VIETNAM

 

For the photo album go to: http://www.cometosea.us/albums/albums/Circumnavigation%20Slideshow/Vietnam.pdf

 

April 20, 2006

 

A group of onlookers gathered at the quay in Danang upon Fleetwood's arrival, on April 10. They had lots of questions. A visiting Vietnamese-American interpreted. "Where is the rest of the crew?" "Where is your wife?"  I told them that I had been looking forward to this moment, to set foot again on Vietnam soil, with great anticipation.

A number of hands were extended from the high seawall and they witnessed me kissing the ground. For me this was a dream come true. Danang and later the other places I visited far exceeded my wildest dreams. My love affair, from the 1 1/2 years in Saigon in the early sixties, with Vietnam, has been rekindled.

I am writing this while sailing down the beautiful coast line from Danang to Nhatrang. The more emotional part of this visit will be searching for the familiar spots in Saigon. For background on my stay in Saigon go to my web site at:   http://www.cometosea.us/

It looks like the costs for taking "Fleetwood" up the Saigon River to Saigon are prohibitive and I plan to go there by bus from Nhatrang.

That is still a problem here. Part of that dream was to sail up the river, just as when I arrived in 1961 on the USS "CORE" with our helicopter company.  Our ship tied up at the foot of the main street of Saigon, Rue Catinat or Tu-Do, on the river bank.

But I'll settle for Nhatrang.

Ten years from now, when I approach 80, I might have better luck.

 

My first attempt to enter Vietnam, at Haiphong, turned into a major disappointment. I was aware of potential problems. The yachts that have been able to visit Vietnam in the last 25 years, can be counted on two hands. Except for a bi-annual sail boat race from Hong Kong to Nhatrang that has been going for the last ten years, or so. It was extremely difficult for me to obtain information from any where on the requirements for Vietnam. I searched the internet and asked the questions at the consulates in San Francisco and Manila.

Manila told me that all I needed was a $ 75 tourist Visa. By the time I leave Vietnam I expect to be able to give a clearer picture of how to take a sailboat into Vietnam. Many yachts that I encountered in the Pacific were anxious to hear of my experiences.

I had hoped to start at Haiphong in order to go visit Hanoi and sail through the incredible beauty of Ha Long Bay, very close to Haiphong.

 

I'll back track, for a moment, to where I left off on the previous log, the one for the Philippines. I left Puerto Galera on March 23rd. Puerto Galera is an official port of entry and exit for the Philippines. I had checked in and out of Cebu with customs. And I had obtained a one month Visa at Cebu Immigration. But, with the time it took to get the bottom painted and the main sail made, my one month visa had expired. I was aware that I had to pay a penalty and for an extension. I needed to get a port clearance in order to enter into the next foreign port.

I had expected to be able to get this from customs at Pto. Galera. But there is no customs nor quarantine office at Pto.Galero. Just immigration. I got very lucky because none of the immigration officers noticed my expired visa. And I was told that customs has nothing to do with yacht papers; that this is all done by immigration. It seems like every country and port has a different regulation. In Cebu they made this big fuss about us not reporting for quarantine inspection.

I left Puerto Galera on March 23rd. There were two days with very little or no wind and managed to squeeze just under 50 miles out of each of those days. I had a large school of Bottle Nose Dolphins visit. And something peculiar that I noticed was that at one given moment, while I was trying to take some pictures, they all froze in their game and in a split second they all took off, as if someone blew a whistle on them. Two Boobies took up roost on Fleetwood's boom for two nights and a swallow also booked for one night in the middle of the China Sea. Even an ordinary house sparrow flew into the cabin one morning, also in the middle of the China Sea.

There were lots of fishing stakes planted all over the China Sea and the Tonkin Gulf. Mostly set by Vietnamese fishermen.

And lots of garbage floating around. Several times my trolling line caught a plastic bag but I did get one very nice Mahi Mahi that went into Sashimi and a fried fish dinner.

I had to round the Chinese island of Hainan to get to Haiphong. I never saw it because of a consistent haze. The water temperature of the Gulf of Tonkin is at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than what I have been used to for the last year.  There are no sea birds in the Gulf of Tonkin. Here, to-day on the trip to Nhatrang, out of the Gulf of Tonkin, I saw a couple flocks of small Terns.

