I have no idea what has taken so long for me to write about Vietnam, especially considering it was one of our favorite trips while we were in Asia. I think the more time that went by, the more worried I was that I would forget and not know what to write. Of course, as soon as I looked back at the photos Sean and I started reminiscing it all came flooding back and now this is a 2 Part-er. Enjoy!
We traveled down to Ho Chi Minh City in March of last year for Easter break. I know that I have written many times before about how I’m a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to booking travel, but this trip took the cake. Sean and I decided on where to go, visas, kennel for Bailey, Airbnb and planned a rough idea of what to do all in 24 hours. Thank you Vietnamese Visa on Arrival process which graciously allows procrastinators like me to travel in your beautiful country. I’m pretty sure we literally booked the Airbnb while AT the airport.
Before I get into all the wonderful travel adventures, I do want to start off with a bit of a side-note regarding US-Vietnamese relations. Admittedly, once we booked our tickets and were on our way to Vietnam, I actually started to get a little bit nervous. It’s my own fault for not researching and going in blind, but I had NO idea how Sean and I would be treated in this country. The Vietnam War (or American War depending on who is telling the history – which I’ve never thought about before and is super interesting) is an event that defined an entire American generation.
I’ve never once considered to state that I was another nationality other than my own before in all my travels around South East Asia, but I do admit while I was on the plane to Vietnam I wasn’t sure what I would say if someone asked. However, one of the biggest surprises we found when we arrived is that we were completely welcomed as Americans and treated so well while we were there. I think the situation is a bit complicated, but in 2 sentences I’ll try to sum this up. For the US, I think this war is dark spot in our history: a war we lost, a war we should not have been involved in, and a war in which terrible war crimes were committed. For the Vietnamese (although this differs from the North & South), it’s a war they won and since have rebuilt relations with our nation. Here is a great short article by TravelHappy.info which I encourage you to read as it goes into more details if you are interested.
Keeping all of this in mind, we were excited to be there and were excited to learn more about their country, culture and history. As I mentioned, we were staying in Ho Chi Minh, which was renamed from Saigon in 1976 to honor the Communist leader and first President of Vietnam post-war.
Our first night: We were lucky (or so we thought) and found an Airbnb right in the city center. When we arrived, we were told to meet in front of a closed hair parlor which had a locked pull down gate in front of it. When we contacted our host that we had arrived, he had to phone someone to open the gate and let us inside. Our host then mentioned anytime we needed to leave the apartment before 8 am or arrive back after 8pm (outside of the salon business hours), we would need to text his father who lived in another apartment on top of the salon. At this point we thought ‘okay, this is going to be very interesting’.
I was starting to get extremely worried about the situation, especially as we passed a few dead cockroaches on the stairs walking up to the flat, but I calmed down as we entered a very spacious and clean apartment. I try to keep an open mind when traveling, especially in a more developing country who has a different standard of living. The apartment was sparse, which is fine until we noticed that we only had 1 bottom sheet – no top sheet (which is actually normal in Asia) and no blankets. It was warm outside, but I always like a sheet or something to put over us when sleeping right?! So strange, but okay we were still going with it. The adventure continued when about an hour after we fell asleep we were awoken by the sound of dripping water. Very quickly the drips turned into a steady stream. Turns out, our AC broke and was pouring our water to the point we had to turn it off and put a bucket under it. Morale of the story, don’t book 10 hours before arriving on a busy holiday…. or just pay an extra $20 a night and stay in a proper hotel. #WeDoItForTheStories
The next morning was a new day and we got to see Ho Chi Min in the daylight. We found a bakery for breakfast – Sean can always sniff out a good danish and this was the first time we were introduced to Vietnamese coffee (insert the sound of heaven shining down). If you’ve never experienced a nice ice cold glass of Vietnamese Ice Coffee let me break it down for you. It’s a local bean grown in Vietnam, and coffee made through a drip filter. It’s then poured over ice and sweetened with condensed milk. Don’t judge, just try it and thank me later.
After breakfast, we explored the city a bit. The streets are full of motorbikes and scooters. Traffic is insane and crossing the street could also be interpreted as a level in Frogger. The trick is, you need to find a fearless local and follow VERY closely behind them. It’s pretty much the same adrenaline as sky diving.
Here are a few photos from our walk around town.
That afternoon, we went to the War Remnant Museum, which was really powerful. We were able to explore outside US armored tanks, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons that were left behind after the war. They also had old tiger cages, which were used to hold the Viet Cong prisoners (Vietnamese Communists).
The exhibits inside the museum were done very well. It was so interesting to understand the history of how the war came to be, and of course to understand the importance of the crimes that were committed, including an exhibit on the horrible aftermath of Agent Orange.
I’ll pause here and let you build the suspense for Part 2 (Cu Chi Tunnels) & Part 3 (Mekong Delta River tour). Stay tuned!