After spending three days recovering from the busy central Vietnam tour, doing nothing but hammock hangs, cat naps and good talks with Jeff and Raul, I became a bit restless and ready for some more action. So I came here. I wanted to have my own adventure before going back home, so I was dropped off by Trang’s mom’s friend via motorbike in massive Hồ Chí Minh City. I walked around the foreigners section of the city in District 1 called Phạm Ngũ Lão, found this hostel, and have called it home for the past three days.
Of course I was a bit nervous going alone, but this is something I have always wanted to do…solo backpacking in a foreign land. And here I am. It’s not so bad traveling on your own; in fact, I think I prefer it. You choose what you want to do, when you want to do it and have the experience you want to have. And you don’t do it alone, usually, because there are so many other backpackers alone as well always looking for someone to strike up conversation with. I’ve only met one other American during my time here– most others I met have been from England or somewhere in Europe, and also Australia, Canada and a few other places.
It’s so interesting speaking with different people from all over the world that you somehow both ended up in this completely random country to meet one another. Everyone has unique experiences and stories to tell– like some have been traveling for months all through out Southeast Asia, others for just a week of vacation. Some have nothing to go home to, and are just figuring it out as life comes. They don’t know where they’ll even be tomorrow. I admire that…that is truly living day by day with no worries. I’ve recognized the differences of how people in other countries live their lives, and also how similar our lives actually are. I also learned so many drinking games from all over the world, and probably twenty different ways to say ‘cheers’ (don’t ask me to recite them all).
My first day in this city on my own was spent going to the war museum. As I was leaving, one of my hostel roommates from Holland said she was heading that way as well, so we went together. On the way we met a lady that literally just got off the plane from Canada. Together, the American, Dutch and Canadian all toured the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. All I can say about the museum was it was extremely eye-opening and disturbing. Sure it was propaganda-filled being that it was located in the city where much of the terror happened. Very graphic photos, terrifying situations published for the world to see. It visualized in much detailed all of the horrible things that happened to the Vietnamese people during the war. Honestly, it made me feel almost ashamed to be an American (I’m not of course, but just at that moment in time). I had to keep remembering a lot of horrible things were done to Americans as well during that time, both sides had their mistakes. But we learn history so we don’t repeat it, right?
The following day I booked a one-day tour to see the Củ Chi Tunnels. These were literally tunnels in the ground made by villagers of the town of Củ Chi during the war. It was extremely impressive how creative they were to stay protected from their enemies…and even how they killed them. I honestly wasn’t too interested on all of the war details, I just wanted to venture into the tunnels! And that I did. There were 150 meters worth of tunnels they widened to enable tourists to go through. Originally they were so narrow, Americans during the war could not fit through them. That was their protection.
The rest of my time was spent doing some souvenir shopping at the historic Bến Thành market and Sài Gòn Central Post Office. Both are historic buildings from the French era, so the architecture of both have apparent French influence. The other part of my time was spent making connections with all of the fellow foreigners I met. I think I stayed up past 3 a.m. each night just talking and having a great time with these people. They all were from so many walks of life, and yet it was so simple to connect with them.
What was cool too was how I felt that I represented Texas. Everyone I met had never been there before, but all said they wanted to go so they could wear cowboys boots and shoot guns (haha). I told them, sure, but there is so much more to Texas than just that. I told them about how much I missed eating salsa and Tex-mex food, and how the city I live in is actually the most diverse in the US. It really made me feel more proud than ever to live where I am. From these conversations, I also have a very long list of places I want to visit next, and friends I now have in these countries.
Since my time here is just about to come to an ending (more like a pause, really) I have come up with a few lists to summarize my experience:
Three things I would do in Vietnam if the state of my well-being wasn’t at risk
1. Get a tattoo.
2. Drive a motorbike during rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City.
3. Walk across a busy street while closing my eyes. (you might as well, as long as you walk with confidence)
Five things I admire and appreciate about the Vietnamese people
1. Their ability to nap on command.
2. How they never show fear when behind the wheel of a motorbike; as well as their confident stature as they cross the street.
3. The importance of family time to them; always having family meals together and visiting one another regularly.
4. The impressive amount of items they can carry on their motorbikes, and the amount of people they can carry, and the objects of which carry on their bikes (anything from pigs, to bird cages, to stacking boxes three bikes tall…seriously!)
5. Their resilience of recovering from the war. I mean, it wasn’t all that long ago when this war ended. Most all of the survivors of the war still live there, and they are living life as best as they know how. They are hard-working and forgiving people. This entire trip I have seen nothing but smiles on the locals’ faces and kindness shown toward foreigners, and Americans, for that matter. Sometimes you still see craters in the ground from bombs…and sure, they say there are still grenades buried in the ground some places. But these people have come out of it in the best way possible, and they are a free and truly welcoming people.
Seven things I cannot wait to do when I go back
1. Find a place to ride an elephant. Somewhere. Somehow.
2. Visit a coffee bean farm. Vietnam is the top third country in the world at producing coffee beans. Coffee is a passion of mine, so this I must do.
3. Go rock climbing. Not sure if they have any bolts set up or if it’s all trad climbing, but at any rate those mountains and rocks were just too beautiful to not climb on.
4. Go canyoning in Đà Lạt. Saw some of the friends I met from the hostel post pictures of them doing it via Facebook, and I’m jealous. Looks like a blast.
5. Visit one of the seven wonders of the world: Hạ Long Bay. And the rest of Northern Vietnam as well.
6. Go to Bà Nà Hills, and actually SEE Bà Nà Hills instead of being inside a cloud the entire time.
7. Travel from North to South via motorbike. That was probably one of my favorite activities to do in Vietnam, and although it would probably be tougher than I expect, it would definitely be a unique experience. I’ll let you know how it goes.
So it looks like this is the end of my exciting, fun-filled trip to Vietnam. Until next time…not sure where that will be just yet, but it’ll happen. My traveling days are just beginning.