Singapore and Saigon

Carla Sue and Brad ready to go on a pedicab tour of Nha Trang, Vietnam.

By Carla Sue Broecker

On a very warm morning, we started our day in Nha Trang, Vietnam, on a pedicab tour that our ship, the Seven Seas Voyager, arranged for us. The “vehicle” is the front half of a bicycle attached to the back of a two-seater, open cab. If it is raining or the sun is shining hot, it has a “hood” that comes up from the back of the seat. It covers you like an umbrella. Being small, the two-seater can weave in and out of the mad traffic.

We were stopped for a red light and a cute, big puppy jumped in the cab with us! He rode for a while until we got to the place he wanted to and he jumped out. We rode in a cluster through the middle of town. You can go to your destination quickly because the drivers can slip in and out between cars and trucks in the crowded streets.

We rode around town and they then took us to an indoor market. There were at least 100 booths selling things you didn’t know existed. And my word, it was hot in there. We wandered around, bought a few gifts and souvenirs and headed outside to cool off in the noon day sun.

Cathedral in downtown Saigon.

We were happy to get back “home” to sit in air-conditioned comfort until lunch.

The next day, we arrived at Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). This is a city I love for many reasons, one of which is its old French architecture. The magnificent, baroque Saigon Opera House sits in the center of town, framed by elegant buildings with a tree-lined alee and park in front of it. The elegant, century-old cathedral has an exotic French Renaissance flavor to it. One of the streets leading out of the square has been barricaded for several years as they are installing an underground metro system and that is the working entrance.

The shuttle bus dropped us off in the square, and we walked a block to the nail shop. It is a wonderful place for your feet and hands. They have the most advanced equipment and hygiene. They took off the nails they had put on me six weeks ago and put on new ones, all the while the chair I was in was massaging my body. Even Brad got a pedicure and massage.

Then, it was around the corner to the Rex Hotel basement shop, which is full of the wonderful lacquer ware that Vietnam is noted for. When we shopped there earlier this year, we bought wonderful lacquer screens and had them sent home. This time, I found mother-of-pearl boxes, another screen and other odds and ends. The best part is that they pack everything and send it to us at home. It will probably get there before we do!

Wishing well at Singapore Temple.

Then it was time to catch the shuttle back to the ship. As we walked up the gangway, we could feel the wonderful air conditioning and knew that a cold drink awaited us. It mitigated our need to visit the vendors on the dock for a while. It was then that I realized I didn’t have on my favorite rings. I must have taken them off for the manicure. They must have been at the nail shop. Brad went back to check and they weren’t there. I was despondent until I bent over to put on my shoes for dinner and the rings fell out of my bra. I forgot I put them there for safekeeping.

The following day, we took a bus tour of the area. It was interesting to see women on motorbikes, helmets on, faces covered with surgical masks and swathed in long sleeves (that slip on and off) to protect them from the sun. The bikes have long, flat seats shaped like the leaf of a lily. This allows the rider to carry another person (and sometimes a child or baby, too) behind them.

Back at “home,” we had a delicious lunch at La Veranda on the top deck before visiting the tents of the vendors on the docks. It was so hot that Brad took a nap and I took to reading a book.

Late that afternoon, we sailed the South China Sea. The following day was a day at sea, which we all enjoy, and then we sailed into the harbor of Singapore. They have the biggest terminal we have ever seen. One time, we arrived in the afternoon and the terminal was so full of passengers that it took ages to get to the sidewalk. Then, it was the “rush hour” and we never could get a taxi.

This time, we had a bus tour and were out and about in a jiffy. The population speaks Tamil, Chinese, Malay and “Singlish,” with English the first language. They have signs posted saying that you should not talk openly about politics, religion, sex and racial matters. Sounds OK to me!

The country is 33 years old. It has taken years for the nation to reclaim 80 percent of its land from the sea. A river runs through the city, and it is chock full of small crafts. There were 60 million visitors last year, and 20,000 green card holders come in each year. Most everyone speaks English.

View of Singapore gardens from atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Temples are traditionally red. The one we visited had a series of courtyards – very ornate with lots of gilt and gold leaf. It has beautiful carvings, the roof sweeps down, stone walls are pierced and the windows have no glass.

At a new high-rise office building, there is an outdoor fountain in the sidewalk. Its water comes down from above, and it looks like rain. There were huge red lanterns outside with chartreuse letters on them.

City streets are a mix of styles with stone walls featuring bone-carved dragons and other figures. The streets are also lined with trees and have a mix of tall, modern skyscrapers and old, two-story traditional houses. There are lots of temples with graceful gold leaf carvings under the eaves of the roof.

Many people here wear wide-brim hats because the sun is so hot; even children wear them. The city center is very hot and being close to the sea, there is a lot of mildew on the white buildings and lots of graffiti (most of it signed!). Most buildings are white and have air conditioning units attached to mildew-plastered walls. All the cars look new. You rarely see an old or beat up car.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is a humdinger. It has a casino where foreigners can walk in for free, but locals must pay $100 to enter. Apparently, this is because the government does not want its citizens to lose their money. It has a helicopter pad on top, and there are flower boxes at the bases of all windows. All the sidewalks in the lower bus garage and car parks have marble walks and walls. The elevators can hold 40 people.

Singapore is a relatively tiny city, but it is exceedingly wealthy.

The next day, we sailed the Gulf of Thailand anticipating our next stop, Laem Chabang, the port city for Bangkok. VT