8-21 April 2008
Day 11

We take a bus to Saigon, epicenter of southern Vietnam. We're immediately struck by how bright and cosmopolitan the city is. It's all IMG_2067 very inviting, with rows of cute eateries serving new permutations of the flavors we've gotten used to. We can't get enough of the nuoc mia infused with strawberries. The pho is different too - much closer to what we get back home, with a plethora of ingredients.

Day 12
Mekong Delta

In the morning, we jump on a tour bus to see the Mekong River Delta. The tour, unfortunately, feels mass-produced and artificial, but it's a good chance to see the narrow waterways. IMG_2077 We're taken to a "traditional" village, where a small boy is carrying around a large snake (and laughing maniacally). He places the snake on our shoulders for a photo-op.

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We take another boat to our lunch spot, where April makes Paul nervous by making friends with a water buffalo. After trying the fried elephant ear fish, we take another boat ride and watch as children jump into the water around us. The people in the next village perform a song with traditional instruments for us. It's rather grating, and we do our best to hide our discomfort.

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Back in Saigon, we shop for souvenirs, and IMG_2160 Paul bargains zealously to get April some brightly-colored wigs. We walk up a spiral staircase to restaurant Rat Hue. Inside, there's a live band that just about makes up for the discordant music we heard earlier. They smile at our applause. Paul orders coffee, empties all the sugar packets and milk he IMG_2167 has into it, then asks for more sugar when it's still too bitter to drink. The owner seems pleased with the bits of Vietnamese we're able to speak and gives us a very nice pair of chopsticks as we leave.

In front of some government buildings, we find a classic reminder that we're in a communist nation. An exhibition of photos displays examples of anti-social behaviors on one hand - littering, harassing tourists - and constructive ones on the other - cops leading tourists across the street. Was all this paternalism helping to spread civic-mindedness? Consider the evidence: A cop did try to help when we were afraid to cross an especially busy street - by blowing his whistle at us from 50 feet away and waving us forward into the traffic.

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Day 13

It's our last day and we set out to wander the streets of Saigon. We stumble upon a playground and decide to join the children having fun. Pretty soon, though, we start to suspect that this playground is geared less towards IMG_2190 recreation than training future martial arts champions. For one thing, nearly every surface rotates, wobbles, or flips upside down. A simple ramp tilts to deposit the hapless climber onto the ground. We climb into a spinning contraption and try to propel it by tilting our bodies. A little girl has made friends with April and climbs in with her. We think we're doing a good job, but a little boy puts us to shame with a vertical style of adding energy that sends the ride spinning like a fan. The playground is tremendously fun, but we realize that it would probably never spring up back home with so many opportunities for injury.

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As we continue, we happen upon a zoo, and decide to walk through. The Komodo dragons seem the most excited to see us. IMG_2212

As always seems to happen, our vacation ends before we want it to. Vietnam has been wonderful to us - not always the easiest country to travel though, but profoundly beautiful, fascinating, and eye-opening.

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We wish you the best of luck when you visit.
- April and Paul