Phu My, Vietnam

March 24, 2010

This was a return trip to Phu My for us.  When we were here two years ago we went into Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.  We therefore decided to try something different, and chose the tour called Highlights of Vung Tao, a town which is a beach resort that is popular with the people of Saigon.  Our tour guide, Hòa (pronounced Whaah) taught us a lot about the Vietnamese culture and language.  Along the road, as we drove toward Vung Tao, we saw much that was new, and much that was traditional.

This series of photos depicts the old, which includes French architecture and water buffalo.  The new includes high-rise buildings and a cable car which can be seen from the White Villa, the home of the former king of Vietnam.  There is much new construction in the area, and the people are as enterprising as they were two years ago; there are many independent vendors who follow the tour buses on their motor bikes, in hopes of persuading the tourists to buy what they offer.

One of the very interesting lessons Hòa taught us was about religion in Vietnam.  The religions include Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity (mostly Catholic) and one that is uniquely Vietnamese, where they worship whales ( the Ca Ong religion).  Our tour included a visit to a whale temple, which has the bones of a whale that died in the area.  This photo included was puzzling at first, as it looked as if there were many small skulls in with the whale skull.  We finally figured out that what we were looking at must be whale teeth.

Another interesting point was that the Vietnamese people tend to like to combine several religions into one.  We learned that a temple is a building devoted to spirits, such as the whale.  Pagodas are houses of worship specifically for Buddha.  One also finds the goddess of mercy in Buddhist temples.  The swastika is a symbol that is seen frequently in Buddhist pagodas - it has been used in Buddhism for many centuries, and is totally unrelated to Hitler’s use of the symbol.

The Vietnamese language is quite interesting.  Like the Thai and Cambodian languages, Vietnamese is a tonal language, so it sounds very musical when spoken.  A different inflection in a word can change its meaning entirely, even when the word is otherwise spelled the same.  Hòa used his own name as an example of this.  When spelled Hòa, the inflection is downward and it is an appropriate name for a man.  If, on the other hand it is spelled Hóa, with the upward inflection, it means ‘flower’.  He told us to be careful about how we said his name...

Our tour also included a visit to the White Villa, a magnificent old home with a large number of frangipani trees on the grounds, which gave a wonderful scent to the air.  This is the same tree known as Plumeria in Hawaii.  The house had many windows which let the breezes cool it.  There were also many wonderful antiques in it, including porcelain pieces which had been retrieved from the wreckage of a ship.

On the economic front, the country is exporting oil and huge amounts of rice, to most of the countries whose diet staple is rice.  It was not very long ago that they could not grow enough rice to feed the population.

Although the day was very hot, the tour was enjoyable.  The places we stopped were interesting, as were the lessons on culture and language.  We continue to be pleased to see how well the country is doing.  

                                                                       Buddhist Pagoda

© Susan L. Stone 2015