Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Vietnam was amazing! My favorite country so far, and the first country without a McDonalds.
Let me just say Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) is crazy! Out of a population of 8 million, there are 3 million motor bikes and a great number of them are for hire. As soon as we walked out of the gate at the port, we were rushed with offers for rides.
I went out with Rachel, Jennifer, Izumi, and out interport student Tien and her friend Coy. It was really nice to have people who know where their going and speak the language to show us around. We decided to walk from the port to the Ben Tanh market. It was actually pretty close, only a 15 minute walk during which we had to dodge through the heavy motor bike traffic several times (crosswalks are few and far between except for in heavily tourist areas). By the end of our time in Saigon we were absolute pros at crossing the street, just remember don’t stop, just keep going even if there’s something coming at you, they’ll just honk and go around. That’s another thing, I firmly believe that car companies put horns in cars specifically for Vietnam, all other countries just benefit from this action, but seriously in Vietnam they are truly needed. One of our tour guides described it this way. In some countries like England and Australia they drive on the left side of the road, in other countries like the US they drive on the right side of the road, then in Vietnam they drive on both side of the road .
Ok, so back to the first day. We made it to the market and it was so overwhelming. It was crowded and full of color. It took some time just to be able to absorb it all. Tien and Coy showed us a shop where we could get out dresses made and then we went back into the market to buy our material. I got three yards of fabric for $11 and the dress cost $10 to get made. Not bad for a personalized dress. Afterwards we split up and explored the market. I bought my Northface backpack. I wasn’t going to buy it on the first day but I got a good deal so I couldn’t pass it up. I was also able to get a Coach handbag that seriously looks real. Like some of the bags look blatantly fake but this one you can’t tell at all.
That night I went you to dinner with the 3 Rachel’s and Justin to a Vietnamese restaurant. It was authentic, like we were seriously sitting next to tanks of lobster, shark, and quite possibly the ugliest fish I have seen in my life. I decided to be adventurous with what I ordered, I mean hey how often are you in Vietnam so I ordered Pigeon. It tasted like duck, not bad, but pigeons aren’t the meatiest bird so it definitely wasn’t filling. After dinner we went to see if the Ben Tanh was still open, it wasn’t, it closes at 6pm but when the Ben Tanh closes an outdoor night market which is just as good or better opens around it (Ben Tanh is an indoor market). You can buy anything, a new outfit, shoes, purses, Columbia jackets, jewelry, wooden boxes, belts, wallets, you name it a stall will probably have it. It was crazy. There were also a ton of outdoor restaurants set up so if you ever go to Saigon you should definitely give one of the restaurants a try.
On the second day I was able to do a service visit to a school for the deaf and we took the kids to the zoo. When we got to the school the kids did some dances for us which was pretty interesting because they couldn’t hear the music. Afterwards we got to sit down and “talk” to the kids and draw with the younger ones. The kindergartners were SO adorable. There was one little boy that had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. I ended up playing tic tac toe for a half and hour with a little girl who’s name I do not remember because it was strange but it started with a K so that’s what I’ll call her.
Unfortunately we couldn’t bring the Kindergartners to the zoo. I was kinda bummed because I would have loved to have seen their faces. We all got partnered up with a student to watch over. I got partnered up with K. I was cool with it because at this point she was still a sweet 10 year old girl but later……. As soon as we left the school it started to pour rain. That’s what we get for going to Vietnam during monsoon season. It was still raining when we got to the zoo so we ate lunch first. The box lunches from the ship are nothing spectacular. Bologna sandwiches, and apple, Oreos, Capri sun, ect. K refused to eat anything but her chicken drumstick and then wanted to carry around her food the rest of the day. The rain wasn’t giving up so we eventually ventured out covering our heads with the few umbrellas, boxes, unfolded ponchos, whatever we could find. This is when K turned into the evil child. WE stopped at a outdoor where there were bears. One of the bears was really cute, it kept standing up and doing tricks for us. K took the apple out of her lunch box, threw it at the bear and hit it on the head. Poor bear.
