Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (The Final Days) & Trip Reflection

Ho Chi Minh City (The Final Days)

These last couple days in Ho Chi Minh City  (Saigon) have been pretty relaxing. Because of Tet, the Chinese New Year, there is hardly any traffic. Tet is the biggest holiday of the year in Vietnam and most people leave town to go to their home town in the country. Because of this, I am not experiencing the crazy Saigon experience. I was going nuts in Hanoi and expected worse, but luckily that has not been the case.

Hannah and I decided to go to the market to see if there were any shops open for souvenirs. When we got there, there was hardly anything open. We bought a few things, but security was shutting the whole place down. From here we walked over to the Independence Palace. This was the South Vietnamese Presidents home and workplace during the war. This was also the place that was stormed by the North Vietnamese tanks to end the Vietnam War in the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

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The rest of the day I pretty much laid around waiting for nightfall. At midnight, there is fireworks to start the New Year. I met up with an old Korea buddy first, Jay, and had a few beers. We watched the fireworks together with his girlfriend and we then headed back to the backpackers neighborhood to drink more. This pretty much concluded my four weeks of travel, Tet in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)!! Happy Chinese New Years^^

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Reflections

The trip I have wanted to take through South East Asia, for about the last four years, is now complete!! The reason it has taken so long to do is because of the graduate school studies I’ve had the last three years. In a way, this trip made up for that time lost traveling because of studying and it was a pat on the back trip for completing my schooling. But, this is just the beginning!

When I started this trip, I decided to keep it as open-ended as possible. The only planning I did was having the route idea in my head and I bought tickets for my entrance and exit to and from the region. I also chose not to buy a travel book, like Lonely Planet, which at times I regret. A travel book can really help a traveler get to difficult destinations, avoid getting cheated, and give guidance on prices. But I also learned not rely 100% on “the book”!! I did download and purchase a few apps for some of the places I went through. Some of them were helpful while others sucked. A friend asked me, “How can you possibly travel for four weeks without planning your trip in detail?” Well, the experience I found when planning every step of a trip is that it weakens the experience. It doesn’t leave the traveler open to the possible experiences he/ she may have on the road. It doesn’t allow other potential paths to open up. If I planned my trip in detail, I would have missed out on a load of experiences I had not anticipated and the time I spent with new friends I made on my trip may have been shortened.

In the future, I do feel I will do a little more research on the places and regions I will visit, if I’m not feeling to lazy,  so as not to get taken advantage of. Also, a little research like Googling the place and looking at the destination’s photo gallery may have been helpful! I almost missed a huge destination sight in Laos because I had no idea what I was going to look at in the first place.

In the end, I would have to say I have probably had one of the most memorable solo backpacking trips to date. The people I met made this trip epic!!! I ate way more foods, saw more places, had a ton more laughs, and felt bonds that can only be made between kindred spirits. Some of the people I met and traveled with will be people I will see again. Even if our paths don’t cross again, at least we have other travel experiences to share between each other for future adventures.

Until the next big trip!! At the moment, it’s looking like Mongolia, the Trans-Siberian, and Russia this summer. This one will take more logistics planning because of visas and potentially meeting up with a hometown friend. Hopefully we can make it happen this year!!

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Cu Chi Tunnel Tour & Ho Chi Minh City (Day 25)

I was able to sleep in about a half-hour earlier today, but these early schedule wake-up calls everyday is pretty much wired in. I had actually got some random person messaging me about Vietnam because they saw my blog. I felt pretty good about that because I know most of my friends don’t read this at all and have no interest in my travels. Thank you to those that do!!! I eagerly messaged back and then got out of bed and prepared for my trip!

I was joined by my new friends Hannah and Chris, who were both on the Mekong Delta Tour with me the day before and also were staying at my guesthouse. We met up for our free breakfast and before we knew it, were on the bus heading to a major battleground area of the Vietnam War and home to a massive 200 km tunnel system used by the villagers of the Chu Chi area around Ben Dinh, the Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese Army. It was an area that was continuously bombed by B-52 bombers and swept by U.S. forces during the war.

