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One Foot Off the Merry-Go-Round

Vietnam (Saigon)

VIETNAM | Monday, 26 December 2011 | Views [507]

   To get from Kep, Cambodia over the border to Vietnam… it took one 45 minute ride in a small car, packed with five tourists and one driver, four of us were sandwiched in the backseat along with our backpacks (needless to say, it was a tight trip and we got to know each other very well). We were dropped at the border and made it across by foot in about 20 minutes. We then hopped into a minibus where we sat and waited, with the driver mind you, for about an hour (Why the long wait you ask? No idea.) Once we eventually got moving, we drove about 30 minutes where we were dropped at yet another bus… which we rode for again, about 30 minutes and finally, we reached our large bus… riding it for five to six hours, all the way to Saigon. It was quite a day! And we were very happy and slightly relieved when we got to our final destination—and were not met by another bus.

  To quote Hunter S. Thompson “We arrived with a feeling of ignorance and a loose “what the hell” kind of confidence that comes on a person when the wind picks up and they begin to move in a hard straight line towards an unknown horizon.”

  Saigon is a great city and treated us very well. The people there were very fun and inviting. Many of the local students studying at the university there loved to sit down for a chat, to practice their English and also to teach us a few things of their culture (including the cheers they use when drinking… “Mot! Hai! Ba! Zoooo!” Pronounced…. “Mow, Hi, Bye, Yoooo!”) After some of the experiences in Cambodia, Vietnam made us feel very welcome and relaxed (we hold an inward grudge toward the pushers and shovers, tourist and salesmen alike).

  One of the best choices we made while in Saigon was taking a two day, one night tour of The Mekong Delta. The tour consisted of many sights… a few highlights; our homestay (which I’ll get to), the famous floating market, drinking banana wine, eating local fruit—including pineapple which is in season,  consuming elephant fish and visiting a village where hyacinth honey is harvested and produced (and getting to sample plenty of it)!

  Our homestay was amazing. We had the choice to stay at a nice hotel, but wanted a different experience. Out of a group of about 20, only me, Travis and a German man named George chose the homestay option. Boy did we ever make the right choice!! We were all driven out to the countryside (via motorbike)… about 45 minutes away from the group at the hotel. After crossing a rickety bamboo tightrope that served as a bridge connecting to the home, we were welcomed with open arms. It was our tour guide’s parents’ house, his cousin who also lives there was our interpreter during our stay and everyone from grandparents to cousins, ranging in age from four to 94, live in this home that sits on a rice and fruit farm. We were treated to a homemade feast consisting of shrimp fritters, rice, fish and sour soup with pineapple, stir-fried tofu and beef, string beans and tofu, giant rice chips with peppercorns, fresh chilies (that make steam come out of your ears, but don’t make your stomach upset one bit!) and plenty of rice wine made by neighbors. We were also given a lesson in making Vietnamese pancakes, which consisted of egg and rice flour, made like a crepe in a wok, then filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork. We each made our own over a wood fired clay stove and they all turned out delicious! The evening was so much fun… and even with the language barrier—we could still manage to communicate just through laughter, hand gestures and the multiple cheers over rice wine of “Mot! Hai! Ba! Zoooo!” We woke up the next morning after a wonderful nights’ sleep to a breakfast of tea, bananas and an egg baguette sandwich. We also took a tour of their fruit farm and rice fields… where farmers out in the paddies were already knee deep in work (literally). After our goodbyes and treacherous walk back over the infamous tightrope bamboo bridge, we rode back and met up with the rest of the group who stayed at the hotel. Needless to say… they were a little cranky to hear that we had already had our breakfast—and had a free feast the night before, all the rice wine we could handle and time with an amazing family. Hehehe (evil grin)

  We made a visit to the popular tourist destination… the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. Until 1993, it was known as the Museum of American War Crimes which seems a bit more fitting because the exhibits are very much one sided. However, the museum does show, very graphically, the horrors of war—so I think it is worth a visit no matter your opinion of the Vietnam War itself. I would imagine for a veteran of this war, it would be a very painful and difficult place to experience. Outside on the museum grounds are restored pieces of U.S. military fighter planes, tanks, large bombs and helicopters which are all pretty amazing to see in person.

  We were in Saigon for roughly one week—maybe a bit more—I turned 27, Travis got a Mohawk, I got my nose pierced and we paid .50 cents per beer just about every night. Pretty incredible place with some wonderful memories to take away with us.

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