Over 30 after years after the Vietnam War we were lucky enough to visit this fantastic country. We woke up early in the morning to see that our ship was traveling up the muddy water of the Saigon River. With the Ho Chi Mahn City’s (formerly known as Saigon) skyline in the distance our huge ship traveled up this river that is hardly wider than the width of our ship. There was a large group of people standing around at our port. I looked closely to see if I could find the prettiest lady in the crowd. Being 4 stories up it was tough to see, so I yelled real loud “MOTHER!” Sure enough there she was with “Aunt Sheila.” My Mom’s good friend (she had to sign up as “Aunt” because only family members were allowed on the SAS trip) An SAS alumni couple Todd and Joslynn who had joined us in Myanmar and traveled on the ship to Vietnam played a pretty funny joke on the parents. They both look pretty young and could easily pass for a couple college students so in front of the crowd of parents Todd yelled “MOM! SHE’S PREGNANT!” while pointing to Joslynn (his wife). Hah!
My Mom, Sheila and I conversed for a while from the 4th floor, then about an hour later they were finally allowed on the ship. I introduced them to about 30 or so students as I gave them the grand tour of the ship. I think they were a little overwhelmed with the large amount of people they just met in the span of about 20 minutes.
We headed into Saigon to get some lunch and to search for a tailor to get a cheap suit made. Everyone had been talking about how you can get nice suits made real cheap. We didn’t have any luck finding a tailor so we ended up eating at a Vietnamese Style restaurant in the Hilton hotel. It was called “Square One” and was awesome, an upscale elegant restaurant with great food and great service. I ended up filming everything: the fresh sugar cane juice they made, fried and fresh spring rolls, salad, and the BBQ seafood plater. Sorry no pictures, only video, they let me back into their open kitchen where I could get some close ups, so you’ll have to wait and see my final film.
A couple good looking ladies: my Mom Tana (left) and Sheila (right) It was a treat to have them there.
After we visited the War remnants museum. It was intense. A big open building with graphic pictures from the war covering the walls. I got the privilege of spending a couple minutes with my Professor Pete Seel who was a photographer for the Air Force in the war. He knew just about everything about a bunch of different photos; I think it was tough for him. I’m sure the photos recalled a lot of vivid memories for him.
After, we took it easy and relaxed, it was a nice change from the usual stressful fast pace traveling I’ve been doing at the other ports. We hung around their hotel and then had dinner back on the ship. My Mom and Sheila headed back while we headed out on the town.
Saigon is a fast pace busy town. Everyone drives motto-scooters or small motor cycles. When I say everyone I mean everyone. There are probably 5 motorbikes for every car, at least.
This picture doesn’t do it justice; these things infiltrate the streets like a swarm of crazy pissed off bees.
At night the city really lights up, neon lit billboards were everywhere.
For a buck a motorcycle taxi will take you anywhere.
It was quite the rush zooming through the streets on the bikes. They don’t really have stoplights on the side streets but they do have horns. So whenever they’d come up to an intersection they’d just sound the horn and slow down a little. It was quite the rush.
We met this dude, Galen, he was the man, when I met him I knew right away he was an American. He was born in Oregon but moved to Cairo Egypt where he spent most of his life. He’s been tons of places in the world and was in Vietnam with his parents because they were checking out property on an Island near Saigon. I told him to scope out the fishing (he’s a fly fisherman, that’s probably why we got along so well) and that I’d come back to do some fishing with him.
We bar hopped to an assortment of bars. The first was a somewhat Americanized bar that had a tropical feel and played all sorts of American music, another was a total trendy Vietnamese techno dance club, we didn’t spend much time there, although I did dance with a Canadian girl, or at least tried to dance, or whatever you call dancing to trance or techno music. It was overwhelming, extremely loud music, insane flashy neon lights and Vietnamese metro-sexuals everywhere. Then a bar called Apocalypse now (just like the movie) where just about every Semester at Sea student was. Galen loved the fact that there are 2 girls to every guy. He couldn’t keep them off of him. We ended the night at a street side café eating some great Vietnamese noodles and other goodies.
Staying out pretty late Blake and I met my Mom and Sheila at their hotel where we had another awesome lunch. My favorite kind of lunch: A BUFFET!
Just a few examples of how awesome this buffet was. Sushi at the top, fresh oysters and some meats in the middle, then fruit, tiramisu and some ice cream for desert. Now that’s not it; I was a member of about 10 clean plate clubs at this sitting.
