A Vietnam Story

by bill komissaroff august 2007

Chapter 1: A Rough Start

Greetings from Hong Kong!

Trivia: How many times can a person watch The Shawshank Redemption in a ridiculously crowded plane, on a 14-hour flight, sitting next a sprawling, snoring Chinese man before wanting to kill Morgan Freeman? (Answer to follow...)

Well I landed this morning after 20+ hours of travel, but unfortunately Pam and my luggage did not.

Pam's flight out of Portland was delayed to the point where she missed our connection in San Fransisco. They tell me that she made it to LA and is on a plane right now that is supposed to land tonight.

My bag may not be so lucky. The earliest it will arrive is tomorrow morning. That is if it arrives at all.

So I was thrust right smack into the middle of Hong Kong rush hour this morning and had to navigate my way on the subway from the airport to the hotel.

I am sure it will get better. Stay tuned.....

(Answer to trivia question: 4.)

Chapter 2: Hong Kong Phooey

Hong Kong Day 3. Pam and baggage finally arrived. I think the airline must have called ahead to let them know that my bags were lost because every man in HK offered to make me a suit as I a walked down the street. How considerate!

Yesterday we saw the largest sitting Buddha in all of Asia which I am sure must put it in the running for largest world wide.

In case anyone was concerned, they do have Jamesons in HK. And all the girls think I am handsome!

We are off to Macau today because Pam has some sort of weird former Portuguese colony fetish. Hey, whatever gets you through the night.

Chapter 3: "5-4-3-2-1- GO!". "Now?????"

Macau was amazing. It's a little bit Country and little bit Rock 'n Roll. If by Country, of course, they mean Chinese and by Rock 'n Roll they mean Portuguese.

After dropping a few Hong Kong Dollar at the casino, Pam was questioning my virility. The only thing to do was to bungee jump off the 900 ft Macau Tower (Really!):


I am not sure what was more frightening however, the jump or the Baked Standing Grain Insect we ate for lunch afterward.

Pam stubbed her toe and cracked open her nail boarding the ferry boat for the ride back to Hong Kong, so they upgraded us to Super Class for the ride. So it wasn't all bad (for me.) I asked her to contemplate how far she was willing to go to get me up to business class for the flight back home.

Luckily the Big Feet Happy Chinese Health Center was close to the ferry dock and they were able to patch her right up and get her back to normal.

Tomorrow, we fly to Vietnam.

Every minute I spend in Hong Kong I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush he gets stronger....

Chapter 4: The Hanoi Hilton

We have been in Hanoi the last three nights. Incredible. I don't even know where to start. The city is pretty crowded, the streets are narrow and are absolutely packed with scooters and motorbikes. Oh and there are no traffic laws. Every intersection in non-stop anarchy from 5 in the morning until midnight. Pam saw a family of five on a scooter and the mother was breast feeding.

Crossing the street is just like playing Frogger. You walk, keep pace and no one (in theory) hits you.

Later this morning we leave Hanoi for a 3-4 hour trip to the coast and get on a junk for overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay.

Yesterday I met a couple at breakfast from Philadelphia. Jim and Mary. At first I thought they were French. We vowed to try and hook-up for a drink or a cooking class in a couple of days when we would criss-cross again in Hoi An.

Chapter 5: "Never Get Out of the Boat"

After getting my head and face shaved by a street barber in Hanoi the other day, we left for the 3.5 hour trek by packed mini-bus to Ha Long Bay. Along the way we stopped at the Vietnamese equivalent to the Joyce Kilmer Rest Area on the New Jersey Turnpike. Pam stocked up on Snake Wine and Pringles for the journey.

We boarded a junk nicknamed the Santa Maria and took sail with fourteen other passengers from around the world and our fearless 90 pound bi-lingual singing tour guide Pinky. She was so adorable I wanted to fold her up and hide in my carry-on and bring her along for the rest of the trip, but Poo Poo Pam for some reason found that inappropriate.

It was two days of eating, drinking, kayaking, climbing, cave exploring, and swimming in one of the most beautiful places in the world this side of Ogletown.

I woke up and watched the sunrise with Mary who, in a parallel universe, may be my 60 year old Malaysian soul mate.

We got back last night to our chic Hanoi address the Hotel Elegance, and were greeted by our new best friends Binh and Mini-Binh who are the Customer Service Manager and the Assistant TO the Customer Service Manager but they are really more like the Bob and Ray of Vietnam.

I taught Mini-Binh how to chest bump like Pac Man Jones.

Pam and I were both feeling a bit gastronomically off last night so we had to abruptly cut short our dinner with Bill and Greta who are this far-out inter-racial couple from Berkeley we met hanging out on Hang Boc Street outside the Little Hanoi Restaurant. Greta grew up in Philadelphia and has a sister who just moved to Wilmington. Too bad for me (and Donna Marshall) she already bought a house. Before my stomach intervened, Bill and I reminisced about the Summer of Love and the lasting impact of Owsley Stanley, Country Joe and the Fish, The Serpent Power, and the cooler-than-you'll-ever-be look of the Velvet Underground.

Later this morning we catch a 1,146,880 Dong flight to Hue which was the ancient capital of Vietnam and was one of its most spectacular cities until the Americans decided to level it.

Summer of Love indeed.

Chapter 6: The Road to Nha Trang

When we arrived in Hue and our driver was holding a sign that said, "Mr. Pamela", I knew it was going to be a good leg.

We spent one night at the Orchid Hotel . Our driver Hi gave us a tour of some the ancient sites including The Citadel, a colossal imperial complex built in 1802 that was militarily obsolete by the time it was completed. During the Tet Offensive in 1968 it was also the site of a long and bloody stand-off with the Americans.

