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Our Adoption Trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

By Lisa Clarkson

I just got back from HCMC where I went for our first trip for adopting Daniel (Tran) Van Hai Clarkson. What a whirlwind 4 days! This mail is very long, but hopefully it will demystify the trip for those of you who are waiting to go, and bring back nice memories for those of you who have already
been to Vietnamese!

We stayed at the Majestic. Not only is the lobby pretty, but our room was very lovely as well. Beautiful high ceilings, lots of moulding, marble bathroom. Very nice. I was so tired at the end of the day that I had no trouble sleeping. However, we did have an outside room and it was noisy. It would be much better for a light sleeper to get an inside room. But then we'd have missed the people exercising across the street by the river every morning! The morning buffet was also very good. I LOVE those tiny little tasty bananas! There was bottled water provided for us (a small one) each day, and a little fruit basket with 2 or so pieces of fruit. You can buy bottled water not far from the hotel for less than one US dollar for a big bottle. I did brush my teeth with tap water and had no problems. They also provide massages for $8 US for 45 minutes. Be prepared, however, it was the most vigorous (read painful) massage I have ever had. The masseuse didn't speak English and I didn't want to offend her, so I took the bad with the good. Don't be surprised when she gets up on the table and straddles your back to give you a shoulder massage. Then she got up and walked on my back! That actually felt really good. She did help my sore shoulder quite a bit.

Basically any decent clothes would be acceptable, except women are not allowed to wear shorts in Vietnamese government offices. So interesting to me, though, that with maybe 2 exceptions, EVERY Vietnamese adult was wearing long pants. The kids wore shorts. It is incredibly hot and humid in September. The heat wore me out as much as the walking and stress. Drink lots of water.

The Vietnamese people mostly travel on motorbikes. Have you ever seen a family of 4 on one motercycle? Two or three year old sitting in front: Father behind her. 4 or 5 year old standing behind dad; mom sitting on the back. Swooping in and out of traffic. No helmets. Unbelievable! Swooping through traffic brings me to crossing the street. Just go. They won't hit you. When we first got there, we stood at the side of the street and looked at the traffic in amazement. We had no idea how to cross the street. Then a Vietnamese woman started to cross. We stuck to her like glue. She laughed, knowing why we were doing it. Very nice people there! After that, we managed to cross on our own. ;-)

Sunday we got in and went over the dossier with the agency representatives (MAPS is our agency and they did a great job!). Then we went to the hotel, went out and shopped and ate at a great restaurant. It's up the street from the Majestic and in a little shopping alley (no cars, just sidewalk). The one we liked was open - eat outside. Lots of plants and running water. Very pretty. If you're in the mood for something mild and tasty and not too foreign, get the rice and chicken and asparagus in a clay pot for something like 2 dollars. Then we went back, BATHED! and crashed by 7 or 8 pm.

Monday we went to the US consulate to get the dossier stamped. Then we went to a Vietnamese office to get the dossier stamped. Then we went to the orphanage where they gave me Daniel to keep for the next two days! We had a piece of paper which allowed us to have custody of him in case anyone asked. No one did. I bonded to him quite a bit, and taking him back on Wed pm was pretty hard. It was a very long day as I took him immediately to the International Clinic. I was very concerned about the shape of his head, although I now have almost no concerns about it. They said his head was fine and might even round out over time, but gave me some cortizone cream to take care of his skin which was not in terribly good shape. No scabies, but not healthy skin. The cortizone cleared it up immensely just in the 2.5 days I had him, though. The Majestic provided a nice crib, and Daniel slept through the night.

Tuesday we got the papers back from the Vietnamese office and took them to the Vietnamese Dept of Justice. That was a little scary because I had to go in by myself and present the papers. However, the woman behind the glass was very nice. We waited a while, then Daniel's name was called and I went in to get the papers and hand over the wad of dong my facilitator had given me.We rested after that and then went to the Ben Tre market. We hired a taxi to take us. Only about one dollar for the fare. Bought several things including an outfit for Daniel. Had fun.Lots to see and buy.

