Last weekend we went to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for the ABS Singapore Family Day trip. Once each year, ABS in Asia offers a group trip to its employees and their families as a "thank you" for all of the hard work during the year. It's not actually free, but the cost is heavily discounted. The company picks up about 70% of the cost, so it's hard to pass-up the offer.
On Friday afternoon about 75 of us boarded a Singapore Air flight to Vietnam. We landed after only an hour and a half in the air got through customs pretty quickly. We then boarded 2 coach buses and headed off to the hotel.
The New World Hotel was very nice. We had a great room that easily fit the three of us. We didn't have anything planned for Friday afternoon, so we took it easy at the hotel. After relaxing in the room for a bit, Melissa and Jack spent some time in the small "kids playroom" at the hotel while I got a great massage. Only $25 for a 60 minute massage at a top hotel. You've got to like the prices in Vietnam.
Melissa, Jack and I decided to keep it in the hotel for dinner as we weren't too excited about walking through a dark city known for it's pickpockets with a 6 year old searching for meal. We ended up eating a great dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. The even had "swish-ish" cheese.
Saturday morning was where the fun began. After breakfast at the hotel, we all piled into two buses for a tour of the city. The first stop was the "Reunification Palace". It's otherwise known to the local Vietnamese as "The place where the American war ended". This building was the South Vietnamese equivalent to The White House until it was taken over by the Viet Cong. It's now a national historic site. It's open for tours and still looks l lot like it did in the 70s.
From there we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral.
It was built by the French (I think in 1880). I've seen a lot of cathedrals in my world travels. This looked pretty much like the rest of them. Stained glass, a few sculptures, not much else to be impressed by. Once you've been to Rome, it's hard to be impressed by a church. This sign was kind of unique though.
After Notre Dame, we went to one of the most interesting places of the trip. Vietnam is apparently well known for its Lacquerware. We went to a small factory where it's made. Wood items are first sanded very smooth. Then they're decorated, coated in a few coats of lacquer and polished until they're smooth and shiny. Sound simple. You just have to see it to believe it.
Items are decorated in one of three ways. They're either painted, decorated with cut seashells, or decorated with pieces of broken eggshell. A person is sitting at a table with a basket full of broken duck egg shells. Some are roasted to make them darker than others. Them with nothing but some glue and a lot of patience, pieces of shell are then glued down to make patterns and pictures.
The same is done with pieces of seashell. The shells are cut with a small saw into the shapes they need to make a design. It's incredibly intricate work.
We ended up spending $100 on small items here. A nice part of this place is that all of the workers are handicapped. The factory is owned by the government. It's used as a place to teach some skills to the physically disabled. I hadn't even noticed that half of the people we're missing parts of limbs or had other problems until Melissa pointed it out to me. This picture is a great example of what it is like to be disabled in a poor country.
From the lacquerware factory we went to lunch. There's not much to say about lunch except that I got some ice in my 7up. That was a mistake. Don't drink the water in Vietnam. That's enough on that topic.
After lunch, the tour went to the War Museum. The guide had the bus pull through the hotel on the way to give anyone who was tired a chance to bail out. Jack and I decided we'd skip the museum and go for a swim at the hotel instead. We'd heard the museum was mostly full of some pretty graphic pictures and we thought the pool would be a better idea for a 6 year old than a building full of photos of death and destruction. Melissa went on to the museum and enjoyed the trip.
Sunday was even more interesting as we jumped in to the bus for the two hour trip to the Mekong River Delta. This is getting long, so here's the shorted version.
Rode on a big boat.
Rode on a smaller boat.
Went to a coconut candy factory in the Jungle.
Melissa and a big snake and the coconut candy factory in the jungle.
Wore a funny hat in an even smaller boat. (Alright. I need to mention this. Near the end of the tour, the canals got even smaller and we all transferred to what were basically big canoes. They held 4 tourists and 2 paddlers. The paddlers were 60+ year old women. Imagine your grandma rowing you through the jungle in a canoe for 40 minutes. Crazy.)
From there it was dinner, 2 hour bus ride and into the plane back to Singapore.
All in all, a good trip. Two full days was enough though. We were ready to go home by the end of the day on Sunday.
Happy Halloween to everyone!