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Thursday, November 7: Day 199 – Happy Bathroom

We are traveling with Avalon Waterways on the Avalon Saigon which is the smallest, narrowest, shortest cruise ship on the Mekong so it can travel the furthest. This ship can go under low bridges. Our journey will be 400 miles.

The Avalon Saigon travels at 10 miles per hour and the captain uses radar, GPS, binoculars and experience to navigate the ship. Of these, experience is the best.

The two-year-old ship is 200 feet long and 40 feet wide. There are 18 cabins with a crew of 28. Today we have 32 guests on board.

We sailed through the most crowded canal in southern Vietnam so there were lots of opportunities to take photographs. Note the “eyes” in the front to scare off crocodiles.

Obviously, the fishing boats don’t have these “eyes” so they won’t scare the fish away.

September is the only month when the Mekong is navigable all the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Daily excursions are planned. When we go on excursions, we must bring rain gear, sunscreen, a hat, water, hand sanitizer, and bug spray. I also bring a fan. Khahn tells us when we have access to a Happy Bathroom or not…and I sure want to be happy so I take note…and tissues just in case.

Movies are shown every night and focus on the area to which we are traveling. Tonight’s movie is Good Morning, Vietnam!

Our cabin has a 14-foot-wide, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door allowing us to view life on the Mekong and even open the door to sense life on the water. We are cautioned to close the screen after 4pm due to insects and always close the door when not in the room due to possible rains.

Our cabin is on the first deck so the water is about five feet below our window. There is a fun seating area to observe this unique experience.

The lotus is the national flower of Vietnam. Rice is the national food. Bamboo represents the resilience, indomitability, and bravery of the Vietnamese people.

Vietnam geographically is long and skinny and has a land mass the size of New Mexico. Vietnamese school girls wear a long white tunic dress and conical hat.

Vietnamese Language

Here are names of six countries. See if you can determine any. Answers are at the end of this post.

Here is their alphabet. There are six words that sound very similar but have different meanings.

Here is a video of Phi pronouncing all six words in order:

History Since 1975 by our Guide, Phi

There was confusion. Land was nationalized or, in other words, confiscated. All people earned the same no matter their job. There was no motivation. Productivity was poor. They were allowed to purchase essential items. Propaganda posters were everywhere.

Here is an example. Phi’s teachers were allowed to purchase one bike, but when it arrived, it was decided that each person should have equal shares. One man got a tire another got the handlebars, etc. (true story).

Phi grew up on a coconut farm. His mother went to trade coconuts for rice. Rice fields had low productivity so rice was rare like pearls. Instead of getting rice, they were given a blanket and washing powder. They didn’t need these items, but needed something to eat.

Once a week they would leave at midnight to travel 5 miles over the mountain to the black market. It was dangerous, dark, and slippery. He would be cold and tired. Police could check their bags and discover the rice they purchased and confiscate it. Today he eats every grain of rice.

If anyone had a TV, the whole village would come to the house.

Because of high inflation the paper money became worthless and was replaced every few years. Most of the old money was not allowed to be traded. The elderly carried gold as money. They said “in gold we trust”.

Following the collapse of the South Vietnamese government, two million people left Vietnam between 1975 and 1995. About 800,000 fled by boat and ship and successfully resettled elsewhere. They became known as “boat people”. Crowded into small vessels, the boat people were prey to pirates, and many suffered dehydration, starvation, and death by drowning.

In 1986 Vietnam launched an economic renewal campaign called “Doi Moi”. Vietnamese can now own land and property. They are allowed to work for themselves. A ten percent tax is to be collected. Today in many ways the country functions like a free market economy.

At the age of 80 the elderly are given $12 per month by the government. The problem is that life expectancy for men is 70 and for women it is 76.

International tourism to Vietnam has grown rapidly to 15 million tourists last year.


The Mekong River is Mother. She has 70 million children who live in the basin.

Locals call it Chín Con Rồng which means nine dragons representing the nine rivers which run into the sea.

They get fish from Cambodia. No passport or visa are needed. We welcome Cambodian fish.

Each house has an ancestor altar. They celebrate the ancestor’s death day and they have the death date of each ancestor. Most houses have 3 to 4 generations living in one house. There is usually a shop in the front, and the most senior person lives on the first floor in the back.

The care of the ancestor altar is passed on to the most responsible son…most often the eldest. He is responsible for the property, house, altar and graveyard. The wife comes to live with the husband’s family.


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