Monday, March 1, 2010

Adventures in Vietnam

As a Vietnam Vet you can imagine the mixed emotions when my company announced they would begin schedule Airline service to Ho chi Minh City in What was South Vietnam. The last time I was there was in March of 1970. I was Flying 747s out of San Francisco and my domicile was given the trip. The first commercial flight by a U.S. Carrier in over 30 year began December 9th 2004 and I landed on runway 25R at Tan son nut Airport for the first time in almost 35 years just after 10pm local time on December the 11th.

Guess what? On first glance nothing much changed. Well, the streets were full of motorcycles but they were 4 stroke bikes not the smoking belching 2 cycles engines of days gone past and all the duce and a half’s were not belching black smoke as they sped through town because they were long gone. Don’t know much about life in Saigon over the last 35 years but the excitement I felt the first time I was there returned in a hurry that December night. The place was very much alive in a way only Vietnam can be.

Then I begin to notice things. There was a KFC and although it was a late hour as the hotel van zoomed toward the New World Hotel, restaurants were open, and looked fairly busy. My mind was racing as to what I wanted to do first. My buddy, who was flying the trip with me, was as anxious as I to hit the ground running. We had decided we wanted to go to the rooftop bar at the Hotel Caravelle for some Ba moi Ba (most pronounce it like BAA ME BAA) or Beer 33. It was a local beer we used to drink during the war among other things. Ba moi is Vietnamese for the number thirty and Ba moi Ba is 33, hence the name of the beer. The label just has a big “33” on the front.

We got checked in to the New World where the company had contracted for crew accommodations and boy it was a very nice modern hotel. We agreed to shower, change and be ready in 20 minutes. We sailed through the process with the efficiency only two airline pilots with 30 years of experience can muster on layover.

A quick stop at the ATM located in the hotel lobby made me a millionaire. I took what amounted to $100 USD out and that gave me over 1.6 million Vietnamese Dong. Into a taxi and off to the Caravelle. Le Loi Street did not appear to suffer from our 35 year absence.  It was busy even at this time of the night which was now close to 11pm. We were in a hurry because we had heard everything must close by midnight or one AM and we weren’t sure which but really wanted to make it to the top of the Caravelle before they closed. We made it!

We sat outside on the patio and ordered our ba moi ba which showed up at the table instantly, looked at each other, clinked the bottles together and said “damn we made it”.

I flew this trip almost exclusively until my retirement in 2007.  I will follow up with more Adventures in Vietnam as the blog progresses.

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