At night I had to thread my way through fishing fleets. Many of them are all lit up and apparently jigging for squid. During the day I would encounter these boats, anchored in the middle of nowhere, getting their sleep.    

 

I sent an e-mail to the Port of Haiphong a week before my April 2nd arrival advising my e.t.a. and asking them for their required procedures. This e-mail went unanswered. When I got within 25 miles of Haiphong I managed to raise the port authority on channel 16.

They advised me to contact the Harbor Pilot. Who in turn directed me to stand by at a given GPS location, still about 15 miles from the harbor in the Gulf of Tonkin. They asked me who my agent was. I told them I did not have one and also questioned the need for a pilot.

At first I was advised that the pilot boat was 1 mile away from me and on its way. Next I was told to stand by on channel 16.

Channel 16 is the international emergency VHF channel. All boats are required to monitor it for possible assistance to a nearby problem. And it is used to call other boats and shore stations but one is then required to immediately switch to a non emergency channel. But they do not take that very seriously here. I was listening to an apparent girl friend singing a love song to her fisherman, on Ch 16. No action from the pilot. I finally put down anchor and tried again the following morning. It was a rough anchorage between other vessels also waiting for the pilot, in an exposed rough stretch of open sea. At around 1 p.m., I was told that the border patrol would come out and guide me into Haiphong. Three very seasick border patrol officers boarded from the patrol boat. They could hardly fill out all the forms in their seasick state. Two of them transferred back to the patrol boat and the least seasick older officer stayed aboard and directed me up the Red River. I tied up against, about, a 250 foot long coast guard cutter in Haiphong port which is still downstream from the city of Haiphong. This was just before dark. Two officers of the Port Control office came aboard and had me fill out a number of forms.

The Border Patrol officer took my passport and my last port clearance papers. And these were supposed to be returned the next morning with the immigration officer. The chief, 5 star epaulettes on his Russian army style uniform, of the border patrol also had come aboard again and he told me that everything was in order and that all I needed was to wait for the immigration officer. He gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him when I intended to travel to Hanoi by local bus. The next day nothing happened. The border patrol had posted a guard onboard with me. The first night he sat on the coast guard cutter the next night he slept in my cabin.

The coast guard men invited me aboard. That was at first objected to by the guard. But after calling his chief he let me aboard. They let me use their showers. The cutter was built by Damen shipyard in Gorinchem, Holland. The coast guard men were very kind and threw a great dinner party on, the last evening. With many excellent dishes and rounds of Lieu Moi, rice alcohol. The next day one of the port control men returned, with an immigration officer. And I was then told to leave the next morning. I asked why. They replied that they did not know the reason. They just acted on higher orders. I was absolutely devastated. I pleaded with them and I detected a certain air of glee on the part of the older immigration officer, with my disappointment.

I was out of water and food and also low on diesel. They asked me for a list and they would get this for me. And they did. They did not want payment for it.

One of the cutter's officers found the phone number for the American Embassy in Hanoi for me, because I wanted to advise them of my predicament and see if they had any suggestions. The guard would not let me make any telephone calls. I was also told that I could not use my radios on board. When I realized the finality of their decision, I asked if I could at least sail through Ha Long Bay on the way out.

Ha Long Bay is known for it's unusual limestone spired islands But they told me that I could not and to head out straight for the open ocean.  I asked them if I could try the first major harbor south of Haiphong, Danang. The immigration officer replied that he had no opinion on that.

The Red River reminded me of a European river like the Rhine or Seine. There were river barges identical to the ones in Europe. There was a strong current running to the sea from noon till midnight and then it would flood back in. Large freighters passed by and small sampans rowed with the oarswomen standing up and facing forward, their bodies moving back and forth in a sensual motion.

The haze lifted some and I was able to get a distant glance at the unusual shapes of the small islands on the edge of Ha Long Bay.

Ever since I saw the movie "Indochine" with Katherine Denueve I wanted to see this magical place. I hope that I will be allowed some day in the future.

