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Vietnam River Cruise to Saigon- part 2

We cruised into Vietnam after four days in Cambodia and pulled into Chau Doc to clear immigration and customs. We were responsible for our own travel documents, visas and vaccination records; however, Avalon personnel took care of the actual clearance.

After clearing immigration, we anchored and boarded a river boat for a ride to a temple and large statue of Buddha carved into the face of Sam Mountain. The statue is huge, an impressive site. The temple is a multi-religious temple, meaning that it is not dedicated to any specific religion or creed. The statuary is similar to other statues you can find in Buddhist temples in southeast Asia but there are no Buddhist monks working here.

Of course, the Communist government of Vietnam is atheistic and does not promote any religion. This temple was saved from destruction after the unification of Vietnam by the people of the city and has been run by the city ever since. The funding of the temple comes from tourist donations and locals use the temple as needed for religious ceremonies. The temple is very interesting to view and houses a unique gift shop.

The river ride to the site took about 45 minutes, and we got a good view of the homes along the river. They were on stilts, as the riverbank was very steep, and, in most places, quite tall, 30 or 40 feet due to rising river during rainy season. Many of the homes looked like they might fall into the river at any time.

The cities and waterways of Vietnam team with life and commerce. We saw thousands of scooters piled high with goods, people moving on the streets, and hundreds of watercraft moving on the rivers and canals of this beautiful country. Cambodia was, unlike the city of Phnom Penn, much quieter and less crowded. Vietnam is filled with people moving about on scooters, but very few cars and other vehicles, although we did see trucks moving larger loads. Scooters rule the roads.

We spent one afternoon traveling on a canal from the Mekong River to Ho Chi Minh City and the canal traffic was nonstop the entire afternoon. There were dozens of ore boats moving rock and gravel in a steady stream traveling both ways on the canal (in line with us and moving the opposite direction). The canal was wide enough that some faster ships were able to pass us. Standing on the deck and watching all this river traffic was interesting and memorable as some of the vessels we could almost reach out and touch.

We visited a small community on the bank of the Mekong that was so small there were only scooters to get around. This location, Long Khanh, was a community of weavers making cotton and silk scarfs. The entire community sounds were machines weaving scarves. They do still do some by hand but most are done on high tech machines. We also visited an elderly man and his home. He was most notable for being a VC during the war back in the 70’s. He even donned his uniform for us.

Our last day of cruising the Mekong was spent in the village of Vinh Long. We exited the

docked riverboat and after a short walk

boarded three wheeled motorcycles with seating for four people for a ride to one of the few Catholic churches still conducting religious services in Vietnam. The church was larger than the surrounding village structures but not nearly as large as what you will see at some of the massive cathedrals of Europe. The significance of this church is that it is still functioning as a church in a mostly Buddhist or irreligious country like Vietnam. The church was built during the French Colonial period of Vietnam’s history and has functioned as the town church through much upheaval.

After leaving the church, we went to a local home where a woman made the conical straw hats that you may have seen in movies or tv shows about Vietnam. She showed us the various stages of making these hats. They are made by hand, one by one. She showed us how they are decorated, and we were offered opportunities to purchase one or more. I was reluctant, as I saw no way to get the hat home undamaged. However, we did get one, so now we have a conical hat displayed in our living room along with treasures from previous trips. The craftswoman charged us the same price she would charge a local for a hat, so we paid much less than I expected, about one fourth of what you would pay for a local handicraft in a US arts and crafts fair.

After leaving her home, we went back to the Avalon Saigon for a short cruise to an island where another local craftsman made the small two-man boats that are ubiquitous on Vietnam’s rivers - Sampans. He showed us how he molds the individual boards to make his boats and how he shapes the boards with hand tools. The boats are not made to last more than a season; they are broken. We asked about this seeming inefficiency and were told that he can sell his boats much cheaper than a boat that might last longer, so his customers find this system much simpler and more economical than trying to maintain a boat that would last longer. Even though the boats are inexpensive, we did not buy one!

Next, we sailed on the canal to Ho Chi Minh City, arriving as the sun was setting. Ho Chi Minh City was known as Saigon during the Vietnam war and was the capital of South Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City is a very large city with a population of over 9 million all of whom ride scooters, very few cars or trucks. The traffic of this city has to be seen. You will hear stories of entire families on scooters, as many as 6 or 8 parents and children on one scooter. We did not see that many but did see some with 4 or 5 people riding together. Crossing a street is interesting, just move consistently and the scooters will flow around you. We stayed in the city at the Park Hyatt Saigon.

This hotel is one of the nicest hotels we have encountered in our travels. The staff is friendly and well trained. Everything we needed was attended to quickly with minimal fuss. We stored our luggage with the bell stand until we could check into our rooms. We decided to walk around the city near our hotel covering 8 or so square city blocks. We visited Saigon’s famous colonial era post office, an open-air market and a few shops. The post office was bustling with activity, lots of school children some tourists and hundreds of locals. We bought some Vietnamese coffee and once again had no issues with English. We got a recommendation for a local restaurant and walked to dinner. The restaurant was a small local place with no tourists while we were there but they had a waitress that spoke English and we had our best meal of the entire trip. We really liked Ho Chi Minh City.

Our river cruise to Cambodia and Vietnam was great. The people of these countries are welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic with tourist. We were asked multiple times to encourage Americans to visit and we can do so enthusiastically. Condor Tours & Travel can handle all of the needs you may have for visiting this part of the world. If you are looking to go somewhere none of your friends have been try southeast Asia.


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