‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all). ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas- only I don’t exactly know what the are.’
Alice Through the Looking Glass
My arrival in Vietnam provided me with my first travel oops. I had prepared in advance for my visa, so proud of myself. Then I changed my travel plans, forgetting that I already had my visa dates established. So I marched up to customs and was promptly rejected. Fortunately, the Vietnamese are quite understanding and for a small fee, I was able to enter a day early!
The Vietnamese in Saigon continued the tradition of the insane driving I have experienced for the past few months, with one exception. They use turn signals. They don’t actually use them until they have initiated the lane change, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless. Mopeds apparently have no laws here. They use either lane and the sidewalk, sometimes within a 15 second period. Only a few unlucky drivers witnessed my wrath.
Saigon is a very walkable city so day one was a walkabout. Technically, it is called Ho Chi Minh City, but I was told that Saigon belongs to history and so is the preferred name. I did a brisk ten miles around the city, checking out the Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral (not the Parisian one!), Independence Palace and City Hall. I popped into Ben Thanh market and lasted a good three minutes before I escaped through a side exit. As I was not in the market for shoes, shirts, sarongs, jewelry, dried fruits, fish, vegetables, perfume, eye glasses, dishes, and on and on, I ran instead to a street markets for some delightful Vietnamese noodles. I also learned the primary use of parks is to catch Pokemon.
Traveling to Vietnam, I had no idea what to expect about impressions and thoughts about the United States. I got a taste on my second day when I visited the War Remnants Museum. I still struggle with the amount of conflict I felt in visiting this museum and find words difficult to describe what is in my head. Yes, the museum was one sided, I wouldn’t expect anything else. What surprised me was the lack of any semblance of humanity, only anger and hatred. I wanted to acknowledge the horrible acts that were committed, but my fierce patriotism searched for fairness. And to make it even more difficult, I spent the evening with several non Americans who couldn’t share my struggle. It was hard to communicate my feelings without them judging me as “just an American” as the media would portray. This is not the last time I would these emotions on this trip.
Day Three was a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Vietcong lived for protection during the war. The tunnels were amazing, although climbing through them was a bit intimidating. And to make it more realistic, there is an AK-47 shooting range on the property so you heard gunfire inside the very, very dark tunnels. They really were pretty clever in the building of these tunnels and the amount of torture tools was a bit daunting.
After the tunnels, I found some more street food- Indian this time- and boarded the boat where I would spend the next 8 days, sailing the Mekong up to Siem Reap.
We sailed into the town My Tho on day four to see a temple with a really, really big buddah, bee factory, coconut candy makers, pythons (I skipped this part) and some other touristy stuff. Having had enough of that, a few of us stayed on the boat for the afternoon excursion (which would likely include more shopping) and enjoyed a peaceful sail up the river until the others met up with us a few hours later. Sailing along the water never got old, the fisherman, the children waving from the banks, the floating neighborhoods. I sat for hours watching the banks go by.
We awoke the next day in the Venice of Vietnam, coined and said by me as no one else agreed. In Sa Dec, all of the houses were along the waterfront, right up to the edge and the canals were filled with boats. Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk anyone into singing in Italian for me as we sailed to the market.
The local market was filled with all kinds of food choices, freshly skinned frogs, moles and chicken feet. There were also a lot of shy children that made my photography quite challenging.
Vietnam ended that evening atop Sam Mountain, watching the sunset, listening to monks chanting and then dining on some good, local food.
Vietnam was not anything I expected and I feel like I need to come back again to really understand its people and its history. I am so conflicted as I leave, it wasn’t nearly the adventure I hoped but far more of an emotional challenge than I expected. Perhaps it was because I spent most of the trip sailing on the river, with limited interaction with locals but I leave Vietnam with a head filled with ideas, only I don’t know exactly what they are.
Now to cross the border to Cambodia.