As we went through the tour, our guide showed us a number of tactics used to wound or kill American soldiers. In most cases, the Viet Cong wanted to wound, not kill, American soldiers because when you wound a soldier, two more are needed to help bring that soldier to safety. This cut down on soldiers actively fighting every time a soldier was wounded. Not only were these tunnels very tiny, but very elaborate in construction. For most U.S. soldiers, crawling through the tunnels would have been impossible because of their size. Tunnel Rats, an elite unit of soldiers who where small enough to go into the tunnels and fight, were often used.

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The Viet Cong also used many booby traps to wound American soldiers. We were shown a number of different examples. Also, because up to 30% of the bombs dropped by B-52 bombers did not explode, the Viet Cong used these unexploded ordinances to blow up tanks with road-side bombs or create alternative explosives and ammunition with the gunpowder in the bombs. From here, we then went to the shooting range to shoot a number of different guns, if we chose. I did not shoot anything because a number of the weapons I have shot before and I own an AK-47, that I can shoot anytime I go home.

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The best part of the tour was set for last, crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels. Now, there is only a small stretch of tunnel we went through compared to the 200 km of tunnel. For those that felt claustrophobic and couldn’t make it the entire length, there was an exit about every 20 meters. I was 1 of about 3 people in my entire group that was able to go the whole length. The tunnels were a lot smaller than the ones I visited at the DMZ and twice as big as their original size for us big, fat tourists! I really enjoyed this experience of seeing the perspectives and life of the guerrilla soldier. These people were just defending their home and land. Most guerrilla fighters were just farmers and had no interest in politics. All they knew was that another county was trying to invade their land. This was the case for 100 years before the American’s even came to Vietnam. Most of these tunnels were already created from when the French occupied the country. If another country invaded America, I would be doing the same thing.

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When we were leaving the tunnel area, I asked our guide if we could get dropped off at the War Museum. Well, it ended up being a good idea because all but about 6 people on the bus got off to go there. I sometimes have good idea moments 😉 The museum was laid out really well and showed the war crimes of American soldiers, imprisonment conditions, torture tactics used on Vietnamese POW’s, the affects of Agent Orange and other chemicals dropped on the jungles, and photos taken by a dozen different photographers of different nations throughout the war. There were also a number of U.S. military vehicles and weapons used on display. I felt it told the story from the Vietnamese side very well and tactfully. The museum wasn’t as propaganda filled as some of the others I had already been to in the country.

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After the museum, Hanna, Chris, and I walked around in the same area we had been in the night before.  This time I was able to see the Ho Chi Minh statue, which I could not the night before.

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After a few beers at a nice bar, my day was complete! Tomorrow I plan on renting a bike and riding around town. Ho Chi Minh City is getting really quiet with all the people who have left town for the holidays. I don’t think I am getting the real Saigon experience and I’m happy with that. Until tomorrow!!

 

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Mekong Delta Tour & Ho Chi Minh City (Day 24)

The Mekong Delta Tour was about a two hour drive south-west of town. The traffic was absolutely crazy. Because of Tet, the Chinese New Year which is the biggest holiday of the year for Vietnamese, everyone is heading out of town to go to their home towns.  To give you some perspective, there are about 8 million people living in Ho Chi Minh City and 5 million motorbikes. So when we made our way through the madness of traffic, we got on our boat in My Tho to cross the delta to stop at Unicorn Island.

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On Unicorn Island, we visited a little honey bee farm. We were able to look at some bees at work in their nest. I had an opportunity to hold one of the honeycomb slabs full of bees, but once I got the courage I lost my chance. We then moved over to taste a sweet honey tea that I found really good and a banana wine which I thought tasted like banana tequila. We also had an opportunity to hold a snake. This was pretty cool and I didn’t have any fear about doing it. From here we also tried a number of exotic fruits I could not tell you the names of. I have no idea what I was eating, but I did try everything that was put in front of me!!

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After a little taste testing at the bee farm, we then moved on to some Mekong Delta action. We climbed in our boat, put on our rice patty hats, and went for a little ride. This is pretty much the one thing I was looking forward to on the whole trip.