It was a four day sail to Danang. The wind was from different directions and I had some excellent upwind sailing in smooth seas and 10 to 15 knots of breeze. I had had an exchange of e-mail with the American Embassy in Hanoi. I reported my Haiphong disappointment and the fact that I was not allowed to telephone them and I asked them for possible suggestions on how to avoid the Haiphong experience in Danang. They suggested that I use an agent and gave me a name. This agent never responded to me. But when I got to call the port control at Danang they suggested an other agency. And they were very helpful. Mr. Tran Van Vui of Falcon Shipping Co

falcon@dn.falconship.com  He gave me an estimate of the costs between $400 and $ 500. I spent the night in Danang Bay anchored at the pilot station. The next morning the pilot came aboard and showed me the way into the river port. The city of Danang is built on the peninsula formed by the bay shore and the estuary of the Han River. The bay reminded me of the San Francisco bay and the layout of Danang to that of Alameda, California. Going up the river, a fishing boat was coming out and a young man was standing in the bow

with incense sticks clasped in his hands. A moment later he ripped open a pack of colored papers that he then threw out over the water, next was a sprinkling of rice. This is done to assure a good catch.

I got to get a closer look at the strange looking large baskets that the bigger fishing boats carry. They are woven from bamboo and made watertight with bitumen/asphalt type emulsion. They are about 5 foot in diameter and about 3 foot deep. Each boat stacks about ten of these, like Tupperware. They are used as skiffs to fish from in the open ocean. They are skulled with one oar. It is amazing to see these round awkward looking things moving in a straight line on the water. The photo album shows several of these basket boats.

The pilot directed me to tie up on the river quay just downstream from the coast guard cutter. This one was identical to the one in Haiphong. The third of its kind is stationed in Vungtau. I needed a pilot like another hole in my head. The navigation was very simple and straightforward with the buoying system. The port control did let me leave Danang without the use of a pilot.

The Han river was not quite as busy as the Red River, large freighters stay out in the bay port. But there were plenty of fishing boats and smaller coastal freighters passing by. My agent, Vui, came to the boat right away and accompanied me to the Port Control office   

where again lots of forms were processed, with tons of copies. The immigration officer also had his spot in the Port Control office, which was adjacent to my moorage. I indicated that I planned to visit the old imperial city Hue and also Hanoi from Danang road and air. The port control wanted to know the exact schedule. And they wanted me to have a police guard at the boat for when I was gone overnight.

Now I was finally able to see Danang. The agent took me on the back of his motor bike. There are more cars in Centralia, Washington than in all of Vietnam. The most common vehicle is a light motor bike, there are lots of bicycles, some scooters and the leg powered pedicabs. The moto cyclo, the motorized pedicab,  that was so common in Saigon has disappeared from the streets. You had better come and enjoy Vietnam before they all have to have a car.  Even taxis, the four wheelers, are uncommon here because most use the motor bike "taxis".

I was ecstatic when we rode through the streets of Danang. Many memories came back. The wide tree lined streets, side walk cafes, attractive two and three story narrow buildings. No squalor and garbage like you see in the Philippines, P.N.G. and the Solomons.

The smell of the charcoal fired sidewalk food caterers. The Han River has a wide promenade for several miles in the downtown section

with a wide boulevard and large colonial style official buildings. The old French ochre/yellow painted masonry buildings and fence walls;

and many new large buildings done in a matching style. You can see the old people do their Tai Chi exercises along the river.

Lots of large high rise hotels in town and on the river front, with several under construction. All done in very pleasing architectural styles. The Vietnamese have a very strong sense for form and you just do not see any ugly clashing structures. The streets are swept and garbage collected. You do not see the black grime and mildew stains on the buildings like in the countries I already mentioned.

They clean them and it might also be due to the lack of automobile exhaust.

 

There were some fears in me that I might be disappointed on my first encounter of Vietnam. But the opposite has happened.

Because of the non democratic system I had also expected a certain dreariness on the part of the people. I find them even gayer and playful than before. These people have accomplished an incredible feat, from the mess that we left them in, in the mid seventies. And done with little outside assistance. The first day in Danang, I bought a second hand little Sony Cybershot digital camera to replace the second Canon Powershot S1 2S that crapped out on me. That Thursday and Friday I took a $ 3.00 roundtrip bus to Hue. This was the Imperial capital city of Vietnam till 1946, when the emperor abdicated to Ho Chi Minh. There are a number of photos of Hue in the album. Many of the temples, palaces etc., go back to as far as the 8th century. It was unfortunate that much of the central part of the "Citadel", the walled and the forbidden city, were destroyed in the Indochina war and later during the American presence.

