USS Edson To Become Part Of Future Ship Museum

USS EdsonEarlier this week, the destroyer USS Edson sailed into the harbor of Bay City, Michigan, to the cheers of an expectant crowd. As Art Daily reports, it will become part of the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.

This museum’s primary purpose will be to showcase the USS Edson, which saw duty from 1958 to 1988. She saw action in the Vietnam War and was shelled by Vietcong land forces.

The USS Edson has been a museum before. From 1989 to 2004, she was part of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City. Although she’s been fitted out as a museum and is seaworthy, there’s still much to be done to make her ready for a new set of visitors. The museum is raising funds to get this work done and open this historic ship to the public. There’s no set opening date at this time. Stay tuned.

[Photo courtesy John McCullough]

Hanoi’s Oldest Hotel Will Open Secret Bunker To Visitors This Week

bunkerDuring hotel renovations last August at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi in Vietnam, construction workers discovered an unknown bunker thought to be used during the Vietnam War. While drilling near the poolside bar, they found a flooded hallway, numerous rooms and a staircase leading to the secret 500-square-foot bunker. Moreover, wine bottles, unbroken light bulbs, graffiti and air ducts were also found, according to VietNamNet.

“In the hotel’s history, there is a story of the American folk singer, Joan Baez, who sought shelter in this bunker during the Christmas Bombings in 1972, and who sang some songs beside a Vietnamese guitarist,” explains Kai Speth, the hotel’s General Director. “We don’t know of any other hotels, in Vietnam or anywhere else for that matter, that maintained a shelter for guests and staff.”

The luxury hotel is the oldest in Hanoi, boasting a 110-year history that has welcomed guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Fidel Castro and Somerset Maugham. That will be celebrated, along with the opening of the bunker to guests, on May 21, 2012. Likewise, people who actually spent time in the bunker, such as Bob Devereaux, the Australian diplomat who carved his name into the bunker in 1975, will also be present at the opening ceremony.

[image via The Metropole Blog]According to the hotel’s blog, some guests were given a sneak-peek of the Bunker. As a recording played of “Where Are You Now My Son,” a song Baez made there in 1972, each guest was brought back in time to those scary days.

“I knew that my guests were the beneficiaries of a powerful feeling for a place, and the past,” writes Speth on the blog. “Usually, people travel beyond the confines of a hotel for such experiences. But how lucky, I thought standing there with those 10 Americans, that my guests could experience that right here with us.”

South by Southeast: Hit and run Hanoi

You don’t just visit Hanoi. Hanoi visits you. Take a walk down any street of this fast-paced Vietnamese capital of commerce and communism and prepare to be overwhelmed by sensory delights (and annoyances). Motorbikes buzz around intersections like nests of angry hornets. Your feet trip over small plastic stools at street-side noodle shops. Vendors chase you down the street like used car salesmen, endlessly peddling a mish-mash of boat trips, tropical fruits and Lonely Planet guidebooks. It’s enough to make a Southeast Asian traveler go mad. But beneath this cacophony of life and movement lies an emerging must-see destination of achingly beautiful architecture, vibrant street life and cutting-edge culture. Get out of the way – we’re taking a “hit and run” tour of Hanoi.

For many years, getting to Hanoi was more of a roadblock than a green light. Situated in Vietnam’s furthest northern reaches, it was a capital both hard to get to and literally hard to enter. Veiled behind a curtain of communism and painful memories from decades of war, it was a destination most American travelers couldn’t and didn’t visit. But with the normalization of relations in 1994 and Vietnam’s admission to the WTO in 2007, tourism has been on the move. Nowhere is the “new Vietnam” more evident than in rapidly changing Hanoi. Where infamous prisons once stood, there are now luxury high rises. And in place of guns and grenades, you’ll find fashion boutiques and trendy coffee shops.

Ready to take another look at this on-the-move Vietnamese capital? Keep reading below for the ins and outs of a proper Hanoi visit.Getting In
Getting to the furthest northern reaches of Vietnam has never been easier or more inexpensive. Thanks to cheap budget airlines like Air Asia and Jetstar, flying into Hanoi from other Southeast Asia capitals is a snap. If you’re coming direct from the U.S., consider United Airlines and Delta, both of which now fly to Vietnam (with a layover in Asia) from the United States. For those arriving from points south in Vietnam, the country’s competent rail system offers sleeper trains for around $30-40 depending on the point of origin.

What to See
Hanoi is a city with a rich history. Anyone interested in the history of the Cold War will find lots to explore at the city’s many war monuments and museums, covering Vietnam’s struggle for independence as well as the conflict between North and South. In addition, Hanoi is increasingly home to a thriving arts, food and nightlife scene.