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After getting paddled down through the jungle, we went to the Ben Tre province to see how handmade coconut candy was made. I also had the opportunity to drink some snake whiskey. For not being a big fan of coconut, I thought the candy was really good. A bit to chewy for me though. It has a texture like taffy. The snake whiskey tasted similar to a rice wine and did have a kick to it, but not to the point of giving me a surge of heartburn.

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From here we got to ride horse-drawn carriages to lunch. As for the lunch, Hannah, an Aussie girl I met from my hostel, and I decided to split the Elephant Ear fish. It was the cheapest thing on the menu, but they charged by the kilo. We didn’t realize this, so we ended up paying more than we originally planned. But the fish really was excellent!!

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After lunch, we then had one more little trip down the delta and headed back to Ho Chi Minh City. Overall, I thought the Mekong Delta Tour was decent for the 345,000 Dong ($16.40 US) I paid. I got to try some unique foods and have some experiences that I would not have had otherwise. The people I was on the tour with were also really nice!

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After we all got back, Chris (UK), Hannah (Australia), and I went to find some food and then walked around to see some sights at night. One stop I had to make was to Hard Rock Cafe- Ho Chi Minh City!!

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I almost forgot it too and thankfully the Hanoi one isn’t open yet, or otherwise I would have been pretty upset to have missed it. We also ran across Saigon’s  Notre Dam and enjoyed seeing all the lights set up for the big New Years celebrations.

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To end the day, Hannah and I got our feet eaten by fish!! It cost each of us 100,000 dong ($4.75 US) for 30 minutes. Afterwards, your feet feel so smooth. I did it in Thailand four years ago and jumped on the chance tonight. After 24 days of travel, my feet needed a little loving!

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I will be heading for a half-day tour tomorrow to the Cu Chi Tunnels used during the Vietnam War.

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Hue, the DMZ, & the Train in Vietnam (Day 21, 22 & 23)

Day 21

I made it off the train and to my hostel fine. I just jumped on the back of a motor bike and the driver took me to the place for 50,000 dong ($2.60 US). I’m really liking this motor bike transportation.  To crazy for those who are not very brave, because there are always numerous times you think you are going to die. I like it because I don’t have to sit in traffic with a normal taxi losing money.

When I got to the place, I checked in and then rented a bicycle down the street. She wanted 50,000 dong, but I talked her down to 20,000 dong ( $.95 US) for the day. I need to work on my negotiating skills. I’m to much of a pushover.

After getting the bike, I headed to the Imperial City. It is similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China but not as impressive. It is going through a phase of reconstruction that is still taking place after damage from the Vietnam War. The Battle of Hue was pretty significant and though the U.S. avoided bombing many areas of the city because of the historic and religious reasons, the Tet offense caused many buildings to become damaged. There are still marks on the walls from bullet holes.

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After the Imperial City, I stopped by a War Museum next door. It had a number of U.S. tanks and artillery that had been damaged or acquired during the war. It is interesting to read descriptions of different items on display that refer to the U.S. as the “U.S. Imperialists” or the South Vietnamese as the “Puppet Regime”. Always good to see a deferent perspective, whether you agree with it or not.

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I didn’t feel like biking around anywhere else, so I stopped at the DMZ Bar and had a few beers and a basket of french fries. This pretty much concluded my day. I’ll be getting up to head to the DMZ for a half day tomorrow.

Day 22

I got up early for a 6:30 pick-up to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that once separated North and South Vietnam. This is on the 17th Parallel and is 10 km wide, 5 km split the North and 5m for the South. The length of it is a little over 100 km, running from Laos to the South China Sea, with the Ben Hai River being the geographic divide. For those who don’t know, the North was a Communist government, while the South was a Democratic government.

I was originally only planning to do a half day because I had to catch a train to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). But, I found I would have no problem doing the full day and I would make it back for my train. This was a relief for me. I honestly didn’t want to miss out on anything. The first stop was “The Rockpile”. This was an observation post and artillery base from 1966-68. It was only accessible by helicopter and because of its altitude, the U.S. could send artillery rounds about 40 km. The top was a lot flatter then, from what the tour guide said and the Vietnam flag now flies at the top today as a statement of victory.

