Sunday, December 04, 2011

indochina dreamer

Twenty-three stories over Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, from the open-air skybar atop the Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers.  (2011).

We touchdown in Saigon late on a Saturday night.  Amidst a swirl of neon lights and diesel motorbikes, the city is alive with fervor as our cab whisks us out of the tropical air towards our riverside hotel. 

It wasn't very long ago that the prospect of travel to exotic southeast Asia with present company seemed unimaginable, let alone possible.  But 23 stories over Saigon, here we are.

I suppose that's life.  Opportunities which arise are seldom perfect as we like to make up in our minds, but we're often best served to accept them as they are.  Because, who knows, with a little luck, maybe they, too, will be the start of something good.

Early on a Monday morning, we turboprop an hour south off the coast to the Con Dao Islands.  Long Vietnam's version of Alcatraz, today's Con Dao is slowly healing from the black eyes of the past, though the rough around the edges remains readily apparent.  For instance, a remarkable amount of crumbling rubble piles next to modest emerging tourist infrastructure in sleepy Con Son Town, the islands' only settlement of any size.

Still, the irresistible charms of Con Dao - isolated beaches, untouched jungle, cooling sea breezes - can't help but leave it with an indelible mark of being the undiscovered next-best-thing.  Thankfully for us, the tourist hoardes haven't arrived quite yet.  So, for now, we have this little slice of paradise all to ourselves, and settle into our little beachside bungalow with an unforgettable view.

The next day, we check in with the ranger station at Con Dao National Park, and inquire about visiting the islands' threatened population of Green sea turtles.  It's past nesting season, we're informed, but initial disappointment is replaced by excitement when we're told that we can assist with releasing some of the year's last turtle hatchlings into the sea.

We arrive at uninhabited Bay Canh Island via speedboat, where a turtle hatchery has been established by the national park in conjunction with the editor's favourite charity, the World Wildlife Fund.  Any lingering seasickness is instantly remedied by the sight of the day-old turtles, flippers and all.  I mean, how cute are they? The park rangers grant us unfettered access for the afternoon.

When the sun is low in the sky, the time's come for us to bid farewell to our new little friends by the sea.  From there, they will swim in the big, blue ocean for the greater part of the next 20 years, until the lucky few who defy long survival odds make it back to this very beach in which they were born, to continue the circle of life.

As the last turtle zips beyond sight into the open sea, we both realize, without words, what a singularly special day this has become to be.

More starfish and waffles to come.

City night lights.  Saigon, Vietnam.  (2011).

Sunset drinks.  Saigon, Vietnam. (2011).

Lotus focus at the Jade Emperor Pagoda in Saigon, Vietnam.  (2011).

Always leave the door open for a lost dog.  Saigon, Vietnam.  (2011).

Pastel-painted porch.  Con Son Town, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Walk at daybreak.  An Hai Beach, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Tubby.  An Hai Beach, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Beachside bungalows at Con Dao Camping.  An Hai Beach, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Sleepy, day-old Green sea turtle hatchling.  Bay Canh Island, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Cute flippers.  Bay Canh Island, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Follow the leader.  Bay Canh Island, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Last turtle out to sea.  Bay Canh Island, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).

Shipwrecked. An Hai Beach, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam.  (2011).