After a brief (very brief) stop at one of the tombs of one of the emperors, we got onto a plane and left for Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). This is the name given to Saigon when the country became one after the US withdrew all of its troops. However, the name never really caught on in the south and people who live in Saigon call it Saigon. Even those in the north and central part of the country are more likely to refer to the city as Saigon. But, officially, it is still called Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
Saigon is a bustling metropolis. It is large, noisy, and full of activity. The streets are full of motorbikes and motorcycles which are the chief method of transportation in the city. And it is lucky that more people can’t afford cars because there would simply not be any room for them. At schools, parents line up outside on their vehicles to pick up their one, two, or three children and transport them home on their motorcycle/motorbike. It is not unusual to see three people on a bike and I have seen up to five.
Crossing the street is an art. One of the most important things that a guide in Vietnam must do is to teach his/her people to cross streets. It is not something for the faint of heart.
Here’s the trick: You wait until there’s a slight break in the traffic (that’s the best it ever gets) and then you walk into the street and keep walking. Yes, motorcycles and motorbikes are coming at you, but you don’t stop. Ever. You see, they watch you, gauge how fast you are walking and cross either to the front or back of you, but stop and guess what happens? That is why when I take my people across the streets the first couple of times I sound somewhat strange as I repeat the entire time, “Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk!”
So, after arriving in Saigon, we went to our hotel and shortly afterwards, set off for Chabad where we ate dinner. If you want to know about Chabad Vietnam, you can find them here. But only I can tell you how kind and friendly and warm and welcoming the young Rabbi Hartman and his lovely wife, Racheli are. In the short time they have been there, they have accomplished amazing things– building a community where there was nothing– having 50 people (NOT including our group!) for shabbat dinner, and starting a nursery school. Israel TV made a documentary about their arrival in Vietnam which you may be able to see (not always available) at this location.
The next morning we set out for the Mekong Delta. You may have heard of the delta, primarily in regard to the Vietnam War (which they call the “American War”), but the size of the delta is quite amazing. It is 39,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq miles). Compare that to Israel, 20,329 square kilometers (7,849 sq miles)!
Along the delta, there are floating markets. Here people bring fruit and produce and sell or trade it each morning. They advertise their wares by hanging them from bamboo poles on their boats, much as one would hang a flag.
You can read about rambutans here.
We enjoyed watching the local cottage industries using the available produce and making puffed rice (it’s fabulous to watch), rice bars, rice paper, and coconut candies. It was all fascinating. Then we enjoyed cruising around the byways of the delta.
We also enjoyed a private concert of Vietnamese music which we listened to as we sampled new and different fruits.
Next time we answer the question: What do a post office, Notre Dame, and the Reunification Palace have in common?