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We then headed over to see the Dakrong Bridge. This bridge is now in place of where a secret bamboo bridge of the Ho Chi Minh Trail once was. The bamboo bridge was under the water, so to avoid detection by U.S. B-52 bombers. This was a really quick stop, and just up the road we stopped at a minority village. The kids in the village all rushed to us and seeing how these people were living was pretty sad. The guide talked about how the government helps these people because in a Communist country everyone is equal. But, I’m pretty sure they are not treated equally from a Vietnamese person. Just taking us to this “minority village” clarifies that in my mind.

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After the “minority village”, we then went to the Khe Sanh Combat base. There was a small museum there that described how the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) attacked this base in full force to draw more U.S. troops there to help, and then attack the less defended South during Tet, the Chinese New Year. As with any museum in Vietnam, it is full of propaganda language. I was the only American on the tour, with a number of Canadians and we were having a good laugh at times. One photo showed, ” U.S. Marines shutting themselves in bunkers for fear of their own shadows.”

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When we were done wandering around for a bit we went for lunch before heading to the Tunnels of Vinh Moc. This was a really cool tunnel system that had three levels and took 18 months to make all by hand. This area was bombed nearly 24 hrs a day because the villagers were thought to be supplying the North. The tunnels had kitchen, living, meeting, bathing, and health care areas. Nearly 60 families lived here to shelter themselves from the bombing. 17 babies were even born here. I thought is was a pretty amazing set-up. I can’t believe these people lived down here for  nearly 6 years.

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On the way back to Hue and through the old DMZ, here we crossed the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River, which was the center of the DMZ. We made it back to town with plenty of time to spare. I was able to buy a few things and get some dinner before getting on the train, which ended up being an hour late anyways.

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Day 23

On the train, I found this one did not have a plug for each bed. I was forced to use the battery power on my devices. The worse thing about this train ride were the people I was on the train with in my car. There was an old lady in the top bunk across from me that had to get up at 4:30 in the morning, was yapping with a few other old ladies, and having no consideration for the people trying to sleep. Secondly, the kid of the couple in my room was a winey little piss-ant. All night winning and kicking all over. You can’t tell me that that mother doesn’t baby the hell out of him, giving him the rule of the house. The mother was just as bad. It’s 6:30 in the morning and she is playing Vietnamese music on the highest level on her smartphone and her husband was talking loud on his phone. When they were all trying to sleep a little later, I decided to FaceTime a couple friends back home without using my headphones or talking quietly, just to annoy them. Was going to watch some TV shows on my computer without the headphones too, but I am just to considerate by nature, it’s hard for me to be rude very long.

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So, this train ride was about 20 hrs long. I met some cool people at different points and survived the idiots in my room. In the morning, all of us foreign travelers were in the hallway area bitching about our Vietnamese roommates and how rude they were with very loud voices while they all were trying to take an after breakfast nap. It was good fun to dish out their own medicine.

In Ho Chi Minh City, I went out to dinner with an Italian guy and French girl. I even tried grilled alligator. The meat is tough, but tastes like chicken. That’s it for today! Tomorrow I will go on a Mekong Delta Tour.

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam ( Day 18, 19, & 20)

Day 18

I had to get up at about 7:30 for an 8:30 pick-up today for my three day/ two night trip to Ha Long Bay. This trip is supposed to be one of the highlights for me. Everything I have read and heard about this place has been good. Good based on how beautiful it is, not necessarily the boat. That part could be hit or miss. Often what happens is travel agents promise this and that, show pictures of the boat you will be on, but in the end it could be a pile of junk. So, I am crossing my fingers for something that isn’t a total peice of crap. One of my friends mentioned being on a junker and hearing rats in the middle of the night!

I grabbed my free breakfast of eggs and toast before the bus driver picked me up in front of my hotel. I was the first on the bus and I was really hoping I would be in a group of younger people.  Not a bunch of old people or couples with kids. When we pulled up to the next stop, three young and beautiful 23 to 24 year old French girls got on the bus. They were just traveling Asia a bit before they head to China for four months for an MBA program.  I was feeling pretty happy about that and started up a bit of conversation immediately. When we got to the next stop, we picked up two young Aussie dudes. One of them seriously looked like Zac Efron and before he got on the bus the girls said something in French about how hot he was. After living abroad, I pick up easily what people are saying by the way they talk and body expression. “Damn it!! There goes my shot.”, I thought. The next stop was for an Italian couple, that were total hippies. My type of people for sure. She didn’t speak English, but the guy did, so I was able to have a conversation with them at different parts of the trip.

