2015 Vietnam Reunion Story

By Steve Raymond (Host of the Event)

Rich Freitas and his wife Jane, Gloria Owen and her husband Rick, and friend Marilyn Salinas, plus Jack Lucas and his wife Kay arrived in Vietnam on the morning of Wednesday October 21st. I met them all at the airport and transferred them to the Windsor Plaza Hotel. That evening, we met at the rooftop lounge for drinks, followed by dinner at a very upscale Vietnamese restaurant.

The next morning, all seven of the early arrivals went on a full day tour of the Mekong Delta, where some of them tried Cobra wine and didn't get sick. 

Late Thursday evening, I met Diane Flindt and her husband Donald at the airport and took them to the Windsor Plaza, and then early Friday morning, I met Vickie Flieger Settle with her son Ryan (Montgomery graduate class of '99) and his fiancé Kim and brought them to the Windsor Plaza. (I formerly managed the five star Windsor Plaza, so i was able to get everyone an excellent discounted rate at what one of them said was the most deluxe hotel she had ever stayed in.)

Rick Owen, Jack Lucas and Rich Freitas went to the Cu Chi Tunnels Friday morning, climbed down into the tunnels and saw how the Vietcong hid from American soldiers and bombs during the war.

Friday evening the 23rd everyone had arrived, so we all gathered for cocktails in the rooftop lounge at the Windsor and watched a spectacular thunder and lightning display from the 25th floor of the hotel. Then, we all went to Quan Ngon. The restaurant had been opened in 2003 by a Vietnamese man who travelled all over the country for a year prior, eating only at street vendors stalls. He chose the very best vendors and brought them all to Saigon to set up stalls around his restaurant. So, each item on the menu is prepared by a former street vendor in his or her very own stall.

On Saturday, everyone went on a half day tour of Saigon, visiting the Reunification Palace (The presidential palace of South Vietnam), the war museum, the opera house, the ornate city hall, built by the French and a stop at the city's largest market. Evening cocktails on the rooftop was followed by a walk down the city's promenade (Which looks and feels as if it could be in the center of any modern city in the world).

Dinner was in an Argentinean steak house that I had formerly managed, followed by cocktails in the 52nd floor cocktail lounge (and helipad) at the Bitexco Tower. Although not at the top of the building, the lounge offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the city from it's tallest building. (Another building in the planning stages will be the tallest in Asia).

On Sunday morning, our chartered bus took everyone through a tunnel under the Saigon river and onto a brand new freeway en-route to Phan Thiet. Before arriving in the coastal resort city, we stopped at Taku Mountain and took an Austrian made aerial tram up the mountain to see the largest reclining Buddha in Southeast Asia.

We arrived at the Pandanus Resort at around two in the afternoon, allowing everyone plenty of time to check-in, change clothes, get a massage and take a swim.

Afterwards, we gathered in the lounge to hear the hotel's own Stardust Band perform wonderful renditions of songs by the Platters, Beatles, Hollies, Eagles, Queen, Janice Joplin, as well as many more hits from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Although some people had expressed concern about what they would do for five days while in the Pandanus, they found plenty to do in the resort. They were so busy with Tai Chi, Yoga, tennis, massages, or just laying by the beach and pool, that they didn't even get to the orange sand dunes, just a five minute walk away. (Jack Lucas even gave in and had the very first massage of his life.)

On Monday evening, after wine and cheese in the Pandanus, we all took taxis to an Indian restaurant. Everyone agreed that it was the best Indian food they had ever eaten, but that the $6.00 per person price tag for food and drinks was a bit much. (The owner always gives me a 20% discount).

Tuesday morning, the classmates took the complimentary tour of the nearby fishing town of Mui Ne to watch as the fishing boats came in and were met by the fishermen's' family members, who gathered at water's edge to separate the various types of fish and seafood that had been caught the previous night. They set the tiny fish out to dry for fish sauce and took the other seafood to the market. 

That evening after wine and cheese, we walked to a local restaurant near the resort and ordered every one of their four types of hot-pots. Everyone complained that it was too much food. As with the night before, they all had to fork out US $6.00 per person for the hot-pots with drinks. Afterwards, it was back to the resort to listen to Stardust again.

Many of the classmates took the resort's Vietnamese cooking classes during their stay. Those that didn't watched and joined the lunches prepared by their spouses or other classmates. In return, Rich Freitas and Jack Lucas went into our kitchen and taught the Vietnamese cooks how to make American grilled cheese sandwiches.

On Wednesday evening after wine and cheese, we all hopped into taxis and went to Joe's a restaurant and resort, owned by an American ex-pat. We originally decided to go there on Stardust's night off, as Joe has live entertainment every night, but instead ended up having dinner out of earshot of the singer and by the ocean in the rear of the resort. The view of the ocean and the full moon rising over Mui Ne was too enticing. 

Thursday afternoon, I took everyone to the farm that my adopted Vietnamese family runs and where I am building my retirement home. After slogging through the mud to see our pigs, chickens, geese, etc. Thang (Whose picture I have with me on my profile) explained how the family makes up to 1,500 kilos of tofu daily.

On our final night at the resort, I had arranged to have a barbecue buffet at poolside, with the Stardust band performing for everyone. Thang joined us for dinner and almost everybody danced until they dropped.

The next morning, as we were preparing to go to Dalat, Thang brought coffee that he had roasted and cashew nuts from our farm and gave some to everyone.

We then loaded up a mini bus and a car with luggage and three "Pretty pretty boys (I) call friends" (from the Eagles' Hotel California), we drove up into the central highlands.

Just before arriving in Dalat, we stopped at a waterfall. A couple of the classmates walked down the hill to the falls, while the rest of us rode a roller coaster down.

The train villas in Dalat, where we stayed, are owned by an American ex-pat and his Vietnamese wife. They were originally built by the French train master and his staff, but Curtis bought the dilapidated buildings and turned them into a very nice little hotel. I had arranged with Curtis' wife to set up a steak barbecue in the garden. Rich and Jack were the chefs and the salad and dessert were prepared by the hotel staff. The setting was magical and caused everyone to drink so much wine that they all just wanted to go to bed afterward, although I had to go hear Curtis' band perform.

The next day, everyone went on a tour of the beautiful "flower city" of Dalat. Being in the mountains, the climate is very much like that of Santa Rosa, with daytime temps in the 70s and night times in the 50s. 

For our last supper together, we arranged for a private room in a restaurant which sits out on the lake in the center of Dalat. Dinner was a delightful combination of Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. 

Besides the train villas, Curtis owns a bar where his band performs nightly. They do mostly R&B and Fillmore songs from the sixties, but once in a while will throw in some Beatles or Stones. We walked over to the bar from the lakeside restaurant. I had ordered a birthday cake for Jack Lucas, as it was his seventieth, but I hadn't taken into account Curtis' penchant for drama. As we were all singing happy birthday, Curtis walked up to Jack and plastered his face with the cake. It was a fitting end to everyone's visit to Vietnam. (Jack took it quite well after he was able to wash the cake and icing off his face and clothes.)

The next day, everyone flew out of Dalat, some returned home, while others went on to Danang, Hue, Hanoi, Halong Bay, and then Cambodia and Thailand.