Tag-Archive for » Vietnam «

Viator Guide A Memorable Man


His name is Kim. Just Kim. We are introduced on the banks of the Saigon River in Vietnam. We are on a Viator excursion and he is our guide. He is polite, informative and the antithesis of a rah-rah guide who tries to impress with his clever dialogue so that at the end of the day he’ll get a bigger tip.

For Kim — and his eight customers — the end of the day was nine hours later.

It began with an hour-long ride up (down?) the river, to the Cu Chi Tunnels for a fascinating look at the underground network and weaponry the Viet Cong used in winning the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. Throughout the two hours or so we spent at what is now a huge tourist attraction, Kim’s knowledge and opinions made the tour better than expected.

The day also included a first-ever (and possibly last) visit to a cricket farm, which included a snack that was optional from the farm’s owners, and a lunch (long after we’d digested the little creatures) at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Not that you’d expect to find anything but authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, but this was so good we’ve been seeking the North American version ever since returning home.

Our day was nine hours and Kim’s has to be at least two more. When he told us he would become a father in a few months, our tip included a contribution for the daughter-to-be’s Kim Nguyenpiggy bank — he said it would be her first deposit. As we parted, we exchanged email addresses, something we often do when meeting somebody so likeable and personable. We discovered there was more to him than Kim — Kim Nguyen Dinh — and we resolved to stay in touch.

Fast forward…

Our first email went unanswered for almost two weeks. These things happen. Sometimes they’re never answered. When Kim responded, he was apologetic. His father had been suffering from liver cancer for almost a year (long before we met him) and the prognosis was not good. His next email brought the inevitable news. In December, another email announcing the arrival of Cecilia, or Gia Kha Han in Vietnamese.

For his family, it completed the cycle of life.

When you exchange emails with strangers from a land far away, it’s not always like this. But when it is like this, you learn that we’re really not that different, are we?

In the news…

• Launching in May, Harmony of the Seas to feature Dreamworks characters

Today at portsandbows.comFood spectacles for Princess crowd

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
March 13, 2016
Tampa (return): Key West, Banana Coast, Santo Tomas de Castilla, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Elvis…Far From The Mississippi

It’s 1974. You’re Elvis Presley — many wished that for almost two decades. You’re not at the height of your career, but you’re still packing them in wherever you go. Some people actually are “Elvis Presley”…as impersonators are beginning to pop up. Your country is in an awful war (like there are any other kind), in Vietnam.

Fast forward 42 years.

Elvis is long gone. The impersonators are not. In fact, there are more Elvis look-a-likes than ever. Some of them are even pretty good performers, not just in Vegas and assorted venues ranging from small theaters to street corners.

One is doing it in Vietnam.

His real name is Damian Mullin and he’s an Australian…crikey! He’s the best of Australia’s Elvis impElvis impersonators, having won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and he has the seal of approval from Elvis Presley Enterprises, which means The King’s company has a financial interest in the performances in…Vietnam.

The event will take place over eight days in September, on board La Marguerite, a river cruise ship that sails under the flag of AmaWaterways through its Australian partners, on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam.

“It’s an opportunity to present something different with a more intimate atmosphere,” said Jodie Quick, director of The Cruise Gallery, the Australian agency that’s selling the tour. “Most music cruises are on larger ships…[this one] gives passengers the chance to travel somewhere more adventurous and exotic with the comfort of Elvis’ crooning!”

The cruise is called Rockin’ the Mekong.

You can only imagine what Elvis would be thinking.

Today at portsandbows.comCelebrity Solstice back to Australia for 2017-18

Carnival Magic
7 nights
January 31, 2016
Galveston (return): Key West, Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Friday File: A Market In Vietnam

In a country such as Vietnam, markets are far more than tourist attractions; they are the lifeblood of its people, who depend on catches of the day and main courses that North Americans regard as delicacies for their survival. For locals, every day is market day, sometimes without closures. Fellow cruisers on AmaWaterways’ new river ship AmaDara had an opportunity to visit this Cai De market, not far from Ho Chi Minh City, and to photograph its contents and its people…

1-dozens of rice varieties

Southeast Asia seems to have as many types of rice as it has dialects.

2-a family affair

Markets are family affairs for vendors, and the youngest learn that early.

3-yep...those are rats

To the question “Are those what I think they are?” the answer is “Yes — rats.”

4-winning smile

A friendly wave and winning smile, trademarks of the Vietnamese people.

