My vacation to Vietnam was great. I took a week off from work and flew to Ho Chi Minh City for some sightseeing as well as friendseeing. I think I mentioned this a couple times but the initial part of my teacher training in Phnom Penh was in a large group that eventually split into three smaller groups (Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.) The Nam crowd has been here a couple times, most notably Songkran, and it was high time I go to visit them and their city. I was expecting the city to be dirty like Phnom Penh but I was pleasantly surprised. It was about as clean if not cleaner than Bangkok, or the parts I saw anyway. (I should say that any observations made were made in just that short week.) The big difference between HCMC and BKK was the traffic. The Vietnamese were almost entirely on motorbikes which I loved. I took a motorbike taxi almost everywhere and really enjoyed the ordered chaos of countless motorbikes rushing through the city streets like a river.
I spent the early part of my trip just hanging out in my friends’ house. It’s actually more of an apartment building but when the Languagecorps program finished there was enough people to get all seven rooms in their building. So I spent most of the first part hanging out (hey, I was on vacation) and seeing the sights around the city. The War Remnants Museum can really bum you out but it’s definitely worth a trip. My friends all worked different hours. Instead of working a steady salary job like me, they cobbled together a few part time jobs around the city which was kinda cool, ‘cause you get to teach a wide range of ages, except that they’d be motorbiking all over town on some days to get to all their classes.
Let me tell you now that a week in Vietnam is not enough. With my timeframe I was only able to check out relatively close things and didn’t have a real chance to get up to Hanoi, Halong Bay, or even Da Lat. That being said, I was still able to see some very cool sights. I took a trip up to the Cu Chi tunnels which was the intricate tunnel system the Viet Cong constructed. There was a lot of history there and it was really interesting. I climbed through one and they were unbelievably tiny, even after being widened for Western audiences.
Next I took a trip up to Mue Ne which is known for its nice beaches and giant sand dunes. I paid for a package deal that would take me to all the ‘sights’ around the town which was great. I was the only one who’d signed up for it this week so it was just me and the guide cruisin’ around on a motorbike. First thing we did was head up to the big red sand dunes for sunrise. The dunes were actually quite a ways up from the waterline so I had a really nice view of the road winding down into the village and the boats coming in. There were lots of Vietnamese tourists on the dunes enjoying the sights and sledding down the dunes on big sheets of plastic. Of course I did it too. One time I came to an abrupt stop and flew over the front into a big facefull of sand, much to the delight of those watching. After the duning, we headed to the fishing village where all the boats who’d been out fishing all night came in to unload. It smelled like diesel and fish and reminded me a lot of home. Except instead of pulling up to docks, the fisherman would anchor off shore, load the fish into large bowl/boats, and row them over to the craziness of buying/selling/packing/moving that was going on for 200 or so yards of beach. It was really neat to soak in the hustle and bustle of the fish market. Giant baskets of bait fish being loaded onto wagons pulled by oxen as fully loaded motorbikes zoomed around them. After that we went to the “fairy stream” which was a little brook that ran from the hills down to the sea and left a neat little gorge with high walls of groovy sand and mud. Groovy like it had grooves. It was still very early in the morning so I was the only one walking in the stream, which was really nice. Apparently it gets pretty crowded later on and even as I was leaving, a group of four or five was just starting. From there, I went back to my bungalow packed my things, and got on a bus back to HCMC. I spent my last little bit of city time biking around and picking up gifts and things for people at my work. I sampled a bit more of the local food. I definitely ate my fair share of bread and cheese which is a little more elusive in Thailand (except for pizza of course). I was really big on Bahn Mi which were egg and cheese breakfasty things on mini baguettes. Yum.
I really enjoyed my stay in Vietnam and learned some things along the way. It was strange to be in a south-east Asian country and all of a sudden not speak the language again. It was like going back to when I first got to Thailand. I could tell I was being ripped off in the market place but I couldn’t haggle my way down. I was powerless! It was also strange to go on a trip which contained sights and smells that reminded me so much of the cape, but then to feel a sense of relief when I finally got “home” and heard the familiar “Sawatdee kaa” of the stewardesses as I exited the plane.
Sorry for taking so long to get this post up!