I went into Vietnam thinking that I was going to I hate it. We didn’t have any real plans, nor did we have any SAS trips booked. I planned on doing a lot of sleep and catching up on school work. I figured that I could wander around the city, maybe do some shopping, see a museum or two. I really thought it would be quite similar to China which I was greatly unimpressed with. This all said, I was completely wrong. I absolutely loved Vietnam, and for reasons still unknown to me, it was my favorite port by far.
The first day it took forever to get off the ship as usual. Me, Kimmy, and Conor just ended up wandering around the city. We went to the big market in the center of the city and picked up some souvenirs for everyone. We also stumbled upon a little spa and ended up spending 3 hours there getting massages and our nails done. Me and Kimmy had our massages done by gay Vietnamese men and it can best be described as an interesting experience! It’s funny looking back on it now!
After we finished up at the spa we wandered back to the ship, still largely unimpressed with Saigon. We met up with Alex, Lily, Lysette, and a few other people to go out to dinner. Lily and Lysette picked a restaurant called Skewers out of the guide book which said it had the best lamb in the world. It was a Mediterranean restaurant and had the best food EVER!!! We had all kinds of humus, pita, and gyros. It was absolutely delicious! We hung out at the restaurant for a few hours; everyone drank wine and enjoyed the good food. We then headed outside to walk to the bar where everyone from the ship was. It started to rain and there were rats running around the streets. Needless to say, moods started to slip and by the time we actually made it to the bar (called ‘Apocalypse Now’ after the movie) it was closed. This really didn’t help our first impressions of Saigon. On top of that, we got ripped off for our cab ride back to the ship. Everyone was irritated and not enjoying Vietnam thus we just went back to our cabins and passed out.
The next morning we woke up and it was pouring out. This was probably the worst storm I’ve ever seen. Lighting, thunder, lots of rain. Needless to say I wasn’t happy. Almost everyone was on their Cambodia trips so there was no one around the ship. I didn’t want to go outside in the monsoon, but at the same time I didn’t want to just sit around the ship. I mean how many times are you actually in Vietnam? So me, Kimmy, and Conor put on our rain jackets and started to walk down to the gangway. On our way out we ran into Clara. We had traveled with her on our Beijing trip and she is the funniest, craziest girl I’ve ever met. We all headed outside, the security staff laughing at us for braving the weather. Within 5 seconds we were soaked. Amazingly enough, this is when everything really started to turn around. We walked all around Saigon in the pouring rain jumping in puddles and talking to locals. We watched some young Vietnamese boys play soccer in a park for awhile and eventually made it out to the War Remnants Museum.
The museum was heartbreaking. It had innumerable pictures of war atrocities. A lot of them had children in them. It was overwhelmingly sad. The one that I remember most vividly was a pile of bodies with a lifeless toddler and infant just thrown on top. It was horrible. What I’m starting to learn is that the world isn’t what I thought it would it be. The people I’ve met are really just the same as I am; just trying to live a good life. Too many times we’ve seen how our own country has disrupted that. It’s an eye opening experience to say the least.
After that sobering experience, we caught motorbikes back to the ship. Now let me explain motorbikes. In the good ‘ol USA there are cars everywhere. The same is not true of the rest of the world. In developing cities people get around on these mini-motorcycles. The roads are all clogged with hundreds of motorbikes and their drivers navigate like madmen. They fly up on curbs, dodge food carts, swerve around busses, blow red lights, the works. It’s insane to watch and AMAZING to try!! I had the most fun ever just cursing around Saigon on these bikes. It’s so much fun! The best part is probably the drivers of these bikes. They were all so kind and interested in what we were doing in Saigon. Most of them would tell me about their families or girlfriends. It was great. I absolutely love motorbikes (sorry SAS, they were too fun to resist)!!!
Anyways we forced Clara to go with us to Skewers again which was amazing again as expected. The next day we got up early and went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an intricate system of underground tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong during the War to travel throughout the jungles and hide from American forces. Some people stayed underground for years and once you see these tunnels its hard to imagine how they managed to do it. They’re probably three feet by three feet and pitch dark. At the complex there was also an area where you could shoot guns for a dollar a bullet. I didn’t partake in this, but one of our friends Cole spent well over a hundred dollars and had the time of his life doing so. Before we left the Cu Chi Tunnels we got to watch an old Viet Cong propaganda video which was very disturbing. It showed the torture traps the Vietnamese made to trap and kill soldiers, as well as the training of woman and children to take part in these murders. It really put the war into perspective for me. There were atrocities on both sides, but it’s really just a sad fact that things had to come to that. We were destroying so much of the Vietnamese countryside that innocent children and families were forced to arm themselves out of fear. I’ve seen the pictures and the dead children in them. It’s a sad fact that America took the lives of many children. This was all the justification they needed to seek out the American G.I.s and kill them. I don’t necessarily think its right, but I now understand why.
I didn’t go out again once we got back to the ship since I wasn’t feeling well, but Kimmy and Conor headed out with an Irish couple we had met on our tour. They had a good time and I got a good night’s sleep. The next day me and Kimmy booked ourselves a private tour out to the Mekong Delta. It was just the two of us and our tour guide. His name was Pho and he was about 30. He was so nice! He took us all around the Delta for the day, discussing history and facts the entire time. We got to go in real little canoes around the canals of the island. They wove through orchards which grew all kinds of fruit. Me and Kimmy sampled mango, pineapple, dragon fruit, and a few others that I can’t remember. We knew we probably shouldn’t have eaten them, but they were too good to resist. Luckily we didn’t get sick and no Mom, we won’t ever eat fresh fruit or vegetables again! Pho also took us to a coconut candy factory located on one of the islands and we got to eat some fresh. It was the best thing I ever tasted. We bought a bunch to bring home, but whether or not we’ll be able to not eat before we get home remains to be known!
When we got back to the ship that evening we just so happened to run into Alec. Alec had been in Cambodia so we hadn’t seen him for a few days. He had gotten a new suit tailored for himself, as did a lot of other people on the ship, and he was dying to wear it. So though we were all exhausted, we got all dressed up and headed over to Skewers one last time!
The three of us enjoyed our last night in Vietnam. We had some great food and drinks and shared our various experiences of Vietnam. We all agreed that Vietnam was the most amazing port thus far. Alec told us about Cambodia and the killing fields – an absolutely heartbreaking piece of history. If you’re not familiar with Cambodia’s past, I urge you to research it. Alec, like the rest of us, had an amazing trip.
I loved Vietnam and wasn’t expecting to have such strong feelings for it. It is somewhere I definitely want to return to. I hope to come back one day, maybe with my family if I can convince them. There’s just so much to see and do in Vietnam. The people are so kind and interested in Westerners, unlike the majority of Beijing’s citizens…Thailand next….then India!