It's unbelievable that a city of Saigon's size might still possess undeveloped, riverfront land straight across from downtown. But that's the case. Saigon has been curiously slow to capitalize on the prime acreage of District 2's Thú Thiêm ward... but it hasn't forgotten it entirely. We visited while the area's most prominent tenants were still grassy hillocks and nuns. Five years later, things would surely look a lot different.
Although the merest sliver of Vietnam's population practices the faith, a number of prominent Hindu temples are located right in the middle of Saigon. We visited three in a single morning, all of them a short distance from each other in District 1.
Occupying a set of three colonial-era buildings in the heart of Saigon, the Museum of Fine Arts is packed with ancient sculptures, classical paintings, and contemporary canvases. It's all worth full attention, but we found ourselves moving too rapidly through the rooms, because there was simply so much to see.
We were already feeling overwhelmed; just within the bubble of our Saigon neighborhood, there were so many dishes to try. And once we started travelling around the country, we realized that every region has its own specialties. Forced to accept that a comprehensive exploration of Vietnamese cuisine would be impossible, we decided to just relax, and consume as much as we could. We might not be able to sample every dish, but it would be a most delicious failure.
The province of Tan Chau is famous across Vietnam for its naturally-colored black silk. We spent a day trying to find a place where we could watch it being made. Should be easy, right?
All we did was cross the bridge from downtown Chau Doc, and everything changed. The people looked and sounded different, had a different style of dress and a different religion. We had arrived in Chau Doc's Cham Village... and it had nothing to do with the Vietnam we've come to know.
About a half-hour by motorbike to the southeast of Chau Doc, the square-shaped forest of Tra Su has become a favorite nesting spot for storks and other large water birds. A visit to the water-carpeted park is a popular excursion from Chau Doc, and for good reason.
If you follow the Bassac River inland from Can Tho, the last town you encounter before reaching Cambodia is Chau Doc. We spent a few days in this ethnically diverse city, dedicating the first to its most popular attraction: the holy mountain of Nui Sam.
Part of the six-hour boat tour we'd taken in Can Tho had been a visit to a tourist-oriented rice paper "factory". That was fine, but we wanted to see the real thing. About forty kilometers north of Can Tho lies Thuận Hưng, which is locally known as a rice paper village. We took the bus there, to hunt down a few of the factories.
Apart from a few photos in a Can Tho tourism brochure, we couldn't find any information about little Cồn Sơn Island. But we decided to roll the dice, and visit anyway. If "Adventure" is comprised of equal parts "Challenge" and "Surprise", with a dash of "Terror" to spice things up, then our experience on Cồn Sơn definitely qualifies as an adventure.