Luckily, the English center I teach at is flexible about giving time off when requested. I decided to take advantage of this… which resulted in my first extended and out of Vietnam trip since arriving. First a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and then over to Bangkok. This trip was absolutely incredible and loved getting the chance to explore more of Southeast Asia. Of course, vacations are no fun alone, so I met up with Kyle and we traveled together around Vietnam and Thailand. The plan was 5 days in Saigon and 5 days in Bangkok.
Arriving in Saigon, it was hot and I was hot. The weather was similar to how you feel after an hour at the gym: sweaty, sticky, and feeling like you need a shower. Regardless, I was excited to see and explore what the largest city in Vietnam. I went when I was 6 but don’t remember much and didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s the real first time I have been in the city… and without a doubt, it’s my favorite place in SE Asia so far.
One of the first things I noticed about the city is how diverse and well populated it is. There are tons of people everywhere from all different parts of the world, of course with a crap load of Vietnamese. Even as I was walking around, I met a woman who was from Boise! She had to, of course, fill the role and stereotype — she was there selling Idaho potatoes!
Saigon is much different than I thought it would be. Living in a different part of the country, I had expectations of what I thought it would be. I thought wrong. I thought it would be like the quiet little town I live in where everyone knows each other and all take day naps and live life one day at a time. Incorrect. The big city is just that: big. It feels like a global hub.
Converse to Vinh, the streets are more developed and you can actually walk on the sidewalk. There’s also an absurd amount of people who live in the city, being the largest city in Vietnam, with about 3.4 million people. The massive number of people equates to an equally massive amount of motorbike because it is still the best method to get around quickly and efficiently. So for two days, we rented a motorbike to traverse the big city. Driving around is… stressful to say the least.
Of course, we were on vacation so we had to see all the tourist locations. Saigon is a hip-happening place with so many places to visit. We tried to fit as much as we could in and found our way through: the art museum, Bixteco Tower, the walking street, the war museum, etc. etc.
A exceptional place we visited was the Cu Chi tunnels. Similar to the war museum, it is focused on the Northern Vietnam perspective of the Vietnam War. It was interesting to see the tactics that were used against the Americans. Our tour guide Lin, eloquently described horrible conditions these people had to live in. They were civilians turned militia and forced into the battlefront, solely due to their location. Because of the war they ended up living in an underground maze network. No, it’s not a bomb-shelter type network, it was a dirty, unbreathable, and narrow shaft. Think of a shaft needed for an army crawl, and now think of a smaller version of that, and that’s how these people lived.
The weirdest part was how this place, and really all of Vietnam, is that they described fighting against the Americans, how they would get honors for killing Americans, and are proud of these accomplishments. Its strange to see how “the other side” views the war and switch perspectives.
Aside from the war, there are plenty of other amazing places to gander. Even just walking around, we found such interesting events. One of which was the Southeast Asia Cultural experience while walking down Nguyen Hue street. During that month, Vietnam in coordination with South Korea held traditional dance and music performances to showcase each country’s unique culture. We sat in on a performance and had the chance to view traditional Thai dancing – which was super amazing to watch. I interpreted it as some sort of fish dance and bringing it home to the wife.
Beyond that, I visited some of my extended family; my family’s heritage is from Vietnam, specifically the south. That means I have some cousins who still live there and had the chance to meet them. Last time I had met them, was the last time I was in Vietnam… and what a difference 12 years makes. My cousin, Ngoc took me around the city to all the places she could think of for food, we had Banh Trang Tron, Trung Nuong, Kem Chien, Banh Trang Chien, Tra Sua, and so much more (trust me, it was good food). When we headed to their house to see my great aunt, who is almost 100, she thought that Kyle, who is white, was me! She was giving him kisses and talking to him in Vietnamese. It was the funniest thing.
Saigon is such an amazing place, I love it so much. It has such a special place in my heart. But after the five days here, we headed to Thailand! More to come.
See ya soon,