My favorite animal at the zoo were the elephants. You could reach over and feed them peanuts. I felt bad for them because there were 5 elephants in a small space, but it sure was fun to feed them.
It was kind of funny, it rained the entire time we were at the zoo, but the moment before we got on the bus to leave it stopped, and it didn’t rain the rest of the day.
When we got back to the ship me and Rachel went out to the Market again. I bought so many things, I was loaded down (they weren’t all for me), and you must understand that even though I bought a ton of things, items in Vietnam are so cheap I only spent $20 max, but I’m sure less.
After eating Asian food every day we’ve been in a country so far we decided to go for some Pizza. Let me say, when you haven’t had Pizza in over a month, it tastes VERY good. Thank goodness for Vietnam too, we were able to get a large pizza and garlic bread for $5.
Besides food and goods, services are also very cheap in Vietnam. Since the day had already been so good with an amazing service visit, good shopping, and pizza we decided to end it with a pedicure and massage. For $19 US I got a pedicure and a 75 minute shiatsu massage. The massage was absolutely amazing. It was full body from a scalp massage to the soles of my feet. She even walked on my back. I must say it feels awkward to have nothing but a towel covering you, but eventually you get over it. The same massage would run over $100 in the states so I’m pretty satisfied with my good deal.
The next day I went on an SAS trip to the Cao Dai temple and Cu Chi Tunnels. Originally I had just planned on going to the tunnels but those trips filled up so I was forced to go on the trip with the Cao Dai temple. At first I was disappointed, but not I’m so glad I went. I actually liked the temple more than the tunnels. Cao Dai is a religion that was started in the early 20th century which is a weird combination of all religions. The founder believed that Jesus, the Buddha, and Mohammad were all the same person and the core teaching is being harmonious with nature, like many other Asian religions. The temple we went to is the main temple for all of Cao Dai. It is built on a complex of 100 acres. The temple itself is very unique, very colorful. The primary color is goldenrod but it is accented with bright pinks, blues, greens, yellow, and white. The symbol of the religion is the left eye so there is a left eye on all of the window openings, and since the religion is a mix of all religions there is a dome on the top for Islam, bell towers for Catholicism, and towers topped with Hindu deities.
We were at the temple during one of their masses. It was very interesting. Tourists are allowed on an upper balcony to watch so we got a great view of all that was going on. The women and a lot of the men dress in white robes with white head coverings, and then some of the other men dress in brightly colored robes and head coverings. They all sit cross legged on the floor, chanting, and when the gong is rung they all bow. I don’t understand the religion at all but it was very interesting to watch.
The drive to the temple alone was worth it. The town that the temple is in is about an hour past the turn off for the tunnels right on the border with Cambodia. Along the road rice fields stretched for miles. I saw hundreds of cows, water buffalo, and I’m pretty sure I saw a couple cebu’s.
I honestly wasn’t to impressed by the tunnels. Not to say the tunnels themselves weren’t very impressive, just the whole tour was boring. For those of you who don’t know, the Cu Chi tunnels are a series of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war. They were so well hidden that the US even built a military base over one section of them. Since we were in Vietnam obviously the view of the war portrayed to us was very one sided. We were even followed around the whole time by a soldier dressed as Viet Cong. At one point of the tour you are given the option to shoot an AK 47 (at a target of course). I now know why my grandpa is going deaf. Those suckers are LOUD. I could hardly hear out of my left ear for 5 minutes afterwards and I was wearing earplugs.
Actually crawling through the tunnels was pretty difficult. We had to climb down a couple levels to get to a small tunnel where you either had to crouch, squat, or crawl to get through. To make matters more difficult it was pitch black. I started out crouching, then went to a squat and ended up in a crawl. My leg muscles were definitely getting a workout. I was so happy to breath fresh air again when we got out. The whole reason I went to the tunnels was so that I could crawl through them and it lasted a grand total of 5 minutes. If I were to do Vietnam over again with this knowledge I don’t think I would have gone to the tunnels.