It is just beautifully situated on the Pearl River and its branches. I rented a bike and snooped around the back streets and alleys. I came upon a boat model builder by smelling the familiar exotic wood odors. I was asked to come join a Budhist funeral party and drink tea and rice alcohol with a family of boatsmen, living on the river. I stayed in a quite nice small hotel for $ 8.00 I met many Europeans, back packing and also many in tour groups. When our bus halted, for a break, on the way to Hue I ran into a group of Swiss from another bus. I joined them at a table in a Gazebo overlooking the beach; a 100 yards from the main restaurant. People in the restaurant wondered what was going on. I just had to have my Swiss friends hear me sing "Vogelisi". A song in Schwitzer Duetsch that I had learned in my skiing days in Berner Oberland. All the Swiss joined in.

I returned to Danang on Good Friday and attended mass. The church was packed and many had to stand outside.

On Saturday morning I flew to Hanoi. This is another beautiful city with the usual French large boulevards and impressive colonial buildings and lots of very swanky hotels. I rented a bicycle again. The Red River that runs through Hanoi does not really approach the dominant part it forms with the city like the Han River in Danang and the Pearl River in Hue, because it has very wide levies and it is not really accessible from the city. But Hanoi has the Hoan Kiem Lake bordered with wide tree shaded promenades and the pagoda temple in it.

The bike took me again to some back alleys, a centuries old bakery where I was invited in for a taste of rice wine. And later a group of men smoking the water pipe asked me to hunch down and share the smoke.

Sunday morning I went to Easter Mass, which was celebrated in French. The previous Vietnamese service was again jam packed. There were 6 masses that day.     

I flew back to Danang that Sunday afternoon.

On Monday my faithful motor bike taxi rider, Tam, took me to the ancient village of Hoi An and to Marble Mountain. The photo album speaks for these places.  The Marble Mountains rise out of the flat coastal area, just South of Danang.  Centuries ago and more recently Buddha statues were carved out of the rocks and in the caves. Hoi An is an old sleepy fishing village with century old buildings. Unfortunately most of the nice old buildings have been turned into art galleries and curio shops. The ride along the coast was very nice. We came along China Beach, which was a recreation area for the US troops.

Little is left of the American presence. In Danang there is a Ho Chi Minh museum with a number of captured American tanks, helicopters and artillery pieces, also an L-19 single engine plane. Our 57th Transportation Helicopter company used those as spotter planes when I was in Vietnam.

 

I left Danang on Tuesday morning. And I had a nice sail for most of the way. The wind again was fickle at times and I had to motor part of the way. Again spots with thick fishing fleets.

The last night in particular with many unlit boats that would at the last moment shine their spot lights on me. During day light they would like to come along side and start a lively conversation. I started the same routine again at Nhatrang on Saturday, April 22nd, by calling Port Control on Channel 16, next I called the Pilot. The Pilot was absolutely impossible to understand. I do think he thought he was speaking English. And possibly it works for his standard foreign clients that have a straight forward service to be done for.  In my case he just was not prepared to make him self understood. This is a really big problem wherever you go in Vietnam. Their knowledge of English is very limited or practically not understandable, particularly on the phone or VHF. I consider that with the six languages I understand that I have a leg up on this problem, but I am struggling here. I am trying to enlarge my Vietnamese vocabulary with a phrase book I am studying.

In the end the port control; came to the rescue and let me proceed without pilot into Nhatrang. It is a real pretty entry with a couple of small islands and then the larger Hon Tre Island to the east of Nhatrang. Hon Tre has some real pretty coves with white sandy beaches that would make an ideal anchorage for us cruisers, if they will ever let us. The largest bay nearest to Nhatrang has an enormous 5 start resort on it, Vinapearl. I dropped my anchor in front of it, before I got the news from Nhatrang to proceed on my own into port.

But the hotel people chased me out of there.

When I got close to the old port a launch met me with my agent, Chau, and the immigration officer. They showed me where to anchor in a semi protected bay close to the commercial docks. And then we processed the trillion documents. I was dead tired from lack of sleep the nights before and slept twelve hours before going to shore the next morning. Mr. Chau took me around on his motor cycle. We first had to find the mass schedule. Then he helped me find a place to buy my $ 80 bicycle replacement. It's great to have wheels again. Nhatrang is ideal for that and I plan to take it to Saigon on the bus, from here. Nhatrang is even more attractive for tourists and yachts yet  than Danang. The newer part of the city is built Miami style along the ocean with a wide boulevard and a promenade between it and the beach. There are tree shaded parks, restaurants and some of the hotels have palapas on the beach for their guests.

