Category Archives: Vietnam

Sunset on the Mekong

*Full Vietnam photo gallery below*

When we first planned our itinerary, we were guided by both a long list of places we wanted to see as well as the logistics of connecting flights around the world. As the trip plan was fine tuned, I thought what we had ultimately chosen was an itinerary diverse enough to kind of keep us on our toes and prevent us from getting settled in too much to one region and culture. I saw it as “sustained culture shock.” Looking back on the limited traveling we did before this trip, it’s the part we remember the most. The stirrings of panic when you get a little lost, the elaborate production that even mundane errands can become, language barriers that segregate your conversation from all of those around you. An isolation that can have you with a sense of being alone in a crowd one moment and a subject of interest to curious strangers the next. Diving headlong into life in a foreign country can turn you upside down and rattle your sense of how things should operate. But really, you can get used to very different ways of doing things in a remarkably short period of time. We thought that the regional and cultural jumps that our early stops represented would present such stark contrasts that each of them might almost stand in isolation. Continue reading Sunset on the Mekong

High school field trip in Saigon

We started out today with a half-day tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, about a two hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. The bus ride and tour was another one of those tourist bottlenecks where all the foreigners merge onto one space like a swarm of locusts. I was reminded again of my initial impression of HCMC being really quite full of tourists. We travelled on a pretty large bus with every seat taken, and every single traveler on the bus was a westerner. Martha said it made her feel like she was on a high school field trip…. except, a field trip at a high school where you can’t stand any of your classmates and they all stink. This like seven foot tall russian guy that we had also seen the day before was wearing the same muay thai boxing t-shirt as yesterday. Him and his whole group stunk soooo bad. I guess when you’re seven foot tall and built like you could tear a door off the hinges you feel entitled to stink as much as you like. Yeah, so Cu Chi is a tourist machine. A machine. They crank through absolute swarms of foreigners. The attraction is the tunnels that were originally built by Viet-Cong and used during the war. There’s 240 km of tunnels, but only certain sections have been protected and preserved. The section available to go through has been enlarged to, as our tour guide put it “international size” (as opposed to Vietnamese size). Read: we’re way too damn fat for their tunnels. I would’ve thought this meant that the “enlarged” tunnels would be easy to move through. They were pretty tight though, and if you have a tendency towards claustrophobia, it might just lead to freak out time going through the 100 meter stretch with turns and ups and downs and sections of pitch black. Add to that the fact that it was sweltering and damp and you had a line of smelly slow pokes in front and behind…. yikes. I kinda had to relax and find a happy place and get centered a little mentally going through a few spots. And damn, those were the “enlarged” tourist tunnels. Viet-Cong spent years in these tunnels. They also showed us a lot of the booby traps used against Americans in the war as well as some of the tricks in jungle combat. I can definitely see how we lost that war. The place also has a shooting range like the one in Cambodia, but they only have regular automatic rifles and it’s really crowded. At similar prices, I’d recommend blowing stuff up and shooting things in Cambodia over Vietnam. Continue reading High school field trip in Saigon

War Remnants

Vietnamese people, generally speaking, are kinda serious people. Right next door you have the nearly always cheery and jaunty Cambodians, and next door to that it’s “the land of smiles.” In Vietnam though, a lot of people initially present a very severe business-like facade. A little small talk usually breaks through the facade, but in general people do seem to carry themselves a little differently here. Even the shopkeepers aren’t as energetic. Many of them have figured out that their job can be a lot easier when they set up shop as a “fixed price” establishment. It’s pretty common here, and the fixed price places generally have way better prices than the retail warfare markets where you have to haggle incessantly. Whoever figured out that just putting price tags on the goods with the actual price you’re willing to sell it for would bring the westerners to your shop in droves was a real genius. Then the shopkeeper gets to just chill and not harass every passerby on the sidewalk that averts their eyes into the shop. People come, look around, then maybe they leave, they find out who has the best stuff for the best price, and then they come back, or not. Continue reading War Remnants

The Mekong Express

“If this is the tourist bus, where are all the tourists?”

It’s a question that’s been asked a few times on this trip, enough that it’s become a bit of a joke. The first time it came up was in Mexico, taking a bus to the pyramids. I was the only foreigner on the buses there and back. This was made extra obvious at one point when we came upon a military roadblock and all the males had to exit the bus for a search. I might have stood out just a little amongst that lineup of locals getting patted down by Mexican troops on the side of the highway. Also, there were buses in India and Thailand where not a word of English was spoken and we really started guessing a little as we started making stops closer and closer to our destination. It can sometimes be a bit of a guessing game without a crowd to follow. Continue reading The Mekong Express