When we made our decent into Ho Chi Man city in Vietnam I got to see the Saigon River, the landmark that has made Vietnam so famous. Thoughts of classic movies like The Apocalypse and Good Morning Vietnam came to mind and I realized that travel for me is the ultimate high because of the history and education behind it all. The learning never stops! And it always amazes me how perception can control your mind. Aldous Huxley said, “To travel is to discover that every one is wrong about other countries.” This is the theme of my trip to Vietnam.
After we got our luggage at the airport and found a cab, the first sights of the streets where overwhelming. Yet I watched in amazement as 4 million people on mopeds and motorcycles moved in harmony. Traffic was insane but moved with no hiccups, and mopeds weaved in between cars by the masses. I have never seen anything like it! We pulled up to our hotel, the Paradise Saigon, which was only 3 months old and very modern. Wonderful accommodations here.
Everywhere in Saigon has free Wi-Fi and the people are all very nice. It was pleasant to discover that the people of Saigon loved Americans. They were very friendly and eager to talk to us. I guess one of the many perceptions we have is that Vietnamese people hold a grudge against Americans because of the war… but this wasn’t true. (More on the war in a minute).
As soon as we unloaded our luggage at Paradise Saigon, we hit the ground and went looking for some food. Over the next four days, not one eatery or restaurant disappointed. The Vietnamese take pride in their food and have plenty to share, and the flavors are exotic and delicious. If you get a chance to sample something besides the common spring rolls and Bon Me sandwiches, you must try the curries! And also one of my favorites, Banh xeo, which is a crepe like omelet with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts in a crunchy crepe. You eat it by wrapping it with lettuce and dipping it in fish sauce, it’s delicious! In Hawaii, I have only found one place that actually serves it right, so if you’re ever in Vietnam be sure to order this dish!
Our first day we took a private tour up the Saigon River to the famous Cu Chi tunnels, a noteworthy landmark of the Vietnam War. It seems that with the Vietnam War, many people have misconceptions about what happened. But meeting the people here really gave me a different view and a different perspective. All I had growing up was my uncle’s stories, and of course Vietnam war movies, which can be skewed. While I’m not going to get into the politics I will say that I found it very interesting to hear peoples’ stories here. There was a lot of confusion even among the Viet Congs. I had the chance to meet an ex North Vietnam soldier who told me about the spies and all the confusion that happened with the allegiance of North and South Vietnam. He was an incredible man with many stories to tell.
The hardest part for me to swallow was how America sent young men, only 18 years old, into the jungles of Saigon to fight people they could not see. The Cu Chi Tunnels were not just underground tunnels; they were an underground city that ran for 75 miles long that also housed rooms for meetings and sleeping. By day the Vietnam soldiers stayed underground and by night they came out to get fresh air and reload ammunition and food. They could only cook underground once a day and that was at 6am in the morning. This was to ensure that all the smoke that came from underground would be disguised as morning fog.
There where hundreds of boobie traps set for American soldiers, and the soldiers lacked training in these types of traps. Visiting the tunnels and the jungle evoked a weird feeling for me… just knowing that thousands of people died there was a pretty powerful emotion. Over 44,000 VC’s died in these underground tunnels. And not just from gunfire, but also from Malaria, other diseases and being buried alive from the tunnels caving in from B52 bombers. If you ever get a chance to visit Vietnam, the Cu Chi tunnels are a must. The history is sensitive but important, and this landmark is extremely significant to the Vietnam War.
A word about the shopping in Vietnam- There are many street venders and outdoor markets selling knock off items. If you haven’t been to a third world country in Asia, you’ll be surprised to know these types of knock offs are everywhere. Shopping in general is insane in Vietnam! For example, if you need a custom, tailor-made suit, you can go anywhere and get what you want for only $100. There are also great artists and painters in Vietnam that will work for prices so low it will blow your mind.
I will definitely visit Vietnam again soon, it was an incredible country to explore and learn about. And if you want to come with me, I would love to show you the sights and landmarks of Vietnam!