The alarms were set for 6am for the long day on a Princess tour to Ho Chi Minh City, with a meet at 7am for a 7:30am tour start. Paula was out of bed 5:30am but the sail in is not a memorable one.
We boarded our coach on time with tour guide Tony, who was quite a personable character but the coach itself could not be called a luxury one. The seats were not well shaped and in vinyl, got quite sticky. The sound system on the coach was more suited to a karaoke bar, with a fair bit of reverberation and was quite loud which I found a bit uncomfortable, but that is probably just me. The ride into Ho Chi Minh City is a bit slow. To start with, it is due to the cart track road once outside the secure dock area, then once you leave the general port area, there is the traffic, even though we were two hours away – and it was a Sunday. It may not be quite as dense as India, but there are 1,000’s of motorbikes and the frequency of traffic lights is about as bad as at home - other than the countdown clocks on red and green phases, which I quite like.
Last time, we had a potty stop on the way in, but this time we didn’t. First stop was the history museum and guide Tony certainly didn’t need any amplification here, as his voice boomed off the walls of the small gallery rooms. The main attraction though was the colourful water puppet show. Probably a strange attraction for a museum, but very well done. The 7 puppeteers are in waist deep water and hidden behind a bamboo screen.
On then to the re-unification palace. We had just stepped into the grounds on our last visit but this time, we went inside. Without going into the history of the Vietnam war (something on which I am decidedly unqualified to comment on), this appeared to me to be less of a palace and more of a command centre, housing the radio rooms etc. in an underground, steel lined bunker. Chatting to someone later in the day, they claimed that the Feng sui was so poor in the building that people were often transferred out quite quickly rather than staying for an extended spell of duty, as they hated it.
Next stop was another new one for us, a pagoda. Basically a temple, just a ten minute stop, with hanging wooden incense coils giving a rather smoky environment, but overall, a pleasant enough stop. A bit more of a city tour followed before six coach-loads of experienced Princess cruisers alighted to raid the second floor buffet at a riverside hotel. In the small lobby, pity the poor souls who were trying to have their wedding photographs taken as the hungry hordes swarmed past them on the way to a much needed feed. Much needed? Well, it had been at least six hour since most people had breakfasted or had a drink. Something we have often noticed on tours is that the tour guides are often not aware, that the early starts mean that people are usually in need of a drink after a couple of hours. We still cringe at the memories of the (private, not Princess) Israel tour last year, where we had to eat by about 6am and we didn’t get an opportunity to get anything else until 1:30pm – and even then it was very poor food!
The food at the buffet today was quite extensive, but even though we were the first group through, all except the soup wasn’t really very hot, which is a real shame. The variety of food covered several local dishes, plus spaghetti Bolognese and what we would probably call Chinese dishes, with stir fried vegetables and meat. With a beer or soft drink included, this was a very pleasant 50 minute stop complete, with a colourful local music and dance show. The screeching instrument played with a bow was definitely not to my taste, especially at full volume, but the star turn was a quite brilliant rendition of “Never on Sunday” and I have no idea what the lead instrument was. To look at, it was a cross between a horizontal Hawaiian guitar without frets but a raised string or strings with a wand arrangement at the end that also raised or lowered the pitch. It was played extremely well too. Three of the four instruments seemed very local, with the fourth, very much banjo-like in appearance – but he didn’t get a solo. Shame.
Back to the coach and a return visit (for us) to the lacquer factory, which is really a showroom but with 4 or 5 people working to show the methods used. Most interesting is the use of eggshells, cut to shape often with a small coping saw and then by scalpel. This time, they were also using shells that had obviously been scorched to give a different colour.
The next part was a stop at the Post Office and a photo opportunity of the building across the road, a cathedral roughly based on the Notre Dame. Even though it was a Sunday, as last time, it appeared closed.
It was a bit of a slow ride back at times. Inexplicably, the driver went really slowly for a while. Maybe it was because someone had requested a stop to photograph a water buffalo, so whether or not he was trying to scan for them instead of just heading back to the ship, we don’t know. We didn’t see any. Having been passed by several other tour coaches and the numb bums combined with the sticky seats and poor air conditioning, we were all getting a bit ratty, so when he eventually speeded up and proceeded to overtake a couple of coaches, the passengers cheered! I think he then got the message. However, this woke up Tony who in best tour guide fashion, carried on his commentary from where he had left off just after the post office, which woke up several passengers who had been enjoying a blissful snooze.
Back on board, the first stop was the atrium for a coffee for me and a berry smoothie for Paula.
A shower then to the sailaway on the back of deck 11 then to the early show at 6:30 for illusionist and magician, Ace McDermott’s “new” show. Not too much was new (even most of the jokes were repeated). As with any of these acts, you really start to think how it can be done and the more you think about it, the easier some tricks appear to be, but others remain a total mystery. Mind you, the choice of passenger to assist was cringe worthy, as she just had to come up with three words that were NOT associated with what was written on a piece of paper. She struggled to come up with 3 words...
Dinner was another difficult choice – veal cordon bleu or lamb chops? I had both. Just a couple of dances afterwards in the atrium and another 11:25pm retirement.
In port again tomorrow – Nha Trang, still in Vietnam, but another tender port. No rush for us as we cancelled our previously booked tours opting for the free shuttle instead, so we’ll take our time.