Thursday, June 07, 2007

Returning to UK - June 6 2007

Writing this at Changi International Airport waiting for my flight back to the UK. It have been two and a half months since I left my home in Welwyn Garden City. Much has happened during this stay in Singapore.

Singapore is the same. Read my previous postings if one is interested to find out my feelings about this tiny red dot. Enough said. Much have happened over the last two and a half months. We traveled twice to Kuala Lumpur, once to meet up with my brother before he left for the UK to sort out accommodation for his daughter’s university education later in the year. The next trip to Kuala Lumpur was for the reunion of the Class of 1962. A few trips to Johor Baru during these last two and a half months for shopping and renewal of visa, a few days in Ho Chi MInh and I am on my way home in Welwyn Garden City.

The last two and a half months have also brought some sadness into my life. I lost my second aunt in Singapore. After a long illness she finally gave up the fight. My yoiungest brother who is only 54 years old has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease. Peng Yan my nephew is currently being treated for leukemia. My neighbour in Welwyn Garden City died suddenly. I was not there to say my final farewell. Life is fragile and unpredictable. Just confirms my belief that we must never take things for granted. While we are here on this earth we must always bear in mind that we are all here on a very temporary basis and whenever we can we must make sure that we have compassion and understanding. Kindness to others always leaves me with a good feeling inside. I am determined to better myself during the time I have left on this earth. I would like to make a difference, albeit in a very small way.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ho Chi Minh City - June 2007

Just returned from a few days in Ho Chi Minh City. We joined a conducted tour group starting from Singapore. They were a total of 20 people in the group. My wife Dianne’s sister Yoke Leng and her husband Francis were also in the group.

We went by Tiger Airways, the budget carrier. It was a no frill airline with no refreshments on board. As it was only an hour and forty minutes flight, it was not too bad.

As it was a conducted tour all travel formalities were the responsibility of the tour operator. The hotels were quite satisfactory. In Ho Chi Minh City we were at the Amara, a 4 start hotel. The one night we spent in Voontau we were in MeiLi hotel, a 3 star hotel. That was basic but adequate.

On the first day, on arrival from Singapore we were taken for a tour around the city. We visited the Red Cathedral and the General Post Office. These are very grand buildings built by the French during the colonial days. We then visited a Chinese temples. The Vietnamese are mostly from the Buddhist faith so there are many temples scattered around the city and the adjacent villages.

On the next day of our tour we were taken to see the Cu Chi tunnels. These were the tunnels constructed by the VietCong during their struggle against the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army. We were shown all the ingenious booby traps invented by the VietCong to counter the sophisticated weaponry of the American Army. There was a section of the Cu Chi tunnels preserved for tourists. Crawling through the tunnel, albeit only for a distance of 40m was very tiring and one must appreciate how it was like when the VietCong had to virtually lived in these tunnel for very long periods when they were fighting the American. One must admire their tenacity and sheer dedication and most of all the hardship during those dark years. I came away from that site full of admiration for the VietCong and it left no doubt in my mind the reason how a ragtag army with nothing but sheer guts won a war against a mighty giant like the American Army.

The rest of the day was spent back at Ho Chi Minh City visiting yet more temples. Some of these temples were quite interesting. If only I am more into Chinese folklores, maybe I would have appreciated these temples better.

On the morning of the third day we traveled to a seaside town of Voontau. This is a seaside resort for the people of Ho Chi Minh City. It boasts many hotels by the sea and it was a favorite place of recreation for the French during the colonial days.

On the next morning we climbed the hill with a large statue of Jesus at the top. They called this the Jesus Mountain. To ascend this hill one has to climb many stone steps. The height of the hill from the bottom is only 120 m. For the young and fit climbing that hill was a breeze. However for the many senior citizen tourists, it was a relatively hard climb. After struggling to the top, we were rewarded by a very good view of the sea, the coastline and the city of Voontau. After the hill we visited the palace of the last king of olden day Vietnam. This became the residence of the French Governor. It is now a museum with relics from sunken Chinese ships of the old trading days with the Chinese from up north.

Return to Ho Chi Minh City for the third night of our tour. That night we had dinner on a boat with a live band and a singer. Dinner was good. After dinner we set sail up the Saigon River for an hour cruise.

On our fourth and last day we visited the Mekong Delta. Took a ferry boat to one of the islands to visit some fruit plantations and savor some local fruits and tea. We then traveled on some sampans back to the ferry to take us to our coach waiting on the other bank of the river. On the way back to the hotel we were taken to some lacquer ware factory where we witness some artists painting and constructing lacquer murals.

On the morning of the fifth day we were taken to the International Airport for our journey back to Singapore. The whole trip to Ho Chi Minh City was enjoyable and revealing. Vietnam is still a socialist republic and most people are poor compared to the more advanced states in the region. However, the people are friendly and hospitable. Life is simple for now but I have noticed some signs of westernization and economical advancements. It will not be long before the Vietnamese join the rush for wealth and material possessions like their northern neighbour, the Chinese.

Ho Chi Minh City is a very crowded place of 8 million inhabitants. The most common mode of transport is the motorcycles which can be seen everywhere. The traffic in the city overwhelming and the best way to describe it is - an orderly chaos.

I enjoyed the trip, but will not return for another visit, not because I dislike the place, but because I would like to see Hanoi up north.