Letters Page | May/June 2012

A Distant Memory

Your article on Con Son island [“Vietnam’s New Six Senses,” March/April 2012], in the Con Dao archipelago, was wonderful. The place you described does not resemble anything I remember from my own day trips to Con Son in the 1960s. Between July 4, 1966, and July 4, 1967, I was assigned to a Vietnamese Riverine division in the city of Vinh Long as part of a naval advisory team. The small Navy contingent in Vinh Long was commanded by a senior lieutenant named Dawson Alexander. He was good friends with a pilot stationed in Saigon, who flew Navy transports—people and things—all over South Vietnam. Twice, on Sundays, when he came through Vinh Long, he flew about 15 of us to Con Son island.

The runway you mentioned in the article was just a dirt road, a hard sand strip that could barely handle a C-45. But coming in over the water from the north, you could see the whole bay—a beach sloping down, with the bluest, clearest water I had ever seen. We unloaded the usual picnic fare—beer, sodas, hot dogs, hamburgers and all the trimmings—and set up on the edge of the water. About 50 yards out, in the middle of the bay, sat a partially sunken sampan, a one-mast boat, wedged on the bottom by a storm. We had great fun jumping from the gunnels of the boat and swinging from the masts on the remaining ropes.

Eventually we were scoped by a couple of local prisoners—six or seven who came out of the woods. The prisons on that island were pretty harsh, to say the least. Most had really done nothing more than dissent one thing or another—they were political prisoners of Nguyen Cao Ky, then prime minister of South Vietnam. The prisoners earned a few bucks making hand-carved canes out of ironwood and other tropical woods. I purchased one for $3 and still have it to this day, though I don’t know why.

I remember the island as being so beautiful. I so enjoyed going there twice; they were both very relaxing days—something we didn’t experience much against the Vietnamese military.

I have never missed one minute of Vietnam since my return. To see Con Son island now saddens me. Being 73 years old, I know my view is somewhat jaundiced. As beautiful as it is described and pictured in your article, it is a place that I felt should have been left alone, in its natural state.

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Nairobi Above the Fray

I loved your Blackbook guide to Nairobi [“Nairobi Rediscovered,” September 2011], which is one of those cities that is enjoying a frisson of culture, commerce and really good timing. Yet I think you gave short shrift to the new boutique hotel Sankara.

After a fortnight roughing it in the Masai Mara during the migration, it was heaven to find a modern hotel unafraid to shed the omnipresent old colonial ethos. The staff is glamorous, the rooftop spa divine. By day it’s an oasis away from the chaos and by night one of the city’s chicest new supper clubs. The glass floor of the rooftop pool deck, which is cantilevered out over the street, reveals a wild bird’s-eye view of everything below.

At Sankara, we felt we were peeking into Kenya’s future—one eye respectful on the past, and one eye on the horizon.

New York, NY

Staying in Touch

I discovered the Departures Dispatch e-newsletter the other day and was transported by your post on the Orvis auction for a vintage Airstream. My grandfather owned an Airstream when I was very young, and our family used to take it camping in upstate New York. You brought me back, so thank you!

I continued to browse and enjoyed many of the posts your team has put together, especially your coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. I’m sure to be back for more!

New York, NY

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An Iconic Haberdashery

As a longtime fan of Paul Stuart, I was very pleased to see the store included in “Navigating NYC's Menswear Shopping” in the March/April 2012 issue. I have always enjoyed visiting this icon of men’s haberdashery and was recently impressed by their addition of the Phineas Cole line. Departures’ description is accurate: Phineas Cole manages to combine the very best elements of classic menswear and the modern aesthetic. Thanks for showcasing this source for men eager to unleash their inner dandy.

Leiper’s Fork, TN