Okay, we have made it to Vietnam.
It even sounds weird to me, since I had no desire to come here when all-expense paid tours were being offered up by the US Government in the 70's.
We have only been here for perhaps 16 hours, but it definitely is memorable.
The arrival was by plane, Vietnam Airlines. The Vietnam Airline experience was incredibly nice. We went economy premium and I was prepared for "the jokes on me", but it was actually like US domestic first class. Very roomy, reclining seats (not lay flat, put still plenty of room), they served meals and alcohol (always a plus while flying), very nice stewardesses and the seats included video screen in-flight entertainment. I'm actually looking forward to our return flight on this airline.
They did park the plane on the tarmac and we had to "deplane" (I cannot look at the word without thinking of Fantasy Island) out in the heat. It is a bit on the warm side here. 90+ degrees and the humidity is "just this side of rain". Having said that, it doesn't feel too bad - not sure why. Even my lovely bride, who prefers walk-in freezers and traveling in Winter climates, thinks that this is livable.
We were bussed to the terminal and then walked into the immigration room. Okay, an official "we're not in Kansas anymore" moment. There was a sea of people, a lot of them, standing in an enormous line, with numerous switchbacks. The switchbacks ended up with your choice of the grocery store-like lines to the individual checkpoints, there were no helpful guides, you just went potluck - "that line looks like it might be fast" (it wasn't). The pots at the end of the rainbow were uniformed immigration officials each glowering at the person in front of them. It took a long time, particularly the glowering part. We were in line for the better part of an hour. It was not the friendliest introduction to a country (not that the US wins any points in that department).
Of course, once we made it out, everything was crowded, chaotic and pretty incredible!!!
We were met by an escort with our name on the placard (I thought it would be a good idea, and it was) who took us to the exit and the road and helped us into the prearranged, air-conditioned, car - God was in his heaven and all was right with the World.
The drive to our hotel was memorable. It is hard to describe the magician-like driving performance that our driver put on. There were thousands of motorized scooters and motorcycles, none of which followed any law (other than the law of physics and even that was more of a guideline), there were hundreds of other cars and taxis, and the road was not really a road, more of a crowded hallway with left and right sides being pretty arbitrary. I "think" they drive on the right side here (as opposed to Japan, where we were surprised to find out they drive on the left side), but you really didn't see people adhering to one side or the other, the concept was more "go for an opening" and that opening did not have to be very large (and more often than not, was closing up at the same time we were heading in). I was torn between the desire to close my eyes and cover my face to just wanting to see the rest of the movie and find out how it ends.
Somehow, we made it to the hotel. The Villa Song is incredibly nice, set right on a river in the "Expat Part of Saigon - Division 2 - sometimes referred to as the "French Quarter. Our room has two balconies, the bed is incredibly comfortable and the air-conditioning works (always a good thing).
We did have a surprise, however, that took a bit of the peacefulness from this place last night. We were told that there was going to be a party at their restaurant on the veranda by the river celebrating the Lunar New Year. Now, in SE Asia, they don't just celebrate an "Eve" or the "Day" - it's more of a "let's party till we drop" attitude, which lasts basically a month. We had a late lunch on the veranda (we were the last people to be served before they closed the restaurant down to just the party folk who had prepaid (and we weren't invited)). They were setting up the tables and chairs and they were setting up and testing the sound system. The key tester (I'll just refer to him as the "Idiot") was excited to have the microphone and would say the Vietnamese equivalent of "1, 2, 3, 4 testing" constantly for close to an hour. The Idiot also was apparently responsible for the music choice, which was basically, 20-second clips of "Moves Like Jagger" - sung in English by a Vietnamese "Artiste" (emphasis intentional). What I didn't realize at the time was that was pretty much the only song they were to play that night. The locals seemed to think that was okay. That tune must be like "Sweet Caroline" in the Caribbean - the official national song.
I fell asleep and slept through most of the party (though I had nightmares involving Christina Aguilera), but Karen assured me it was pretty much what we expected. It did seem like a typical New Years' party where most of the people would stand around staring blankly, while the Emcee would yell something like "Is Everyone having a good time? I can't hear you!!" The rest of the crowd was drinking excessively - which is hard to argue with given the entertainment.
We were assured by the front desk that the music would stop at 10:30 - and believe it or not, it did.
I continued to sleep, but Karen was concerned because Jona and Claire were in flight coming to Saigon that night/early morning. The went from LA to Shanghai to Saigon. It took a "long time". We were up to greet them (Karen, because she never went to sleep, me, because I woke up) and then went to bed.
Morning was very pleasant and peaceful here. Well, mostly. Across the river, there is a worker that has a large pile driver which I think he is just playing with. It's not going now (about 8:30 a.m.), but it was going around 7 a.m. It is very sporadic and does not seem to be done with any particular intent, other than making noise. I'm thinking his ex-wife lives somewhere nearby.