After our bellies were full and some convincing from Sheila and I my mother finally agreed to go to the market. (She didn’t want to get hassled by all the merchants, but I told her if anyone touched her I’d kick their ass)
I’ll admit the market was a little overwhelming, imagine hundreds of small venders packed into small area with gobs of clothes, shoes, linen, trinkets, and virtually any imitation of anything you can think of stacked on top of one another. Once again I was so mesmerized by the claustrophobic feel of the market that I only got video footage. My Mom helped me pick out some nice fabric for a suit and a sport coat and pants. We tried some negotiating but it got us nowhere. The lady would say in her Vietnamese English “You very big man, lots of mate-wial” (Their “r’s” usually sound like “w’s”) I tried to tell her that it’s not fair to discriminate against me because I’m large but she just laughed. I ended up getting 2 suits for 250 USD, not bad.
I think Sheila liked the market the most, after filling so many shopping bags she could barely carry in her 2 hands we called it quits. My mom and I got some polo shirts for like 4 bucks each, everything was so cheap, but only because it was all fake. The polo shirts seemed pretty decent, except I tried one on the other day and one sleeve fit my arm well and the other was about 2 inches bigger in circumference. I guess you get what you pay for.
After the Markets Blake and I headed to the Cu Chi tunnels. (My camera battery died so I wasn’t able to take any digital pictures, Blake bought a disposable that we still need to get developed) After about an hour and 45 minute cab ride outside of Saigon we arrived at 30 year old tunnels that the Vietnamese built during the war as hideouts and escape routes. It was almost 5pm, when they close so we had to hurry. A small little Vietnamese guy quickly showed us around. We had heard that you could shoot guns at the end of the tunnels. So we went and did that first. They had a bunch to choose from, an AK-47, M-16, a M-60 and a bunch others. We decided to go with the M-60 since neither of us had shot one before. It’s the big gun that Rambo uses and that you always see hanging out the side of helicopters in war movies. The Vietnamese guy quickly grabbed the gun after they rushed us to pay; he said “Rambo” and posed with the humungous gun while we took pictures and video. We quickly walked out to the shooting range where he attached the gun to a base stand. I was up first. I positioned my self around the gun and put my hand on the handle and the other under the extremely large barrel. I fired one shot at the target positioned about 75 yards away. To my surprise it didn’t kick at all. It was because it was attached to the stand. Then I fired about 10 rounds all at once. God it felt good! The make shift ear protectors that were really just old headphones didn’t protect my ears from the piercing loud series of bangs. I felt like I was in movie, maybe Rambo, or Scarface. It was awesome. Blake filmed while I finished off the rounds. Then Blake went. He was a wuss and fired each round individually. The guy rushed us to get out of there, then our small guy showed us the tunnels, we got the abbreviated tour, he rushed through the exhibits placed in the middle of the woods. Our guide lifted a piece of wood up off the ground where there was a tiny hole in the ground, I asked, “people actually fit in there? Now Way!?” He proved me wrong when he squeezed his tiny little body down into the hole. Then we went down into one of the large tunnels, they said the tunnel was bigger so tourists could climb in and crawl through. Yea, well I didn’t fit very well. I started walking crouched over but that didn’t work because I was dragging against the top of the dirt wall, so I switched to my knees, after a couple minutes we were sweating profusely and had an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. Our guide asked us if we wanted to travel 100 meters farther after crawling about 30 meters to an exit, Blake and I both said “No way,” we wanted out of there as soon as possible. We headed back to meet my Mom and Sheila for dinner then went to bed early in anticipation for an early morning flight to Nha Trang.
We arrived in Nha Trang early in the morning after about a 45 minute flight. Thanks to my Mom’s wonderful travel arranging we had reservations at the best hotel in Nha Trang. The Ana Mandara resort. It was beautiful; So beautiful that my Mom and Sheila didn’t leave the premises but once (just to go to dinner) for all 3 days.
The spa was one of a few “sixth sense” spa’s in the world. You can imagine how much the girls enjoyed that.
Blake and I hopped on a couple mountain bikes provided to hotel guests for free and headed around town to try to find some someone that knew something about fishing.
