Ho Chi Minh City: "Young and Noisy"

Ho Chi Minh City


July 18, 2003 

Heavy Rain



Dear Family and Friends,

I am sitting in the lobby of the Riverside Hotel, a charming colonial style building with tile floors, Corinthian columns, and French provincial furniture. Recently renovated, the hotel overlooks the broad, container ship-filled Saigon River.

Greeting me each morning is an attractive staff of smiling young men and young women who wear the traditional outfit of colorful long flowing dresses over loose fitting pants. (They giggled when I translated "Besame Mucho" that was playing over the lobby music system.) The rate includes full breakfast of Asian soups, omelets to order, fresh fruit and salads, strong coffee.

Today is a "non-tourist" day. I take a leisurely breakfast and try to make some plans with my books and maps. I think I have a route, but then my impatience just drives me out the door.

Saigon: "Love and the American War"

In 2008, I was pleased to announce that "Love and the American War" was the very first of my travel essays to be published.  The essay below is included in a collection called To Vietnam With Love.  ThingsAsian Press.  2008. pp 93-96.

July 30, 2003


Dear Family and Friends,

My dear readers. You must be wondering, "Jan has traveled the length of Vietnam. He has extolled the physical beauty of the country and the wonderful people he has met. But nowhere has he mentioned the unmentionable." Stand by.

My tour outside of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) made two stops. The first was the Caodai Temple in Tay Ninh. The second was the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The Cu Chi Tunnels formed a network of military strongholds which held up to 16,000 Viet Cong for months at a time. Only 6000 survived the relentless bombing. Thousands of civilians died in the vicinity.

At Cu Chi, tourists crawl around the tunnels and then visit the adjacent museum. I politely declined. Instead, I sat at the nearby café and started to gather my thoughts for this letter.

I really cannot explain my reasoning; I cannot account for my emotions. Sometimes, I just "decline."

Ha Long Bay: "The Climax"

July 29, 2003
Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is the culmination of my three weeks in Vietnam, the "cross of the t and the dot on the i, the icing on the cake."


Sushma and Paawan, newlyweds from Mumbai (Bombay), were with me on the Hanoi city tour. They had reserved a car and driver for the three-hour drive to Ha Long City. They were booked on a luxury yacht for a two-day, one night cruise of Ha Long Bay. They invited me to join them. Cabins were available.

I knew it would be a splurge. I said "yes!"

Hue: "Muffins and Mausoleums"

Hue, Vietnam
July 29, 2003
Sunny, hot, breezy

Dear Family and Friends,

I am sitting at the Mai Huong Patisserie, a small sidewalk cafe near an intersection of the main street. I am watching an unending stream of incessantly beeping motorbikes; police officers with whistles stop speeders! I am enjoying my favorite - iced Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Deeelicious.