say. It was given me the day I was born. Want to know about the stories of the empire of old. My eyes say more of me than what you dare to say. All I know of you is all the sights of war. A film by Coppola, the helicopter’s roar. One day I’ll touch your soil. One day I’ll finally know your soul. One day I’ll come to you. To say hello – Vietnam.”