Every time I’d ask if they knew what fly-fishing was they’d look at me like I was crazy. Nha Trang is a very touristy place with beautiful white sandy beaches and clear blue water. I figured there had to be some fly-fishing there. As we asked around at different travel companies little shops we got nowhere. So we decided to get some lunch. We stopped at what looked like a place where they might speak English. After walking through the restaurant while everyone in the whole place stared at us we sat down and tried to order lunch and a beer, but everything we’d point to and agreed on they’d come back a couple minutes later shaking their heads pointing to another item. We didn’t know what anything on the entire menu was except for pizza. Blake ordered a pizza, they came back and said “no” so the waiter pointed at something else, and I pointed at something. We were so hungry we just wanted to eat. The waiter came back with what he had recommended to Blake, it was a roll with a mystery meat inside.
I told Blake it was dog meat, he thought it was Cat meat. Either way it was salty and different. I’m not kidding either, it very well could have been cat or dog which is a common thing to eat in Vietnam.
Then my food came out, it was eggs! I got lucky. It was a plain omelet garnished with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and served with a roll. I asked for a knife. After receiving a funny look from the waiter I cut the roll in half when he gave another confused look. All the waiter and waitresses watched me construct an awesome breakfast sandwich with the contents of my plate.
People sitting around us stared at me like I was an idiot while I demolished the sandwich.
After lunch we set out to find someone to take us fishing. We found a small shop that offered fishing, hiking and scenic tours. We tried to explain the fact that we wanted to go fly-fishing, ocean, river, whatever. Like everyone else told us they said there are no big fish in Nha Trang, only small. The lady spoke good English and showed us a picture book. We flipped through and saw some great looking rivers. We said “we want to go there!” So we did.
We hired Vy, the lady from the shop, a tiny little Vietnamese girl, We made her into our fishing guide. We took motor scooters 1 hour up into the mountains to a river.
It was a small rocky river with a lot of waterfalls creating some good pools for some potential fishing.
We worked the river for a couple hours not getting any action. Blake thinks he got one hit. Then we decided to take a swim, why wouldn’t we? We jumped off some small rocks, then I body slammed Blake.
No fish but beautiful scenery. While driving back we saw a number of people fishing with huge nets in lower parts of the river. We realized that the river was probably over fished, especially if they used nets.
That night we had dinner with Profesor Seel and his family
Pete and my Mom
PJ, Nanci and I
We ate at the restaurant at our Hotel and the food was awesome.
That night Blake and I went out on our mountain bikes, we rode from bar to bar. It was a lot of fun.
Check out this Lyndsay Ressler look alike, she reminds me soooo much of Lyndsay, she acts like her, talks like her and even has a big smile just like Lyndsay. Her name is Jorry. She’s pretty sweet.
After the bars closed we found an awesome place on the street to eat.
They call her Mama, probably because she takes good care of everyone. A local kid from Chicago told me he lost a digital camera in another city and Mama ended up having it a few days later. I guess she serves food every night to the drunk kids and takes care of them as well. She told me that I reminded her of her son whom she hasn’t seen for a long time. His father was an American solder in the war and they went back to the states after she had him, pretty sad. She was a very nice lady.
Mama and her helper helped me make another awesome breakfast sandwich with the fried eggs, veggies, and some mystery meat. Hopefully it wasn’t dog.
I got up in the morning to interview Dr. Tuang the Director of the Nha Trang University of Fisheries. My professor Pete, had set up to meet with Dr. Tuang because one of his students at Colorado State was friends with him. The interview was very informative. I learned all about how Nha Trang and how the surrounding area’s natural fish environment is depleted from being over fished. To maintain fish as a resource there are fisheries everywhere. Which are basically just fish farms. I picked his brain on the subject and it should make for a great story for my film.
I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my Mom and Sheila, I ended up falling asleep by the pool for a couple hours. What a waste, I should have been fishing. That evening I set up our fishing trip for the following morning.
After we fully utilized a free cocktail hour at our hotel Sheila, my Mom, Blake, and our buddy Steve and I went to a Vietnamese seafood restaurant. Outside the restaurant there was a display of all the seafood.
The tiger prawns were huge. Sheila ended up ordering them. She must like them a lot, because every meal she’d order either prawns, or Calamari.
I had some Vietnamese Chicken dish; it had all sorts of veggies, some mushrooms and was served over rice.
I told you they were huge
Clean Plate Club: With my help Sheila was also a member of the Clean Plate Club: a prestigious club that only the few, the proud, and the non-wuss can be apart of.
We woke up at 4:30 to meet our fishing boat at 5. It wasn’t a fishing boat, it was a huge barge; a 40-passenger barge made for snorkeling or maybe a booze cruise.
The hotel packed us an awesome breakfast; one of our boat drivers showed us how to cut open the dragon fruit. Its similar to a kiwi, it had a white inside with black seeds and tastes much like a kiwi.