On Saturday I went on an SAS trip to the Mekong Delta. Unlike the tunnels, this trip was completely worth it. There were so many different pieces to the trip I don’t even know where to start. We took a big open air boat out to Unicorn Island (there are four Islands, Unicorn, Turtle, Phoenix, and Dragon. All of the boats have eyes painted under the front tip. In the past these eyes were there to scare away the crocodiles but now there are no more crocodiles so it’s just carrying on the tradition. On the island we walked on a trail through the topical plants to get to a farm where we were served fruit and they played traditional music for us. I don’t like pineapple, but I liked the pineapple they gave us, we also had Lychee (I don’t know if I spelled it right), a fruit kind of like a grape but much better tasting that’s incased in a spiky red “shell,” we had these little extremely yellow bananas that were very good, papaya that was bad, and this awful little brown fruit. It was disgusting.
Then we got into small canoelike row boats and went through the canals on the Island. There were 4 of us in the boat plus the two Vietnamese women who were rowing. I was sure to sit in the back so I could get some cool pictures of everyone ahead of me wearing their rice hats. The canal seemed to go on forever. The water was dirty brown and there were large palms and other tropical vegetation lining the canal side. It must be a popular tourist area because we passed several other boats rowing back up the canal.
At the end of the canal we got on another motor boat which took us up a small canal to a coconut plantation. We got to watch coconut candy being made and then we got to buy it  Then they set us down and gave us tea and rice wine (both were awful, but that’s from my perspective not liking tea or alcohol). As we were sitting drinking our tea suddenly a women appeared with a python. Everyone jumped at the chance to get a picture. The python must be pretty used to it because it pretty much just chilled there as it was passed from shoulder to shoulder.
Our last stop was at a restaurant for lunch. Our first dish was elephant ear fish. It was literally looking at me. They placed the whole cooked fish on a stand in the middle of the table. A woman came and sliced it into pieces and rapped it into rolls for us. I didn’t like the rolls very much but the fish itself was very good. I don’t even like fish but it didn’t taste like your typical fish. I honestly don’t remember the rest of the food we had, I just remember it was really good, and as soon as we were done we were informed that there was a water buffalo right outside of our hut. He was enjoying himself, wallowing in the water. I couldn’t help but think of the Vegitales song, “everybody has a water buffalo, yours is fast but mine is slow…” It was stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
Our last day in port was the only day it didn’t rain. Me and Rachel went out to see if there were any last minute things we “needed.” We went to the Rex Hotel for lunch and seriously, got a 7 course meal for $8. They even taught us how to make a grapefruit and meat salad, which was not tasty in my opinion, but hey, we got to make it ourselves.
We ended our time in Vietnam with one last ride on a motor bike. After being traumatized by my first ride on the first day I decided to try it again. The second guy was much worse than the first. He would go really slow and wobble back and forth and then he would go so fast we were passing everyone around us and nearly hitting other motor bikes as they dodged in front of us. Needless to say I was so happy to finally see the ship in the distance.
Overall I REALLY liked Vietnam. If I could do it over though I would definitely go to Cambodia and see Angkor. Everyone who went said it was absolutely amazing and I was VERY jealous. Then I would go on the Mekong trip.
We stopped in Singapore last night to refuel. It was cool to see the lights of the city in the distance. Right now we’re booking it through the straights of Malacca. It’s foggy outside so we can’t see anything, but there’s supposed to be pirates in this area so we’re getting through it as fast as we can.
Next is Myanmar. I’m excited although I wish I was going to either Inle Lake or Bagan. I can’t wait for India when I finally have a big trip to look forward to again.


Post a Comment

<< Home