Friday, April 3, 2009

Vivid Vietnam

I know that this blog is late, but things have been crazy around here.  We just left China yesterday, and we get to Japan the day after tomorrow.  We have been going country to country to Asia with only two days at sea in between each port.  It's all very exciting, but doesn't leave a lot of time for rest or blogging.  I will try and put up a China blog shortly after this one.

I really enjoyed Vietnam and plan to backpack around southeast Asia sometime in the next few years to visit Cambodia and Laos and then all the parts of Thailand and Vietnam that I wasn't able to see in the short five days.  I mostly stayed in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and did a couple of day trips, which was good, because I have done a lot of travelling in Thailand and China.

The first day my friends and I kind of wandered around.  We went to the War Remnants Museum, which used to be called the Museum of American War Crimes.  It was very interesting to see, but also emotionally draining.  I felt very weird there being and American, and many of my friends felt the same.  Then we grabbed lunch at a restaurant where we sat on the floor at low tables and the ceiling was too low for any of the boys to stand up straight.  I had my first Vietnamese iced coffee with milk (also involves chocolate sauce), which is the most delicious coffee drink I've ever had, and I proceeded to have a couple everyday thereafter.  Then we wandered to the main markets in the city.  They are huge and different stalls sell shoes (which don't fit any of our big American feet), t-shirts, jewelry, crafts and then a whole section of food.  The currency is Vietnamese Dong, and the rate is 17,000 dong per dollar, which can make bargaining interesting.  Everyone was a millionaire.  The boys I was with got fitted for getting suits made, which is a popular thing to do in Vietnam.  That night we went out to dinner my friend Laura and her sister who was backpacking around Vietnam and I had delicious curry and got to try dragon fruit, which was delicious.

The next morning Jill and I went to a disabled children's school with a SAS trip.  Jill and I ended up in a class of young children with Down's Syndrome, and other kids at the school were deaf, blind, and a few physically handicapped.  They were all very cute and enjoyed the stickers and paper and crayons we brought along.  Afterward we played out in the schoolyard with other kids and signed lots of autographs.  I stood holding a bubble stick letting different little kids blow bubbles for about 20 minutes.  Here is Jill coloring with one of the little girls (I told her to be candid, but it is well established that Jill can't not smile at a camera)

That afternoon we went to a cafe with free WiFi for a while, which was awesome and then wandered towards the market.  We tried on a tons of dresses along the way, but didn't really find anything.  That night I just stayed in and used the internet since I had a lot f things I wanted to get done and people I wanted to talk to.

The next day was the big shopping day in the markets for Jill and I since we both had lots of gifts we needed to buy for various people.  The markets were awesome, but overwhelming with people everywhere and women grabbing your arms and saying "What you looking for?"  I managed to get everything I needed including a few things for myself.  The next day I also bought a new duffle bag since I have literally filled one up with all of the stuff I have bought.  I also got fitted to get a dress made since I didn't find any that I liked the previous day.  That evening we went out to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant with several of our girlfriends.

A little aside to try and describe the traffic on Ho Chi Minh City that we were constantly dealing with.  The population is about 8 million, with about 5 million able to drive, and there are 4 million mopeds in the city as well as a few cars and busses.  They are absolutely everywhere and traffic is so dense that you have to just step off the curb or you will never get across the street.  You just walk slowly across the street maintaining eye contact with the mopeds, never stopping or lurching forward, and the mopeds will got around you.  It really is impossible to describe, but that first step off the curb can be very scary and Jill and I once stood for a good 3 minutes before we started across.  Here is a picture of me the last day at an intersection that we frequently had to cross with traffic like you see.  

The fourth day I was going on a Mekong Delta day drip with several of my friends through SAS.  We drove about two hours away to an area of the Mekong Delta with several islands in it.  Along the way we stopped at a Cao Dai temple, which is the sort of weird new religion in Vietnam that seems to kind of combine all religions together.  I don't know much about it, but it seems very strange.

We got on a boat of about 40 people and travelled to one of the islands.  We sat under little pavilions and got to try tropical fruits grown on the island, including grapefruit, mango, jack fruit, and lychees.  Then we walked down to this really narrow, low river (can't really even call it a river at the beginning) and got into boats of 4 people with two guides pushing and paddling the boat down the river.  We got to wear rice hats and the river was covered with palms.  It was a really cool experience.  

Here is our guide, who spoke no English, paddling down the river.

Then we went to a place where people make delicious coconut candy, and I bought a bunch to bring home.  Then we headed to have a local seafood lunch.  The first thing they brought out was literally a whole fish that had been fried and was standing up on a little stand thing.  A woman showed us how to take the fish meat and make summer rolls with them that we delicious.  Here is a picture of my friend Blair and I at lunch.  We are Vicarious Voyage partners, which means we have a classroom of 3rd graders in the Bronx that we send packages of things we collect throughout the trip.  We collect postcards, newspapers, pamphlets, and anything else we can find to send to them.  I also try and send a postcard from each country.  They have a map up in the classroom to follow ship and learn things about each area we travel.  (Also keep in mind that it was about 90 degrees and humid that whole day and every other day in Vietnam)

The last day in Saigon, Jill and I did a bit more shopping at the markets and then were going back to pick up my dress and some pants and a suit for our guy friends who were going to be in Cambodia until late that night and wouldn't have time.  My dress turned out awesome and was only $40 to have it made for me.  It is deep purple satin and goes a bit past the knee and has skinny straps.  It is really cute and I'm going to wear it to the Ambassador's Ball at the end of the voyage so I will pst some pictures of that.  We had some time to kill before our friend Ben's suit was finished so we got manicures and pedicures and Jill got a haircut (they asked me if I wanted one, but I don't quite have enough hair yet to need one).  The Vietnamese ladies were really cute and I have never had prettier cuticles and smoother feet in my life, all for a whopping $16.  

That's all for now.  Look out for a post about China, hopefully in the next couple of days.  

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