Fortunately Pam and I have similar sight seeing styles. Get in, get out, try to avoid the gift shop, and then find the nearest beach.

The next day with Hi still at the helm we took the spectacular 4+ hour drive down the coast to Hoi An stopping along the way at Lang Co Beach to dip our toes in the South China Sea and sample the spring rolls and the shrimp.

We then scaled (by auto) the 496 meter climb to the top of Hai Van Pass just outside of Da Nang. It was an amazing view. At the peak, and in the shadow of American built machine gun bunkers, we were ambushed by a squadron of allegedly (and seemingly perpetually) pregnant Vietnamese women hawking 50,000 Dong postcards.

We arrived in Hoi An relatively unscathed (but with plenty of new postcards!) at the Glory Hotel on the banks of the Huang River which translates to Perfume River, and was the river that Martin Sheen and crew traveled up in Apocalypse Now. With the wink of an eye Pam used her pallor and charm to get us upgraded to a Superior Suite. Once again begging the question how far is she willing to go to get me into Business Class for the flight home?

Unfortunately we arrived in town a day late and missed "Traffic!" an interpretive dance show inspired by the maniacal streets of Hanoi presented by famous German hip-hop dancer Storm, French dancer Sebastien, and select members of the Vietnamese hip-hop group Big Toe. I blamed Pam for missing the show. She was still mad at me because I had been mean to her in a dream the previous night. Is the honeymoon officially over?

Fortunately we forgave each other for our transgressions. She promised to be more prompt and I promised to be nicer in her subconscious.

We spent two nights in Hoi An which is like the garment district of Vietnam. We did hook-up for a beer with our Hanoi friends Jim and Mary who I originally mistook for French but are actually from South Philly. We vowed to open a Pho restaurant together when we get back home.

The next day we met a 50-something Uber-Dutch couple on the beach who I also mistook for French. When I apologized, the guy retorted back not to sweat it because he just assumed I was a (dirty) Brit. I took an immediate liking to him. They had just completed some dreadful sounding 3-day bike tour of the Mekong Delta.

The next morning I woke up not feeling very well wondering if you can get malaria from Jamesons. The more likely culprit however was the previous night's dinner of Australian T-Bone Steak which evidently was neither Australian nor Steak.

There is a famous restaurant in Hoi An that is run by a family of deaf mutes and is staffed entirely by deaf mutes, but unfortunately our cab driver duped us and took us to another restaurant where they pretend to be deaf mutes trying to cash in on the craze and apparently use a lessor grade of "meat".

The next day our flight was delayed letting us enjoy several hours in the Da Nang International Airport which reminded me of an airstrip at some remote African outpost. I felt like I was in an Omar Shariff movie from the Seventies. The only thing that was missing was the livestock.

We finally arrived in Nha Trang which IS the Dewey Beach of Southeast Asia (Beer Pong!). We are going to get some much needed R and R at the lovely Sunrise Resort where we will be for the next week or so.

Let the good times roll....

Chapter 7: "This is The End"

It turned out to be a bad omen when the very first rain we experienced while in Vietnam was a torrential downpour that hit just as we happened to be in a taxi with no windshield wipers and windows stuck down while traveling from the Nha Trang airport (which made Da Nang's look like O'Hare) to our next destination: the fabulous Sunrise Resort.

It actually wasn't too bad. We did get a good three days of sunning and beaching and even on the rainy days we were able to get to the pool and play Travel Scrabble for Dong.

After a couple of weeks of Vietnamese food, (we have beef noodle soup in America; we just don't eat it for breakfast), we found a cool little Italian joint with pizza and spaghetti bolonganese.

Pam took full advantage of the amenities at the Sunrise everyday. Specifically the Qi Spa where for something like thirty bucks US, you can get massaged by Vietnamese women for hours. Being the supportive boyfriend that I am, I may have partaken as well.

We did hook-up with some shipmates from our Ha Long Bay cruise, John Booth and Gillian who are two Scots taking a year off from their jobs in the Scottish Government's Press Office to travel the world. We took them to our favorite locals spot in Nha Trang: Restaurant Lac-Cahn where we sat outside and grilled our own meat, pork, chicken, and veggies while sipping on giant Saigon Beers. Its like the Melting Pot sans the whimsy.

(And by "locals spot", I mean it is only briefly mentioned in the Lonely Planet book.)

For last couple of days we have been in Ho Chi Minh City or as most still refer to it: Saigon. Yesterday we went to the Reunification Palace which is preserved almost exactly how it was in April of 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks stormed through the gates and ousted the South Vietnamese Government or the 'Ah-mer-i-cahn Pup-eht Gah-mont depending on which tour guide you follow.

Today we went to the War Remnants Museum which used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. The name was changed to try and avoid offending tourists, but the pamphlet handed out at the ticket counter is definitely not subtle, "Some Pictures of US Imperialists Aggressive War Crimes in Vietnam," nor are the hundreds of pictures inside.

While in Saigon we are staying at the Caravelle Hotel complete with Satellite TV! (Albeit a bit behind the times. Think: Yo! MTV Raps...Asia!)

Tomorrow is our last day. Pam plans to shop, shop, shop while I continue my quest for Vietnam's best rice bagel before departing in the evening back to Hong Kong where we have an hour lay over before the 14 hour flight back in time to California. (I think we land yesterday.)

After a decompression day in LA, it is back to the world of Buckner, Real Estate, and Delaware Football. I am definitely going to need a vacation after all of this.

Fortunately Roomate Reunion Weekend is just around the corner!

Chapter 8: Redux

Somebody get me a cheeseburger.