In a letter dated July 17, 1964, I wrote:
I am now ca. 31,000 ft. over the South China Sea, en route from the Philippines to Vietnam. We are supposed to land in Saigon in about an hour.
The flight has been fine the whole way. The only disappointment was seeing so little of Hawaii and the Philippines; but I wasn't actually expecting to see much. We spent five hours on the ground at Clark Air Force Base near Manila -- from one to six a.m. [ . . . ]
One thing I'll have to do without this week is Thursday. Thanks to the International Date Line we skipped from the 15th to the 17th of July rather quickly. I'm hoping to make up the day on the way back, about a year from now.
We also made a stop at Wake Island, but only stayed for about twenty minutes to refuel. We didn't even get off the plane there.
Land is in sight out the window, so I'll finish writing on the ground.
Next: My first stay in Saigon, 1964
My twelfth visit to Saigon was in July 1965, when I went there to catch a plane back to the United States after completing my year in Vietnam.
When I left Vietnam there were roughly one hundred thousand Americans in the country -- ten times as many as when I arrived a year earlier.
My plane this time was a Boeing 707. The year before I had come over to Vietnam on a Douglas DC-8, which was the other commercial jet airliner in common use at the time. (Boeing and Douglas were still competitors in the 1960s. In fact they didn't finally merge until 1997.)
Next: Thirty years later
My thirteenth visit wasn't until thirty years later (30 years and 13 days, to be exact) when my older son Nick and I arrived on a flight from Singapore on Friday, July 21, 1995. We stayed in Saigon Star Hotel and spent the evening at a restaurant in De Tham Street.
The city was now officially called Ho Chi Minh City, but most people still seemed to say Saigon. It turned out we had come at a time when government controls over the country were starting to be somewhat relaxed. People were allowed to start small businesses, and Vietnamese living overseas were allowed to visit the country as tourists -- or as investors.
We met a Vietnamese family that had been living in Canada for twenty years and were visiting their home country for the first time since they fled in the 1970s.
On Saturday, July 22, 1995, we stayed in Saigon and visited the Revolutionary Museum in the afternoon.
On Sunday, July 23, 1995, we went by pedi-cab to Saigon station and later to a bus stop where we caught an overland bus going to Biên Hòa. The bus was very much like the one in my third photo, even though I took that photo thirty years earlier in 1965. The bus was crowded and there was no glass in the windows, so when it rained -- which it did on the way to Biên Hòa! -- we and everybody else got soaking wet.
But in the tropical heat our clothes dried very quickly, and I was really pleased that I could finally ride in one of those buses, which was something I could never do as a soldier in 1964/65 for security reasons.
1. Cycling through the market 1995
2. Bird in a cage
3. A typical overland bus (my photo from 1965)
Next: The Sinh Café
Favorite thing: Be careful if u are travelling to Ho Chi Minh... they will just simply rip off, snatch your money... especially transportation..... The cyclos especially....... Will never forget they threaten us.... Fark!!!! 9000000dong.... for 1 hour!!!!!... my god.... be careful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Getting from one place to another is not as smooth sailing. You will need to leave early and give yourself enough time to get to your destination, especially if you're catching your flight or making your way to the tour agency for a day trip.
Even the buses, on a clear stretch of road, seemed to travel about 40-60 km/h.
So stay calm, and let not the traffic fluster you.
Favorite thing: You will find that you will save tons of money if you wait to book your flights once you are in Vietnam for travel within the country. The tickets were hundreds of dollars cheaper. Just make sure you go to a reputable agency like the Sinh Cafe or Vietnam Airlines itself. For example, I booked a flight from HCM City to Quy Nhon. In the US the price would have been $88 US one way. In HCM City the price was $33 US one way.
Favorite thing: Unfortunately one of the best modes of transportation that I discovered late in my trip was hiring people to transport you on the back of their motorbikes. Not only do you get to your destination a lot quicker than a taxi since the driver can weave in and out of traffic, but its far less too. Also its a heck of a lot of fun to feel the wind blow through your hair while zooming down the street on the back of one of these machines. If you wear contacts though, I advise not to take this mode of transportation because you do get a lot of dust in your eyes while traveling, unless you wear sunglasses.
Favorite thing: Take a cyclo tour in the city. It gives you a whole different perspective of what does all this trafic means. The motorized vehicle drivers realy respects those cyclo drivers and give them right of way even when the trafic lights mean something else. Make sure you put a cover on your mouth and nose. It's realy different from just walking on the curbs
Coming out of the airport in Ho Chi Minh, you will be surpised with the droves of local Vietnamese waiting for their new guests and loved ones coming back to their land, flowers in tow. They are a loving and hospitable people, with smiles in their faces, welcoming you to their land.
As we walked out of the exit area, taxi drivers started to ask us, in a language still foreign to us, for a ride to the city, to the apartment where we will be living for her stay here in Vietnam. One taxi driver offered 10 USD for the trip, but good thing we were instructed to ask for abt 4-5USD for the trip, I politely turned down his offer, then asked the next taxi driver. I asked 5 dollars for the ride, and he politely obliged, which I thought then was a good deal already.As the taxi drove out of the airport and into the city, we were suprised to see so many bikes on the road, and quickly realized that it is their form of transport, from the old trusty bicycle.
Like any other Asian country I have gone to, Ho Chi Minh was not any different. The roads are quite good, not too many potholes, and you could see many small stores selling their wares on the side of the road. We also saw a Jollibee store in one of the small malls they have here, and of course, San Miguel Beer ads. I felt a feeling of pride to see our local brands venturing into other countries, and able to penetrate their market here. - mmss
Favorite thing: I suggest to go out of Tan Son Nhat Airport and look for the taxis lining up at front. Most of the taxis are in white color and they're called Meter Taxis. Some drivers would offer you immediately after stepping out of the airport but they charge too much.
Have you noticed how many people are waiting to meet an incoming aircraft? They wait for you to get out but hardly would allow you to pass, and if you should knock them with your luggage, god forbid, frowns are in order..
immediately, approached by taxi drivers or their agents. It is five dollars to town, but viets pay much less, by the meter it is about 40 000 dongs less than three dollars...
Favorite thing: This is the street full of tourists also it was where Sinh Cafe and TM Brothers' office located. If you are travelling on your own as backpackers, this is the place. Buy your 'OPEN bus ticket' here. If you have been to Khao San Road of Bangkok, this street is the Saigon version of it with more bikes and peoples. Those guesthouses are inside these two rolls of shophouses, it's only a 6 feet wide alley walking like a labyrinth, once you are inside the alley, they atmosphere change into very local peoples' lifestyle with voices of baby crying, screaming, eating and...walking deeper again we can see some small signboard of guesthouse from these local houses, yeah that's what we want, knock on ther door, ring the bell, tell them you want a room. Average prices are U$6 to 10 for a room to fit in 3 of us with air-con and bathroom, woow! tha't how we enjoy Saigon.
Fondest memory: all the bicycles. when we went the country was only just opening up for tourists. there were bicycles everywhere.