Yesterday, Sunday, there were many kites in one area, guys playing volleyball and all the usual beach activities.

Hotels rise to many stories and several new ones are under construction.

I was invited to join a circle of young man who were having their party on the promenade under the trees. They had my favorite, pickled calamari and the Lieu Moi. These people know how to relax and enjoy each other.

I attended 4 p.m. mass. I managed to sing along credibly from the song book. I managed to understand that the gospel was about the unbelieving Thomas. This is one of the best places to see women in their best Oa Dais. Back in the early sixties in Saigon, it was rare to see ladies in other than their traditional oa dai dress. Now it is the other way around.

There is one more yacht here, the "Vellamo" a Swan 48 from Jamestown, R.I. with Phillip, a Brit, and his American wife Denise.

They came here from the South Pacific via the Philippines, China and Hong Kong and will be on their way to Singapore in two days. Nhatrang will be their one port call in Vietnam.

He told me that they used Saigon Tourist Services as their agent. This is also the agent for the H.K.-Nhatrang yacht race. Phillip told me that they were paying around $ 700 for their Nhatrang entry. I think mine will be below $ 400. I ended up paying just over $ 400 in Danang, this included $10 per day moorage and guard service for the 2 nights that I was visiting Hue and Hanoi.

 

Nhatrang is surrounded by a number of islands with inviting bays and white beaches. There are many great scuba diving spots. It is centrally located for excursions to other on land destinations and side trips to Laos and Cambodia. For example an “open” bus ticket from Nhatrang to Saigon is $5, to Hanoi $16 and from Saigon to Pnom Penh $4.

 

The second evening in Nhatrang, I met Allan Goodman, together with Phillip and Denise Gibbins of “Vallemo” Allan operates a company called GMIO’Seas Inc., gmi@pacific.net.sg Cell phone: 00-84-91-8509701.

Allan was a good source for information on the Vietnam cruising potential. He is an Australian who specializes in making arrangements for a successful stay in Vietnam for mega yachts. He is also the Nhatrang administrative host of the HK-Nhatrang yacht race. Saigon Tourist Agency www.saigon-tourist.com is used by the race for the port clearing agency work. He is in the process of developing a marina close to the location where I am anchored, in the old port area. He will have another facility that will be ready for the first small flotilla of charter boats from Phuket, this fall, in the Danang area, close to China Beach. He has also been asked by the authorities here to submit to them a plan that will make Vietnam more accessible to yachts. Even the locals here cannot just go out in a pleasure boat for a day trip to the surrounding islands.

Immigration insisted that I had some one aboard “Fleetwood” while away to Saigon.

They were going to put one of their men on the boat but I preferred someone I could understand. I found a young man. But then Immigration made a big fuss. In the end my agent, Mr.Chao, worked it out but there were was a price on it.

 

On Thursday night, I took a night bus from Nhatrang to Saigon, or officially Ho Chi Minh City. Most everyone here still calls it Saigon. This was the part I’d been looking forward to the most. And to fully understand my expectations I need to back track to the late fifties. I immigrated to the United States from Holland in 1957. One of the reasons I decided to leave Holland was that my draft classification and reason: “unfit for modern warfare” was starting to catch up with me. At first I was the hero among my peers for managing to dodge the draft. But after a while, I noticed that, particularly at my work, they concluded that possibly it had not been an act after all. But this meant that I was draft eligible in the U.S. I was married in 1959 and our attempts to have children, which would have kept me from the draft, failed and in 1961 I started my two year tour. In October of 1961, our helicopter unit was sent to Saigon, on the USS CORE a small 2nd WW air craft carrier. We were the very first company strength unit to be employed in Vietnam. When the ship tied up at the foot of the main street of Saigon, rue Catinat, there was a contingent of press people to record the event. From high up on the flight deck, I recognized an old Amsterdam neighborhood friend, who was taking movies of the event.

