Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and April 8th

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city about a couple days ago and have since been busy seeing what this city has to offer. We arrived at about 7pm by bus and were quickly followed by several Vietnamese trying to rent us a room. We had one lady follow us for at least a half hour. There was one guy who gave us his card at the beginning, but he did not follow us. We later ran into him again and decided to see what his room was like. After looking at a couple others after we saw his room, we decided to rent from him as it was the cheapest we could find and his family seemed nice.

This nice Vietnamese man has a wife, a baby girl, and his mother all living underneath where our room is. In fact, I am currently using free internet in what looks like their family room.  We just love the grandma. She is always smiling, laughing, and every  night she gets down on her knees and chants something from a book while looking at Buddha. It takes her about an hour to get through the prayer. Most of the Vietnamese will tell you they are Buddhist, but many actually practice a the “Triple Religion” or Tao Giao, which is a combination of Confuscianism, Taois, Budhism, Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism. 
The following morning we made our way over to the War Remnants Museum where we learned a little more about the Vietnam war. I’m sure most of you know about the toxic chemical known as Agent Orange that was spread all over Vietnam by the U.S. Well, the museum portrayed many pictures of Vietnamese  people who have been affected by Agent Orange, physically and mentally. The chemical is still prevalent today and is the main reason there are so many birth defects. I don’t think I need to talk too much about the history of the Vietnam War as most of you already know, but it was still eye opening to read and see about all the innocent people (over 2 million women and children) who died during this senseless war.
The museum actually closes from noon to 1:30, so we decided to take their version of a tuk-tuk (instead of motorbike it’s a bicycle) to a small cafe about 5 minutes away. The guy said he would take us there for $1, but  we then realized it only seated one person. Bryan went on another for a dollar as well. They ended up taking us to the wrong place and when we got there the drivers said, “no, no not a dollar, 100 dong (about 5 dollars). They decided to change the price on us once we arrived, but we did not give in. We gave them $2 since it only took them about 2 minutes to take us there.
We decided to eat at the cafe where the tuk-tuk bicyclers took us. There were only Vietnamese people eating at this cafe and most of them did not speak English which made ordering rather interesting. I didn’t realize our waitor didn’t speak any English until I asked him if I could get the dish without meat. I am not a vegetarian, but I am rather picky with meat.  After realizing he did not understand, Bryan showed him what we were saying in his Vietnamese phrase book – it said “I am a vegetarian” in Vietnamese. He quickly went to the back where we assumed he was asking if the vegetarian option was okay. I didn’t realize it was going to be such an ordeal, so I told him that  it was okay and pointed to the dish with meat. He did not understand the words “it’s okay” and was not about to let me eat meat if I was a vegetarian. It took about 5 minutes to order my meal with the help of another waitor. It was quite funny. He was really nice and I could tell he really wanted to understand us as we did him. Finding ways to communicate with people who speak a different language has been interesting and actually quite fun.
After spending another hour at the museum after it had reopened, we went back to our room to rest. For dinner we had garlic soup at a cafe (yummy) and then made our way over to an Indian restaurant really close to where we’re staying.
The following morning we went on a one day tour of the Mekong Delta.  Google “Mekong Delta War” if you need a refresher course about the Mekong’s role in the Vietnam War.  It took about 2 1/2 hours to get there by bus. We took a larger boat to the other side of the Delta where we then transfered to a smaller boat that took us through a small tributary. I took many pictures because there is so much history here. We ended up stopping on the side of the channel and made our way over to a coconut factory. It was really small with one machine that makes the powder. The women were also making coconut candy which was fantastic. It was neat to see the one woman wrapping the coconut candy because she was wrapping about 15 or so within one minute. This is where I also bought coconut soap which is supposed to make my skin and hair smooth and shiny – just like the Vietnamese ladies. : ) I don’t think it worked but it smells pretty.
We then went back on the boat to a different location where we ate our included lunch. The tour was well organized and our meal included more food than I thought. It was nice.
We then went through an even smaller tributary but this time by canoe. There was one Vietnamse lady in the back and one in the front – both wearing traditional triangular shaped Vietnamese hats. Each canoe obviously only seated four, so Bryan and I went on one with a nice couple from Australia – who we had spent most of the time talking with. The tributary was quite narrow and it would have been dangerous to stick your hands outside the canoe. The Vietnamese ladies were quite the pros at paddling.
We arrived at a location where we drank tea and ate fresh fruit while listening to traditional Vietnamese music. I would never listen to Vietnamese music on my own because the sounds are rather harsh and dissonant, but I suppose it was still nice hearing. :)
We then made our way to a small honey bee farm where we held a really big python and drank honey tea before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. We had a lot of fun on the tour and felt the $10 was well worth it.
Today we went on another tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Vietnamese hid, worked, lived, and fought during the Vietnam war and previously while fighting the French. Our tour group consisted of about thirty people, so Bryan and I always made an effort to walk right behind our tour guide in order to see. These tunnels were absolutely amazing. Most of the entrances to the tunnels were camouflaged. The tunnels were built for Vietnamese people, and as a result they were very narrow since Vietnamese are small people. Towards the end of the tour, Bryan and I had the opportunity to go through 100 meters of tunnel. It was more difficult than I thought because it was very dark, hot, and narrow, but we were the only ones who made it all the way. We also had the advantage of being right behind the guide with the flashlight. Basically, if you are at anyway claustrophobic, you probably would have only made it 20 meters. Today was definitely a highlight of our journey.
So far Vietnam and the Vietnamese people have been wonderful. The people are so kind and have wonderful smiles. Ho Chi Minh City is quite busy with 8 million people and 3.5 million motorbikes. It is amazing to see the traffic in the morning and afternoon. I have never seen so many motorbikes in my life. 
BY THE WAY – We have extended our trip until April 8th. Asiana Airlines gave us a two week extension for FREE. We were quite happy as we thought it would cost us a couple hundred.
Tomorrow we are flying north to Hoi An ($40 per person). It is supposed to be a neat little place.
Hope all is well,

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