The bus trip took about four hours to the coast. This is where I got to experience Vietnamese driving for the first time. Here they are driving all over the road trying to pass each other, while also playing chicken with oncoming traffic. It would take awhile to get used to their driving style before I could drive here.

Soon after getting off the bus we got on a small boat that then took us to the boat we would be staying on for the night. After having a little lunch on the main boat, which happened to be the best meal I had eaten in Vietnam up to this point, the three French girls got upset with the tour guide about it being the wrong boat. I was also thinking the same thing, but had read this may happen and I was hoping for the best. The cabins were nice and clean, the water was hot, and the food was good. To me, it was living up to what I over paid. After lunch we set sail into Halong Bay. It got more beautiful the furtherout we went.

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Our first stop was The Dragon Cave. It had three main chambers and was pretty cool but heard the other cave that many tours go to are better.  The guide showed us all these things that were in the rocks, like Buddha, a dragon, people kissing, etc. It was a bit annoying, so I showed him a big dog in a rock. The thing about rocks, stars, clouds, or a piece of toast is that you can see whatever you want to see..After the cave we went kayaking.

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The kayaking ended up being a bit difficult for me because the three French girls were not interested in doing it, leaving me to go solo. It was nice being on the water by myself, but the problem was I didn’t have enough power to go very far. Either way, I made the most of it! I had head there were caves I could kayak in, but I guess this tour didn’t take us there.

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Next stop was a beach on an island were we climbed a small mountain to see a the sun setting. There were a lot of people trying to go up and down this small path and I kind of got claustrophobic. Halfway up I did see my monkeys, but they were unfortunately in a cage. When they talked about monkey island I expected wild monkeys. After taking my photos, I headed back down to grab a beer and watch the sun set on the beach.

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From here we went back on the boat and relaxed a little before we had dinner. Dinner was pretty good, but by this time I figured out this small group of mine was not into having a little drinking fun, and pretty much stuck to their groups. I stayed up a bit and had a beer and gave a go at fishing before I went to my very cold room. I had to wear my pants and winter jacket to bed just to stay warm. I thought a hot shower would be great, but when I messed with the faucet a bit, I lost the hot water and couldn’t get it back. Shame!! So to bed I went because the WiFi sucked on the boat and nobody wanted to hang out. Hope tomorrow is fun!

Day 19

We had to get up really early to get breakfast today. The three French girls and I were going to change boats because  we were on the three day tour while the others were only on a two.  Funny thing is, the boat we then went to was the boat we were told we would be on in the first place. After talking to a couple people on the boat, it sounded like they actually did karaoke and had a bit of a good time. Bummer for me! The boat then headed to a pearl farm. We got to walk around and see how pearls are made. There was a station were a couple guys were cutting open oysters when he offered someone in the group to eat one. Nobody wanted to, so I said I would eat it. I have had raw oysters before, so this wasn’t anything new to me. I have come to really like sea food since living in Korea and am way more open to trying new things or throwing raw fish down my throat.

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After the pearl farm we headed to a secluded beach. We spent about 40 minutes just chilling out. There was a Russian girl that joind us that seemed a little off in the head. She had a different outfit for everything we did and was filming everything with a GoPro Camera.  None of us went swimming except the Russian girl.. I just walked around looking for some shells. I asked the French girls about the outfit changing, and they said Russians are like that. I know a few Russians and have never seen this behavior before, so I may have to look into it more, out of pure curiosity.

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After the beach we headed over to a part of Cat Ba Island. Here we took bicicles into a town on the island and walked a bit into a National Park. I really enjoyed the little bike trip , but there was a  Vietnamese couple who had just got married that ended up hiring a driver back. The couple seemed a bittle off. He lives in New York and she is from Vietnam and did not speak English. The French girls and I figured it must be some kind of arranged marriage and the awkwardness I felt between them was just them getting used to eachother. I can’t imagine being in an arranged marrage situation!!!

