If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Can Tho

11 days on the road in Vietnam – From Saigon to Danang to Hanoi to Can Tho and back to Saigon. Four different places, four different climates, four different cuisines, four different architectures.

Danang is always a nice change from the madness of Saigon’s noise and dirt and swarming motorbikes. It has wide streets, reasonable traffic, soft warm breezes off the South China Sea, earthy food I can’t begin to describe, and a mish-mash of architectural styles from Five-Star resorts, to galvanized tin lean-to’s. China Beach is becoming the Vietnamese Riviera as a dozen new mega-resorts open or get set to open in the next couple of years. But Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, is still wrapped in a pretty plain wrapper. It’s all about business and education – pretty no-nonsense.

After a week in Danang, I flew to Hanoi which seems to me like several cities in one. I like the old part around Hoan Kiem Lake with its small pagoda where legend has it that Le Loi received the magical sword, from a golden turtle, that enabled him to defeat the Chinese and liberate Vietnam in the 15th century. I like the streets near Hoan Kiem that specialize in particular goods – Silk Street, Shoe Street, Handbag Street, Crafts Street, etc. But the weather in Hanoi is confused. It can be cool and humid at the same time, making you feel like you’re living under water. You don’t feel warm but your clothes are damp and clinging. The good news is you can get almost any cuisine you want to eat almost anytime. It may not be as international feeling as Saigon, but there are many more non-Asian faces on the street. The Hanoians think of themselves as the only true Vietnamese and they are very critical of other regions, dialects, climates, and cuisines. I don’t see it, but I’m not Vietnamese.

On day ten, I flew from Hanoi to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta and I felt as if I’d been let out of my cage. Can Tho is tropical – coconut palms, banana trees, wild orchids. It’s hot, but it’s summer hot like the beach, and there’s water everywhere. Can Tho is a modern city, but the surrounding area is rural, delta country with boats for transportation, and huts built out over the Mekong canals and tributaries. I can’t imagine how you navigate those canals, rivers, and backwaters. It’s a maze, but the people there are as warm and welcoming as the weather, and I was invited with a group to lunch after a ground-breaking ceremony at a school we are renovating. There were about 25 of us at a long table under a thatched room. I have no idea what I was eating, but most of it was tasty. The principal of the school was determined to fatten me up, so she kept putting mystery things in my rice bowl and the head of the People’s Committee kept filling my beer mug and toasting. It’s tough to say no to the People’s Committee in Vietnam, but just when you think this thing will go on forever everyone gets up and walks away. I didn’t see any signals, but it ended suddenly. Then it was a six hour drive back to Saigon, a shower, and beddy-bye. I was really glad to get home.

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