Then we went to a restaurant that was out of the tourist district. We ate almost nothing because we were afraid of fresh vegetables. Almost all the Vietnamese restaurants put lots of fresh herbs on everything. Will be more adventurous next time. This trip was so short and concentrated that there was no time to be sick. The restaurant had some good stuff, though. I got sauteed pumpkin blossoms. The one I tasted was good. It was just barely sauteed, though, and wouldn't have been hot enough to kill anything that might have been hard on my tummy. I'm afraid the people there found us to be quite rude because we didn't feel comfortable eating anything fresh. It wasn't a tourist place, and we couldn't explain why we didn't eat. Oh well, I guess that's better than possibly getting sick.

Wednesday we were extremely adventurous. We took an excellent all day (8:30 to 6:00) tour of the Mekong Delta which includes lunch and snacks. It cost US $7. Yes seven dollars. My friend and I got our large American bottoms in a cyclo and rode that way to the tour starting point. The driver had to get a push start to get going. We felt bad, so we doubled the fare which was only one dollar anyway. Many Vietnamese people gave us very strange looks along the way!

On the tour, we rode by bus to the Mekong river, toured by boat, little boat, littler yet boat and saw lots of the river (boy, Disney has done a great job representing jungle rivers!), a bee farm with honey, a coconut candy factory where there were lots of free samples. The tour is by IDITOURS and the number to reach them in HCMC is 8361922 or 8368018. They are in District 1 at 195 Pham Ngu Lao St. Call the evening before you want to tour - let them know you want an English speaking tour guide. My friend said it was no place or a baby, and it wasn't, but luckily Daniel slept through the whole thing. He apparently naps alot at the orphanage, but he was so busy looking around that he slept not at all on Tues. so he was very tired on Wed. Everyone was so nice who took the tour, and the guide, too. Also the people at the stops. The people of Vietnam certainly seem to ADORE babies. We did get rained on while we were in one of the boats with a roof (luckily) and I had Daniel snuggled up in a shawl loaned to me by an Australian woman. I had a blanket with me for him, but the shawl allowed me to keep my blanket dry for the bus later. I was torn between taking the advice not to take Daniel on the tour and taking him so I could go with my friend who was kind enough to go with me to Vietnam. I really don't recommend taking a baby on this tour unless you have a very quiet child and are INCREDIBLY adventurous. I won't take him when I go on the tour again next time we go to Vietnam. A toddler would probably tip over the smallest boat.

Wednesday PM we took Daniel back to the orphange. Very difficult. Enough said.

Thursday we started the trip home. It's about 2-3 hours to Hong Kong from HCMC. Then we had a layover from 2 to 11 or so. At the airport there is a tourist info desk which can help you make some decisions about what to see in Hong Kong if you leave the airport. It's very easy to leave (but only if you do not have your child with you). No visa required. There is also a brouchure in the airport which has walking tours of the islands. That was very helpful and a good starting point for our Hong Kong adventure. We walked around and ate some dim sum and the whole time, transportation and food included cost us only $20 each. Then, very tired, we headed back to the airport and back to the US. We flew Cathay Pacific coach class for about $1100 each (RT from Charlotte, NC). The tickets were purchased only about a week in advance using Azumano/Carlson Wagonlit Travel agency (from one of the web site's list of travel agents). I don't think it matters how much in advance you purchase your ticket. Cathay Pacific was nice. The HK to LA trip had lots of empty seats and lots of people stretched out and slept. I personally have no trouble sleeping sitting up on a plane and slept for 6 hours. I did take a comtrex to help me, though. The service was very nice and the food was good except for my breakfast coming home. I would fly them again, although I'm not sure if we won't switch airlines to China Southern or Eva so we can afford the next class up from coach when we'll be travelling with Daniel.

All in all, it was a great trip. Can't wait to go back and get our boy! At the last office, when I paid the money, they gave us a receipt with the date of the Greeting and Receiving!


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