Greetings from Saigon!
On my flight in to Ho Chi Minh I was filled with both excitement and worries. I try not to have expectations of places before I visit them so that I don’t end up comparing my experiences to those expectations. But Vietnam is the country that I have been most excited to get to. I couldn’t help it. From everything I knew about the countryside, the people and the food, I have been itching to get here. When planning, I gave myself more than twice the time here of any other country (less Australia and NZ) and purposefully booked my flight into the country in the South and out of the country in the North so that I could explore. As I boarded my flight, I began to worry if I had exaggerated it. Made it too big. Would visiting Vietnam be like when I finally saw Forrest Gump (over 5 years after it came out)?
Nope. Big. Fat. Nope.
Pretty much immediately I knew I hadn’t given myself enough time here. Good news, that means I definitely have to come back. And when I do, I’m going to rent a motorbike and drive the whole country. Which was, in fact, my original plan.
I had a vision in my mind of getting a scooter in Ho Chi Minh and riding it all the way up to Hanoi. How cool and badass would that be? Cruising the Vietnam countryside? But then I realized, that’s really far. At least for two weeks. And it’s hot. And dusty. And kind of dangerous. And oh yeah, I have my bags. Crap. Because I’m here during “wet season” and because I didn’t want to rush, I scrapped my original plan. Major bummer. But when I do come back, it will be just a girl and her motorbike (and a much smaller backpack).
the scooter game is strong here
Just when I was feeling most bummed about my decision, I met an Australian [whose hobby at home is actually riding motorbikes] who was all sorts of bumped and bruised from a nasty spill. Decision affirmed.
I started in the south of Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon – two names, one city) and will end in Hanoi. In HCMC, the focus was on war history – visiting the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels. I took a trip down to the Mekong Delta, then up to Nha Trang and Da Nang.
The latter three visits were more about experiencing Vietnam itself, visiting Cham places of worship, such as Po Nagar and My Son Sanctuary. But even in places of such serenity, there are not-so-subtle traces of the war. For example, many buildings of My Son still stand today, but others were destroyed by bombs, which not only shattered the architecture, but changed the surfaces of the grounds. I haven’t fully processed everything I’ve learned about the war, and expect to learn more in the coming week, so I’ll go into that more after I’ve had enough time to let it all sink in.
The food. So good. I mean, incredible. All I knew was pho, and there is so much more. But if you’re vegetarian, good luck! But if not, enjoy! Street food is everywhere and incredibly affordable (read: $1.50 for a large bowl of pho). And each area has such distinct cuisine. Stay tuned for next week after I take a cooking class in Hanoi.
The people. Amazing. Friendly, warm, hospitable, welcoming, hilarious. I honestly felt quite trepidatious to tell Vietnamese that I’m from the US. Perhaps the guide on the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels said it best, “How do we feel about Americans now? Do we hit them back? Do we hate them? No. We have to forgive them. Forgiveness is the best way to hit them back. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do.”
The landscapes. Stunning. I’m going to apologize in advance that you aren’t going to get pictures that really capture it, mainly because of the intense amount of rain. But I haven’t left yet and I already can’t wait to come back. Jungles to cities to beaches.