I yelled his name: “Ed van Kan!” The rest of my company had no idea as what was going on. We had not been told where we were going when we left Fort Lewis, Washington and most of the men had no clue were Vietnam was and what was going on there. I was the first one off the ship because, against the orders, I had packed civilian clothes. And the Vietnam government did not want that many soldiers in uniform roaming Saigon. Ed took me to the Continental hotel for a cool “33” beer. And through Ed I was introduced to a number of his press corps friends. One of them was Peter Arnett who worked for Reuters at that time.

Everyone had to have a valid passport. I went to the Dutch legation to have my expired passport renewed. He took it away from me because, according to him, I had forfeited my Dutch citizenship by serving in a foreign army. So, I spent the next month or so pedaling through Saigon, from the Dutch legation to the American embassy, explaining my plight for a passport. In between I spent a few hours swimming at the “Cercle Sportif” an exclusive sports club for the French and well to do Vietnamese. Ed van Kan had sponsored me for membership. In the end I did get my passport back. The Hague explained to the Dutch representative that, since I was serving in a NATO member service, I could keep my passport. I was having such a good time in Saigon that I urged my wife to come and join me. She stayed a year in Saigon and had a part time job teaching English. My employer in Santa Barbara, California paid my air fare to places like Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore and Penang, to visit our sawmill suppliers.

My wife accompanied me on these vacation time trips. I extended my one year tour and took my discharge in Saigon and went on another trip to Singapore and Borneo and from Saigon hitched a ride home on a US Air Force plane.

My company commander, captain Klippel, “The Deacon”, just could not stand me having so much fun. I am probably the only Vietnam Vet to be discharged at the lowest rank of Private.  

On arrival in Saigon I rented a $1 a day bike and rode out to the familiar sites. First on the list was the central square, with the Continental and the Caravelle Hotel. The wonderful Continental Hotel, from the sixties, with its open porch and high fanned ceilings, is now a sterile air conditioned enclosed facade. It used to be the place for the ex pats and press corps to hang out. It features prominently in Graham Greene’s “Quiet American”. But just kiddy corner, what Graham Greene called “the Milk Bar”, Givral, is there as if time had stood still. I sat down and savored the “Flan” or custard. This was the same spot where I had my very first “Flan”, 45 years ago. Facing the central square on Le Loi boulevard, is the REX hotel. In December of 1961 our unit’s soldiers were the very first hotel guests at the REX.

We stayed there for a couple weeks until our tent city was erected at the Tan Son Nhut airport. We had our, delayed, Thanksgiving dinner on the REX rooftop, the turkeys cooked in our own field kitchen. I had a beer on the rooftop and took a few pictures.

Next I rode out through the old Rue Catinat. It is a fairly short street from the central square to the Saigon River front. And it used to be where all the action was centered in and in the side streets. But now it is all broken up with new construction going on between the already crowding high rise hotels. The river front has lost most of its former allure. There is a very busy ferry terminal and tour boat moorings with constant flow of heavy traffic at the foot of old Catinat. The promenade under the trees is all cut up with construction sites.

I found our old apartment on 423 Hai Ba Trung street. It had not changed much but it is in a terrible state of disrepair. The beautiful court yard of the land lord has been incorporated into the building. The old man who is living there now remembered our former land lord, Mr. Ly-Lap.

My next mission was to try and find the place where I had my picture taken on a bridge over a canal in Cholon. I searched and searched and asked many older Chinese but finally had to give up. Cholon is no longer the distinctive China town it once was. You hardly notice the change from the rest of Saigon.

On Saturday I went on a bus tour of the Mekong Delta town of My-Tho and Ben Tre.

The Mekong is an impressive body of water and a very busy waterway. One of these years yachts shall be able to navigate it to Pnom Penh.  

Sunday morning I attended 6.30 mass at Our Lady of Saigon, cathedral. The church had been renovated for its 200th year anniversary, last year. The awful red paint is gone and the original red bricks are restored.

In summary, Saigon is no longer the Pearl of the Orient. There is a lot more to do than in the sixties but the old downtown Saigon has been raped and there does not seem to be a logical plan to the expansion. The old residential neighborhoods with the colonial mansions are gone, even many of the big old shade trees.

In its place are commercial and government structures. The soothing side of the coin is that I do not feel so bad any longer for not being able to sail up the Saigon River.

