Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dancing Queen

Our first ever visit to Vietnam, way back in 1994 began in Saigon. Yes, we know that officially it is known as Ho Chi Minh City, but everyone still calls it Saigon and so do we. On the first trip, it all seemed so strange and exotic, with different looks and smells. Communication was difficult and there was no internet to speak of. We had not word one of the language and, of course, it was very hot and humid. On that trip, we booked at the Rex Hotel, a kitschy old place with a great rooftop bar, complete with caged birds and topiary animals. By our second visit, we had graduated to the Caravelle, a completely modern high rise hotel. This time we opted for Sofitel Plaza, the sister hotel to our residence in Hanoi. It is a bit out of the center, but close enough to get there in a couple of minutes. Saigon now has about 20 5 star properties and is so much more modern than Hanoi, but lacking in charm. We had been warned that the language is different in the South, with many words and of course the accent making it even more difficult to comprehend than usual. We spent the weekend as a sort of R & R with no idea of sightseeing, just browsing and enjoying the nightlife.

We arrived in the evening and went to Saigon-Saigon, the rooftop bar at the Caravelle, which we frequented on earlier visits. We remember well when it first opened. Now it is probably the hippest spot in a rather hip city. There was, as everywhere in Southeast Asia, a Filipino band covering Queen and other such bands. Prices are high, compared to Hanoi, but still a bit less than in the US or in major European capitals.

We spent Saturday morning shopping, but not actually buying. Ira's ability to speak Vietnamese actually repelled the postcards salesmen and cyclo drivers who tried to solicit us. We took a break on the Rex rooftop for a cool glass of juice and some reminiscing. The war correspondents used to hang out there during the American War, as it is called here and it is still a great place to get a breeze and look out over the city. As we mentioned, Saigon is HOT!. While the temperature in Hanoi this time of year is in the 60s and 70s, Saigon is 90 plus every day. We did get to see the sun and to relax by the pool before dinner. dining options are varied, but we went back to La Camargue, a little French place with outdoor dining under the shade of trees. The food is good and Ira found a rare bottle of wine at a very good price. You'd never know you were in Vietnam!!! Oh, right! the reason for the title of the blog. They talked us into upgrading to the "executive floor" at 19$ a night extra. Breakfast in the hotel restaurant would be $11, so for less than the cost of breakfast for two, we got a much bigger room on a high floor, with a great view; breakfast in the exec club, including fruit, pastries, juice and a choice of entrees; unlimited juice, soda and water all day plus a cocktail hour with hors d'oeuvres. During breakfast the sound system played music. Unfortunately, there was just the one tune, repeated over and over. Now we love ABBA as much as the next person, well perhaps not, but how many times can you listen to "Dancing Queen" before it sticks in your mind and you walk around town singing it?! We found out that we are very chauvinistic Hanoians now! We kept comparing it to Saigon and agreeing that Saigon comes up second best in most things. Ira had many conversations with the locals during which he never failed to tell them how Hanoi is thang pho so mot(#1 city). While we enjoyed the getaway and think that Saigon is a great destination, we had no regrets when we boarded the plane for the 100 minute flight back to our home in Hanoi!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Friendly People!!!

We were eating at the Nikko(Japanese hotel) at, of all things, a Tex-Mex buffet when Carol spotted a young woman with a beautiful quilted jacket. Ira went over to her and in his best Vietnamese, told her that Carol admired the jacket and would like to know where to buy one. The woman spoke no English but smiled and answered very heartily. She either said she would tell us how to get one or "Buzz off weirdo!!" or "aren't the empanadas great?" One of her companions who spoke some English came over and assured us that he would show us where the shop was after dinner. We assumed that he meant on a map! Wrongo!!! He and the woman took us in a car(they must have some money as NOBODY has a car in this town) and drove us to a remote section of the city to a little shop, perhaps owned by Ms Nhung's sister, if we understood correctly. Carol tried on several of the jackets and, although she is a relatively small american woman, whe is kind of large by Hanoian standards and it was difficult to find one that fit acceptably. Having gotten these folks to go so far out of their way for us, we felt sort of obligated to buy. Carol wound up with a stunning black jacket with purple peach blossoms on it. Everyone admires it(and asks the price too). It is so great to connect with people on every level and to see how small a place the world is!!!

A Visitor with a Link to the Past

Ira met Bob Greenfield back in the 8th grade and the two were close friends for many years. they played in the band in Jr High and High School and Ira was in bob's wedding way back in 1967!!! They were in touch over the years and Bob visited occasionally when he had business in Pennsylvania. Bob emailed Ira that his niece, Suzanne, was in Hanoi and he passed Ira's email address and mobile number on to her. One afternoon, Ira's phone rang and it was Suzanne . They had a long conversation and the next evening we were able to meet for drinks at the Metropole Hotel (best hotel in Hanoi and they have a half price Happy Hour to boot! We then went to one of our favorite restaurants, Ly Club which has a beautiful room with photos of the last dynasty of emperors of Vietnam and good upscale Vietnamese food. We had a great evening and enjoyed a vistor's take on our adopted city.