28 Apr 2010
The trip was coordinated by Laborex Cameroun and was mostly made up of pharmacists and some of their spouses.
Our group comprising 27 women, 15 men and one infant boarded the Airbus A380 of Singapore Airlines at the Charles de Gaulle Airport Paris on the 31stof March for the first leg of our journey to Singapore en route to Vietnam. According to the flight information, the distance to destination was 10912 km and the flight time was 12 hours. The Airbus A 380 is currently the world’s biggest passenger aircraft and Singapore Airlines was the first to acquire this mammoth double-decker plane. During our flight back in the same aircraft, I asked one of the cabin crew about the number of passengers that were on board? He said that there were 427 passengers and the aircraft carries 471 passengers when full. If you add the aircraft staff, the number will surely hit 500---a whole village. You can read more about the A380 from this Singapore Airlines link http://www.singaporeair.com/saa/en_UK/content/exp/A380/index.jsp?
We had covered exactly half our distance when we were flying over Afghanistan. I looked through the window to have a feel of this troubled land. It was still dark on that early morning but I could see light glowing from a couple of villages. We then flew over Pakistan, India, Bay of Bengal, Thailand and Malaysia before landing on the Changi International Airport in Singapore at Midday. We rested for about one hour before enlisting the help of nineteen year old Mika (an airport staff) to lead us to our connecting flight. Singapore has a rich neighborhood (Bukit Timah) that shares a name with me. I told Mika that Bukit Timah (the hills of Timah) was the former property of my great grand-father who decided to migrate to Africa so many centuries ago. I added that on my way back from Vietnam I will stop in Singapore for four days and will seize the occasion to bless the land of my forefathers. She was somewhat bemused when she confirmed the name in my passport.
The flight from Singapore to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi took about three hours. Hanoi, a city of 5 million people is reputed to have one of the highest real estate prices in the world. Hanoi will be celebrating 1000 years as Vietnam’s capital this year. In Hanoi, we visited the Confucius Temple (built around the 11thCentury and considered as the first Vietnamese University and also the imposing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where endless lines of visitors are a daily phenomenon. Due to restrictions in the size and shape of land acquisition, many houses in this country tend to be shaped as containers. We stayed at Flower Garden Hotel and began our initiation into Vietnamese cuisine with a dinner on the 14thfloor of the hotel. Vietnamese are generally very slim in size and I certainly attribute this to their diet which appears light but rich.
Halong Bay: The following day, we took a bus ride to Halong Bay (one of the country’s main tourist attraction) in the sea of China. There were endless rice paddies on the way as is the case in most of Vietnam. At Halong Bay, hundreds of boats that can be described as floating hotels ferry tourists to view the more than five thousand beautiful rocky Islets & Islands of different shapes and sizes that litter the sea. We had lunch and dinner aboard and even danced before retiring to our rooms in the boat at midnight. We were offered the opportunity to ride smaller boats to visit fishing villages built on floating platforms and also an opportunity to visit a cave on one of the islets. Our adventure in the sea at Halong Bay lasted for 24 hours.
Hoi An: This is a semi urban town near the beautiful city of Danang in the center of the country. Our flight from Hanoi to Danang lasted a little over an hour. Hoi An is noted for her artisans, particularly tailors. Silk clothing is produced here and a tailor made suit can be produced in 24 hours. It is a place where tourists readily mix with the local population. You either chose to walk, ride a bicycle or rickshaw, or even go and play with fishermen in basket shaped floating devices.
Ho Chi Minh City (pop. 10 million): This is Vietnam’s economic capital situated at the Southern end of the country. I thought that there were many motorcycles in Douala until I got to Ho Chi Minh city or Saigon. Our visit to this city was brief but we squeezed some time to visit nearby My Tho in the Mekong Delta where we ate sea food and saw the rearing of snakes and scorpions and the manufacture of coconut by-products. It is believed here that extracts from snakes and scorpions play an important role in male virility.
The Vietnamese are quite an interesting people. They are very nationalistic and are more willing to look ahead rather than mourn over the war with the Americans (ended in 1975) that decimated millions of lives and left a legacy of unexploded bombs in the fields that continue to kill and maim to this day. The handicap most tourists encounter in this country is the inability to communicate with ordinary Vietnamese as they cannot speak English. Women and men wear trousers and both ride motorcycles. They easily interact with strangers and hardly overtly manifest their anger or frustrations. Mr. Ha, our tour guide was a typical example. I asked him whether in his six years of working with tourists, he has had more difficulties in handling other group of tourists than he has handling us? His reply was that our group was generally okay but for our inability to respect time. That was largely a true assessment as many of our members seemed to have been afflicted by a compulsive buying syndrome that kept them longer in shops throughout our trip.
View other 62 Images from Vietnam at this link
Njei Moses Timah