I arose early to watch the trip up the Saigon River. The sun was already up by the time I got to the top deck. After the vast expanse of the South China Sea, the mouth of the river appeared small. My first thought, as I watched the river banks pass by was the ease of concealment for anyone wishing to shoot at a boat, something quite common a few decades ago. Next, life on the river is so different from life in the West. The river provides a home for many and the sustenance they need to survive.
On the South China Sea, I imagined the aggravation of tacking against the wind on an easterly voyage with a westerly wind. In addition to that, there was no air-conditioning for passengers. I do no know how sailing boats made it up the river to Saigon. Our ship had to buck the current for about 50 miles to reach Saigon. It is not a coastal city, rather surrounded by rice fields, jungle, and Mekong tributaries. As one nears the metropolitan area, buildings of all shapes and sizes increase. Shipping industries predominate, but also strange structures in which birds are farmed. Life on and beside the river is varied and bustling.
The river winds back and forth in a typical oxbow fashion, so one is offered views in all compass directions. The city appears on the right side of the ship (starboard for you pedants), and then the left (port). The banks present a changing melange of Vietnamese life.
Even from a distance, it’s obvious that Saigon is a city that has evolved and is growing. A skyline has grown from a fairly low-rise city of my last visit. Building cranes dot the horizon. But, from the ship one still spots only limited views of life on the ground. The ship arrives at a dock in the middle of the city, not far from the center. A banner has been hung with the words “Welcome to Vietnam”. They are surely happy to have more tourists bring money to boost the local economy. Girls wearing an ao dai (the traditional dress) wave and release balloons. It is a better welcome than I received last time, when no Vietnamese was there to greet me.
Next to our ship on the river, a Russian missile cruiser is docked. There is not welcome sign and I spotted no young girls. But, I'm sure that the souvenir shops and restaurants are happy to accept money from the visiting sailors. Of course, I find it interesting to be parked next to the former enemy in a land that
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.