2. Dispatch from Tan Son Nhat

Something was abuzz as we exited the terminal’s arrival area. Customs and Immigration had been painless, and with bags in hand, we found a sea of faces - all turned to us as we open the double doors into the late night heat.

Tan Sun Nhat airport no longer has its squadrons of US Air Force jets, but their huge concrete hangers are still there. The ramp where I first climbed down into the humid heat bomb of Vietnam is now covered with US built Boeing airliners, from all over the world. 40 years of change for the better.

We pre-booked a hotel off the web and airport pick-up was included, so we scan over the heads of the shorter Asian crowd for some type of shuttle bus or van. A group of white faces, Brits by the look of them, lean on their bags appearing to wait for another of their group - but instead they were looking for me! … or they thought they were.

Behind them stood a man, holding up a sign on a long stick that read “Welcome to Vietnam Mr. Rod Stewart”. After a 19 hour flight, this was a very welcome sight to us – but not to those tourists. A collective groan went up as this balding American and his jet lagged wife turn out NOT to be the rock star and consort they had hoped for. We piled into the hotel’s sedan and headed into the heart of the city.

Saigon is not as I last found her – she is now 6 million and growing. The ubiquitous smell of the GIs burning their shit with diesel fuel is happily absent. Starbucks has not arrived, but a “Gucci Coming Soon” was plastered across a storefront. Now officially called Ho Chi Minh City, she is not “just another big city” … not yet. Bicycle rickshaws are still about, but the 3 to 4 million Honda and Vespa scooters have replaced the bicycle. Toyota sedans can’t be far behind. The beautiful girls ride past, not in the gorgeous flowing silk au dai dresses and conical hats that I had admired so much - but in designer jeans and pant suits – chatting away on cell phones. The traffic is epic.

Our driver is Tuan, who no sooner finds we are Americans than announces he is anti-communist and a Catholic. He was in the Vietnamese Rangers during the war and agrees, almost wistfully, that that was a long time ago, when we were both very young. Many ex-soldiers here put their English skills to good use in the tourist industry.

It is lucky break that I learned English as a youth as my lack of language gifts are again reinforced. My phrases of Vietnamese have been mostly forgotten. I love hearing Japanese and Germans settling their hotel bills using my native tongue. Kind of makes me feel like a Latin speaker during the homogeny of the Roman Empire.
It is Friday night so we try to walk off my spinal kinks by joining other couples strolling along the Saigon River. My back injuries flaring up as I return to the land of their birth seems an ironic form of “Uncle Ho’s revenge.” 19 hour flights are not an advance of civilization.

The Saigon is connected to one of 9 navigatable branches of the Mekong River. On our first morning, as soon as we can negotiate a breakfast bowl of pho noodles and a cup of Vietnamese coffee, we will hop on a bus heading south, to start our journey on this mightiest of Asia’s rivers.

- Rock Star Rod