Vietnam was two weeks ago but as usual it already feels like much more time has passed. Coming back to Korea and keeping busy, busy, busy from Day One helps accentuate the feeling.
Our couple of days at the resort were very leisurely, a period of lounging punctuated by one morning’s excursion to visit a couple of nearby sites: the Red Dunes and the Fairy Stream. The transport provided for the trip was, curiously enough an ex-US Army 1963 Jeep. I’m not sure if it was chosen as a ‘fashion’ statement or as solid utilitarian transport but it added a certain dimension.
The name of the Red Dunes is self-explanatory. A few miles up the road from our white sand beach, the sand turns a bright, terracotta-esque red. It’s a bit like Petra in Jordan meets Lawrence of Arabia. Part way between the Dunes and the resort, the Fairy Stream flows peacefully through sands of various colours on its journey from spring to sea, with sands on one bank and tropical bush on the other.
The drive back to Saigon was less hair-raising than the out-leg (we knew what to expect) but came with the added experience of a heavy rainstorm. Drainage is more a question of luck than judgement on the rural roads and we were soon realising the benefits of travelling in a vehicle with lots of ground clearance.
For the last couple of nights we stayed in the Grand Hotel Saigon. Dating back to 1930 (and renovated in ’97) it is a charming place with some well-preserved colonial architecture and flavours of old colonial elegance remaining in the foyer.
Continuing the historic theme, we found ourselves on the Rooftop Terrace of the Rex Hotel just before leaving for the airport. The building is reputedly even older than that of the Grand and during one stage of its chequered past it was apparently used by the US Army as information headquarters during the “American War” as it is called in Vietnam.
My strongest memory of the trip is how cheerful everybody was. After endless Cold War propaganda painting Communist life in such dreary, miserable colours, it came as a pleasant surprise to find how readily everyone smiled. Vietnam may not be as financially rich as the USA or Europe but it gives me the impression of being a country with a wealth of good feeling.
Fishing boats at anchor