5-the dollar store of the market

The dollar store of Cai De’s market, on the shores of the Mekong River.

6-Live chickens

Yes, those are chickens and they’re alive only until winding up on a plate.

7-Vietnamese hats

Beneath the conical hat’s perfect cone is a woman happy at work in the market.

8-even games of chance...

This was a surprise but maybe shouldn’t have been — games of chance sold here.

9-If there was an award for best sox..

If Cai De had an award for coolest socks, chances are this would be a winner.

In the news…

• Explorer of the Seas rocked with tornado-like winds off Australian coast
• MSC confirms private island in Bahamas to be Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve
• Three norovirus outbreaks in three months on cruise ships in Australia

Today at portsandbows.com: Azamara unveils itineraries three years early

Holland America Noordam
7 nights
May 1, 2016
Vancouver (return): Inside Passage, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $99

Southeast Asia Tourist Visas 

It’s likely that more North American cruisers will be visiting Southeast Asia, if not this winter then certainly in the foreseeable future, because more cruise lines from both genres are establishing a stronger presence.

As first-timers to that part of the world this year, we had to be educated about the coming and going to countries we’d never come to or gone from before 2015.

That would be tourist visas.

In our case, we were going on the new AmaWaterways river cruiser, the AmaDara, and it goes up and down the Mekong River in both Cambodia and Vietnam. In terms of customs, that meant coming to Cambodia and going from Vietnam. If you’re particularly nervous about this, the cruise lines will make it as easy as possible for you — through a third party, at a price we didn’t want to pay.

So we decided to go it alone, and here’s what we discovered…

Cambodia: This can be done online at the Embassy of the King of Cambodia. All you Cambodia visaneed is a passport, some time and a credit card. One cautionary note…your passport must be valid for six months from the date you enter Cambodia. The process took about a week. We printed the e-Visas at home. The cost: about $40 US.

Vietnam: Perhaps because it’s a Communist country, this was slightly more complicated, Visa-Bob copybut it’s still an online process and your passport only needs to be valid for one month from when the Vietnam visa expires. Again, the process from submission to receipt of the visas took about a week, and came by mail. The cost: $110.

For both, we paid $300 US. The process was not at all intimidating, contrary to what we’d anticipated.

Had we gone through the third party to get our tourist visas, the cost would have been $412 each…$824 for both.

In the news…

• Financing in place for Royal Caribbean’s fourth and fifth Quantum Class ships
• Fake doctor treated passengers on Aida ships for five years arrested in Berlin
• Contrary to reports, Star Cruises won’t be deploying ships to the Mediterranean

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise news and views you can use

Enchantment of the Seas
3 nights
May 16, 2016
Miami (return): CocoCay, Nassau
Inside: $201
Cost per day: $67

Friday File: A Taste Of Southeast Asia

When you go to a foreign land and eat local food, sometimes you’re never quite sure what you’re eating, or if you are indeed eating what the locals say. It is a culinary adventure, to say the least, and after visiting Southeast Asia for the first time we better understood why locals eat what they do, we shared many of their dishes and we came home raving about the food of Cambodia and Vietnam, especially Vietnam. Some of the servings surprised as, as they probably will you…


When you visit a cricket farm, as we did in Vietnam, you naturally expect to see crickets and you anticipate being invited to eat them. We were — and did…okay, one of us did.

Cambodian soup

The most popular dish on the AmaDara river cruiser was, without question, Cambodian soup and while it was often available throughout the day it was a breakfast specialty.

Version 2

Vietnamese spring rolls are available on this side of the Pacific but the ones at our favourite Saigon restaurant, Quan Bui, were better than any in North America.


This is not what you think, it’s just the work of a creative pastry chef on the ship, and it definitely tasted better than it looked, although Cambodian crocs are a delicacy.


This is what it you think, a man eating a tarantula. It was at a stop called Spidertown, the tour guide’s is Nyphea and the tarantula wasn’t wiggling…except when he crunched it.

banana, mango, dragon fruit

Dessert is always a welcome respite when you’re eating in adventureland, and this delectable trilogy of dragon fruit (red), mango and banana really hit the spot.

In the news…

• Legends In Concert move from Norwegian Epic to the Pearl
• Royal Caribbean's new catchphrase for marketing — 'Come Seek'
• Carnival latest cruise line to relax carry-on policy for beverages

Today at portsandbows.com: Preview of the new Carnival Vista 

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
November 29, 2015
Galveston (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $430
Cost per day: $61

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