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After our bike trip we headed to the main part of Cat Ba Island were we were dropped off at different hotels. This kind of sucked because I was hoping to hang out with the girls that night, but failed! I was at the hotel by myself and was even brought to an empty restaurant to eat by myself. Oh well, I had heat in my room and pretty fast internet. I was able to catch up on some of my TV shows, drink a beer, and upload photos and post a blog. So, probably more productive than just getting wasted 😉

Day 20

I had to wake up at 6:30 to get rolling for my pick-up back to the boat. I went to the same restaurant I had dinner at for breakfast and then got picked up by my bus to go to the boat. I found a comfy mat on the upper deck and laid out to watch the scenery and take pictures as we headed to shore. We did end up making one boat transfer and had a nice lunch before getting off the last boat.

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Once off the boat, we had to sit around for about a half-hour to wait for our bus. I unfortunately got crammed into the back seat. They do not make these buses for Western people that are over 5 1/2 feet tall 😉

After I got back to Hanoi, I hung out at the place I booked my tour while waiting for the train. I also decided to skip out on a few other places in Vietnam because I don’t have enough time. I ended up booking a $50 train ticket for $85 bucks from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City for Sunday night. A bunch of con artists they are here.

When I got to the train station, I found I got to share a four bed room with a Vietnamese family. There were a bunch of other travelers in my train car too that I ended up chatting with at different points, including a nurse from Holland that had come here to volunteer. He works with a lot of kids with disabilities, especially those that are affected from the aftermath of the U.S. dropping Agent Orange chemicals across Vietnam during the war/ conflict/ occupation/ invasion… etc.  Really cool guy.

Well, here I go on my 14 hr train ride! Should be interesting 😉

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Hanoi, Vietnam (Day 15, 16 & 17)

Day 15- Landing in Hanoi, Vietnam

It feels weird being separated from my friends, Daniel, Nadine, and Hsien after meeting and traveling together through Laos last week. When I landed at the airport, I was supposed to get picked up by a hired driver, but he wasn’t there. I found an ATM, got a SIM card, and looked again before heading outside to immediately get asked if I needed a taxi. I guess using a taxi is the best option to get into town from the airport. I asked, “How much?”, and he said, “Meter.” I agreed knowing this should cost about 400,000 dong ($19 US) and depending on how he drove, I could pay more. I told him to take me to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, but when we got down there he tried pulling the whole, this hotel that hotel crap they talked about in the guide books and I ended up paying about 440,000 dong ($21). A couple bucks may not seem like a lot to those in the west, but a couple bucks is a big deal in other parts of the world. And those dollars lost add up over time.

When I got to my room around 11 PM, I was ready to get some sleep so I would be rested for the next day. The staff were super friendly and the place serves free breakfast. I’ll be hitting that up in the morning!!

Day 16

I got up and ate my free breakfast, which included scrambled eggs, bacon, bread, and coffee. It actually wasn’t that bad! From here, I walked around the corner to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It’s the oldest Roman Catholic church in Hanoi. It was consecrated on Christmas night in 1886 and in order to be build, the French demolished Bao Thien Pagoda, which dated back to the 12th century. I was built to resemble the Notre Dame in Paris and holds services only on Sundays.

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I stopped at a travel agent to book my 3 day/2 night Ha Long Bay boat trip. I ended up paying $135, which I feel is double what I should be paying. She sold me on the quality of the boat and accommodations, so I guess I will find out if I get my money’s worth. I also booked my night train ticket to Hue Friday night. Because of Tet, I need to plan a little more I think.

My next stop was the Old City Gate, built in 1749, and the Long Bien Bridge. This bridge was built between 1899- 1902 during the French occupation. It had been bombed many times because of different conflicts and rebuilt. This includs a number of bombings in 1967 and 1972 by the U.S. army.

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Now I’m off to the Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake. This lake is the center of Hanoi and the temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. In the center of the lake is a small building called Tortoise Tower. There are no bridges to go visit, it is just out there on a little island.