  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – The body of “Uncle Ho,” architect of modern Vietnam, is entombed at this vast complex. There’s no more surreal (and creepy) sight in Hanoi than paying a visit to Ho’s preserved body. Surrounding the mausoleum visitors can investigate a large museum and complex of buildings where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked.
  • Old Quarter – To see where old and new Hanoi collide, head to the city’s Old Quarter. Just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, the area is home to a growing collection of trendy art galleries, bohemian coffee shops and happening bars. These businesses mix effortlessly with the area’s chaotic array of merchants, selling everything from textiles to fruit shakes to motorbike parts.
  • Beer, Ahoy! – Hanoi’s street food is legendary. Stumble down any street and you’re likely to find delicious local specialties like Bun Cha and savory bowls of Pho noodle soup all accompanied by Vietnam’s infamous brew, Bia Hoi (draught beer). And for 25 cents a glass, you can afford to buy a few rounds for your pals.
  • Temple of Literature – Take a trip back in time to ancient Vietnam at this well-preserved monument to the teachings of Confucius and Vietnamese scholarly works. The Temple of Literature represents an oasis of serene Chinese-style pagodas in the city’s chaotic traffic-choked center.

Where to Stay
A stay in Hanoi is incredibly friendly on the wallet. Considering the range of amenities like free WiFi and satellite TV available at most hotels and guest houses, a budget traveler will find themselves spoiled for choice starting at around $15 per night. Great options include the Especen Hotel situated just west of Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. Shoestring travelers should check out Hanoi Backpackers, which attracts a happening crowd for its daily happy hours and is a great bargain at $7.50/night for a dorm bed. High rollers frequent the Sofitel Metropole, a grand dame of Asian colonial elegance, with rooms starting at just over $200/night.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

U.S.S. Oriskany, McCain’s old stomping ground, now a diving destination in Florida

Erik Olsen, former Gadling blogger extraordinaire (he topped 4,000 posts) has a recent article in the New York Times about the U.S.S. Oriskany, a battleship that was turned into an artificial reef off the coast of Florida near Pensacola.

This “great carrier reef,” Olsen reports, is one of the best places to dive in the United States and has put Pensacola in the money. Dive shops have done a booming business and the ship has generated a considerable sum for the county besides.

Along with divers, military buffs and those who served on the ship back when have come to see it.

John McCain, though, has yet to make an appearance. McCain’s plane took off from the ship’s deck almost 31 years ago on his last mission before he was shot down during the Vietnam conflict and found himself in the “Hanoi Hilton” aka, Hoa Lo Prison, most definitely not enjoying the city’s charm like I have.

As Olsen points out, there are some environmental concerns regarding sinking ships, however the Environmental Protection Agency helped to ensure the ship was cleaned up enough to be turned into an ocean life haven. Studies are being done to see what adverse environmental footprints are being made, if any. The fear is that PCBs are being released.

Regardless of the possible downside, barnacles, sea urchins and 38 fish species now call the Mighty O–the ship’s nickname, home. Also, it can’t be denied that sunken ships make great diving spots for folks who know what they are doing. Two people did die while diving at the Oriskany. One person died after getting the bends from diving down too far and coming up too fast, and the other one had a heart attack. The guy with the heart attack would have died regardless of what he was doing–even knitting.

Diving at the ship sounds fascinating–and I have a fear of drowning. Reading Olsen’s description gave me the inkling that learning to scuba dive needs to be bumped up on my things-to-learn list. Actually, I’m not sure scuba diving has been on my things-to-learn-list. I’ve penciled it in.

For a slide show of the ship, click here. Also, check out Olsen’s article. The guy can write. He can also scuba dive. This video was taken during his dive of the Mighty O. Plus, he can take pictures. The photo, as you might notice, is by him. Jeez, what can’t he do?

The Punchbowl: Another cemetery of note

Martha’s post on cemeteries got me thinking–particularly since a few days before I wrote a post that included one of the cemeteries that made her list. While Arlington National Cemetery is a splashy, must-see cemetery on the east coast, across the Pacific Ocean in Honolulu is another national cemetery that offers a glimpse at major happenings in the world ‘s history.

The National Memorial Cemetery for the Pacific, more commonly known as The Punchbowl, is a cemetery developed for those who died in the Pacific campaigns during WW II. Later, people who died in Korea and Vietnam were buried here. These days those who served in the military who want to be buried in a military cemetery are buried at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe, Hawaii, also on Oahu because the Punchbowl is full to capacity. Along with the history lesson found by reading the various signage in the cemetery, another interesting feature its it’s punchbowl shape. The cemetery resides in the dormant volcano, Pouwaina which was aptly named. Pouwaina means consecrated hill or hill of sacrifice.

As a person who wasn’t the best at paying attention in social studies in high school, I found my trip here fascinating. I had a tour guide though who had a personal connection. My great uncle who retired from the army as a Lt. Colonel and stayed in Hawaii after wards since this was his last posting (and frankly, if you were retiring and happened to live on O’ahu, would you leave?) served in WW II, Korea and the Vietnam War. Even without my uncle, you’ll get a sense of the far reaches of the people who are buried here. Thousands of them were never identified.

Here’s a website I found Acres of Honor, that has in depth descriptions of the cemetery, plus photos and movies. There is a link to visiting information as well.