 

Monday morning I took the open ticket tour bus to Dalat, in the mountains north of Saigon. My main reason to go there was to try and find the grave of father Huysmans. He was buried there in 1971, according to his Vincentian order in Holland. Fr. Huysmans assisted father Crawford an American Vincentian priest who served the English speaking parish in Saigon in the sixties. I found his grave in a small cemetery cared for by the Sisters of Charity. Dalat, with its much cooler mountain climate, was a welcome short respite.

 

In summary, it is still somewhat premature to put Vietnam on your cruising schedule but without a doubt it will eventually happen and you will have the time of your life. The people, the beauty of the country its rich history its proximity to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines will make Vietnam the preferred destination, north of the Equator.

 

For the approximately $ 800, I spent on Danang and Nhatrang port costs, I could have flown here. But I would have missed the Gulf of Tonkin, the fishing fleets, the beautiful coast line, the hassles in Haiphong, the plastic bags and some really good sailing. I will be back before my 100th birthday.

 

           

                   Some Useful information:

Because of the distances from Haiphong to Saigon, there are actually three distinct weather/monsoon patterns in Vietnam. But in general you will have a South Easterly wind from December to May and then the South Westerly monsoon blows from June till November. I sailed to Haiphong from Puerto Galera, just South of Manila, in late March and then from Nhatrang I had an excellent sail, in early May, to the N.E. tip of Malaysian Borneo. 

First of all you need a tourist visa, which currently costs $75. And is good for 90 days and extendable. Visas can be obtained at any Vietnamese consular section. It took me ten minutes in Manila.

You will need a shipping agent. These agents usually only handle large commercial vessels. And most of them have branches in all major Vietnamese ports.

I used Falcon Shipping Company.

 

Following information was brought up to date on February 25, 2010 during a 3 months vacation in Indochina.

 

 

Danang: FALCON SHIPPING 

26 Hai Phong Str. Danang. Office Phone: 0084-511-892145 e-mail: falcon.dn@falconship.com

Tran Van Vui telephone 0084-511-887611. If this address does not work, go through the Nhatrang office.

 

 

Nhatrang:  FALCON SHIPPING (KHANH HOA BRANCH)

125 Hong Bang Str., Nhatrang, Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Office Phone : 0084-58-514.641

e-mail: falcon.kh@falconship.com web site: www.falconship.com

Mr. Nguyen Chau,  cell : 0084- 913.462.233 Mr. Huynh Chien : 0084-905.256.433

Mr. Chau is the director and the one I dealt with, Mr. Chien has a better command of English.

 

Another agent in Nhatrang, smaller operation, but also a part of a very large majority share government owned transportation group.

NHATRANG VINALINES COMPANY

34 Tran Phu Street (Vinh Nguyen), Nhatrang, Vietnam  (close to the old port moorage)

Office phone : 0084-58-889527 e-mail: vinalinesnt@vnn.vn website: http://www.vinalines.com.vn/

Mr. Nguyen Binh Ha: cell: 0084-913.461.306. Speaks English reasonably well.

 

Allan Goodman operates a company called GMIO’Seas Inc.,E-Mail : allangoodman@ymail.com cell phone: 0084-918.509.701.

He is not an agent yet and uses Falcon for that but he can be of great service for all the aspects of a good stay in Vietnam.

 

Vung Tau ( the coastal entry port for Ho Chi Minh City at the mouth of the Saigon River) :

Steve Thompson

T-BOATS HCMC, Vietnam.

E-mail: tboatenquire@tboat.com  website:  www.tboat.com

Phone:    0084-64-3533 415

Fax:        0084-64-3533 416

Cell:        0084-909.826.638 Steve Thompson is a boat builder and is in the process of building a marina in Vung Tau and set up for yacht clearing.

 

 

The main tourist and also ship clearing agency, state owned company, is Saigon Tourist Company, Web Site: http://www.saigon-tourist.com/

Steve Thompson.

 

Additional observations learnt from the 2010 visit: The high port and clearance fees and the need to employ an agent/pilot still exist. Much of this has to do with the archaic government controls. And permits are still required for every move a yacht wishes to make. But there are promising signs that the fees will come down and that the movement restrictions will be eased.

There are plans in the works for a better mooring facility for visiting yachts near the customs office in the old port. Allan Goodman is involved in it.