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From here I was looking for the Museum of the Revolution, but failed in this quest. I could have stopped at the Museum of History instead, but opted not to go. I continued my walk at passed the Hanoi Opera House, that was constructed between 1901-1911 and the Cultural Friendship Palace.

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This next building is the Ambassador’s Pagoda. It is the only part that remains of a 15th century hall that burned down and is often used for official ceremonies.

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Not far from the pagoda was Maison Central, otherwise known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. This place housed U.S. POW’s and Vietnamese revolutionaries. Most of what was shown, in regards to the U.S. POW’s was how good they were treated with propaganda videos depicting this. No different than a U.S. propaganda video of that era. They even had John McCain’s flight suit on display. But, a lot of what was on display focused on how the French treated prisoners there during their occupation.

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After Maison Central I headed over to the Temple of Literature. It was constructed in 1070 first to honor Confucius and now to celebrate scholars of Vietnam.

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Lastly, I headed to the Statue of Lenin. I was hoping to also go up the Hanoi Flag Tower and visit the Vietnam Military History Museum, but that will have to wait for tomorrow!

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After the first day of Hanoi, I was tired of walking around and ready to leave. Everywhere you go, someone is asking if you need a ride or wants you to buy something. Plus, it is so noisy and smoggy with millions of motorbikes driving around constantly. Now, I am in the old district and can’t say what another part of town is like. It could be very different. Plus, I may just be oversensitive after coming from laid back Laos!

Day 17

I got up early today to see Ho Chi Minh’s body! I saw Mao in China a few years back with my friend Nicole and since then I have made it a mission to see all the dead dictators. Lenin in Moscow and the Kim family in North Korea would complete the Dead Dictator Tour, unless there is another somewhere I wasn’t aware of.

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I got up at 6:30 in the morning to I could get there by about 7:30. It opened at 8am and I figured there would be a huge line, like when I went to see Mao, but there wasn’t.  In and out I went. Like everything I read, he looks like he is asleep and a bit waxy. After seeing Ho Chi Minh I headed over to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which was pretty interesting. Another item on the must see list was The One-pillar Pagoda. Fortunately for me, it was just outside of the museum. It was originally built in 1049.

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I was looking for the Ho Chi Minh Residence after the museum, but later found out that it was next to the mausoleum exit inside the grounds. I was not about to go back through security, because the lines started getting longer now. After making a number of attempts to get back in an alternative way, but getting busted by guards continuously, I walked past the Presidential Palace and headed to West Lake, Hanoi’s largest fresh water lake, to see the Tran Quoc Pagoda. It is regarded as the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and has a history that dates back 1,500 years.

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My legs and feet were killing me at this point, because of  all the walking the day before. But, I was heading to my last stops, the Hanoi Flag Tower and Vietnam Military History Museum. Of course when I get there they are closed again, this time for lunch. I waited around at a coffee shop right next door. The place looked like a great place for coffee, but it tasted horrible. I didn’t even finish it. I also bought a sandwich, but had to force it down. Over the last two days, I just have not found anything good to eat. Making me miss Lao food!

While I had some time to kill, I went across the street to chill out in the sun near the Lenin statue. While there, I ended up talking and hanging with a British traveler. When the museum opened, we had a pretty good chat about Mongolia and Russia, my next possible destinations this summer. I love hearing about other peoples experiences and enjoy sharing mine.

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The first picture is the Hanoi Flag Tower. Another symbol of Hanoi, it was originally built as an observatory in 1812. The second picture is surrounded by military vehicles, Vietnamese and American. As you can tell, they are very proud of the wreckage from planes shot down. There was another park that had the wreckage of a B52 Bomber and I guess the Air Force Museum had a number of military vehicles and wreckage that had been acquired during the Vietnam War/ Conflict/ Occupation… I was just a little to burned out to make it anywhere else. I had seen pretty much all I wanted to see in Hanoi to this point.

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That was the end of my day. I negotiated a ride on the back of a motorbike and chilled out at my hotel the rest of the afternoon/ night. Tomorrow, I will be getting up to take a three day/ two night tour of Halong Bay! Should be beautiful 🙂

 

Resource: Ho Chi Minh Photo. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-08/north-vietnamese-leader-ho-chi-minh-lies-in-state/4560074.

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