Waking up early has its benefits. An awesome sunrise over the South China Sea.
We convinced our drivers to take us to Moon Island, where Dr. Tuang recommended. It’s a protected island so we figured we’d have the best luck there. You’re not supposed to fish there but we explained that we were going to release any fish caught.
After about an hour slow boat ride we stopped. I was going to jump in the water with snorkel gear to check out the area. While I was putting the snorkel gear on Blake took a trip to the restroom. I guess his breakfast didn’t sit well. Before we knew it there was a cloud of little white pieces of food in the water. I yelled out “AWWW MAN! You just puked right where I was about to jump in!” It was hilarious. Blake puked in the toilet and we found out that the toilet just drains right in the water. Yuck! So we ordered our drivers to get out of there. Now in some clean water I jumped in with some snorkel gear. The water was real deep; I couldn’t see the bottom, even after diving down 10 or 15 feet. So we asked if they could take us where we could see the bottom, so they did. This time Steve, Blake and I all jumped in and snorkeled around a reef. The reef was lush and random small colorful fish were everywhere, we all agreed to fish here.
I tried casting on the front of the boat, but it just wasn’t working, there was a slight wind so I could only cast in one direction because of the large roof over the boat. So I decided that I needed to get on top of the roof. It was a great decision. I had endless amount of casting space, as well as a bird’s eye view of the reef. I casted in and around the large reef rocks for about an hour or so not getting any action. Mean while Blake and our drivers where catching a couple fish off the bottom with bait, so I figured I needed to get my line deeper. I started to let my Charlie pattern sink all the way to the bottom. It was a good decision, after a couple attempts I felt a small tug on the end of the line, “HELL-O, Steve I got one, get the camera!” I tried to keep the fish out so he’d have time to roll the camera, but it was such a small fish that I had him in before I knew it. Steve was rolling by the time I pulled him up over the barge and on to the roof. We asked our driver what find of fish it was and in his broken English he said “Flat fish.” (I think)
Whatever it was called, I was just extremely happy that I wasn’t skunked in Vietnam. It’s amazing how much of a stress reliever catching your first fish is. Any day not getting skunked is a good day, actually a great day!
Blake caught a bunch of random fish off the bottom with chunks of squid as bait. He reeled this one in when our driver said “NO NO NO, POISON!” with his thick Vietnamese accent. So Blake had to grab a towel to touch it, its dorsal fin had some sharp spikes on it; we assumed that’s where the poison was.
A nice variety of fish, this last one was gnarly looking.
At one point when were fishing a boat came up to us with about 5 Vietnamese guys on it, they started yelling at us saying “No, No, No!” we were confused at first, then they said, “No Fish!” I yelled back “What, you don’t like to fish? What are you, Communist?” I should of thought about it before I said it, because, yes they are communist, but apparently they don’t like to fish. I tried to explain to them that we were throwing all our fish back but they didn’t seem to care, so we respected their wishes and left.
It was a great day, yea we didn’t catch any big fish, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t any big fish near Nha Trang.
We flew back to Saigon that afternoon and ran into some major traffic getting back to the ship. Supposedly there are scooter hookers; prostitutes that ride around on scooters looking for business.
This one was a ninja scooter hooker.
We had a nice Italian dinner with my Mom and Sheila, finally, the last night, they agreed come out to a bar with us. It was about time because every night prior we’d invite them but they never agreed to come.
I think they were happy with the decision; we danced to a live band at Apocalypse Now. The band rocked, they were playing all sorts of great American songs. My Mom and Sheila got to meet a bunch of our friends, and my Mom even kept up with me on the drinks. Well until about the 4th or 5th she had to slow it down.
By this time Todd and Joselyn were the most popular people around. They were like celebrities; every student was dieing to take a picture with them.
Including me. They were buying everyone shots, and car bombs, except with tiger beer instead of Guinness. They were dancing and partying just like they were on Semester at Sea again. It was awesome.
What a great time that last night was, everyone had so much fun our dean sent the entire ship letters stating how disappointed he was in everyone’s behavior prior to getting on the ship. I guess people were urinating in front of custom officials, throwing things at the resident directors, and I saw a couple students rolling huge tires down the street, it was hilarious but yes, it was out of control. Don’t worry Dad, Blake and I behaved our selves. A lot of people received dock time, not us.
All in all Vietnam was a great place, I don’t know if I’d go back there to fish, but I’d go back again if my Mom and Sheila wanted too. Why wouldn’t I?