Monday, February 18, 2013

Good Morning Vietnam!

Even though we were docked in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for 6 days, I only spent 2 ½ of them in Vietnam. For most of the trip, I was in Cambodia and I feel it deserves a separate post. What I saw and experienced is going to take a few days to fully sink-in, and I don’t want to write a post on something that impactful and sobering before I have had time to fully reflect on it. This post is going to be about day 1 and day 6 of port.

The morning of port in Vietnam, Amanda and I woke up at 5:45 to catch the 6 am sunrise. Exhausted, we managed to make it up there in time and saw a beautiful sunrise over the South China Sea. The ship soon turned to the Mekong Delta River and took another 4 hours before we finally docked in Ho Chi Minh City. It was incredibly hot outside which was a huge and abrupt change from the freezing weather of Beijing. I had a field lab for my consumer behavior class, so right after lunch we were the first ones off the ship.

We were met by our guide and drove an hour and a half north to My Tho, a city on the Delta River. While on the ride to the city, our guide told us about some of the practices and beliefs the Vietnamese share. For starters, he said that the woman’s place was in the kitchen, and the man had two jobs. One was his paying job during the day, and the second was drinking at the bar at night with friends. We were all taken aback by this concept because we have moved past that ideology but we understood this was a completely new culture from what we know.  We took a 15 minute boat ride across the Delta to an island where they grew coconuts to make candy and produced different types of wine. We all had tried the candy, some snacks the market made, banana rice wine, and the snake and scorpion wine (which tasted like pure rubbing alcohol). Next, we had a short walk through the jungle where we were met by a horse-cart.

The cart took us to a small residential area of the island with another market that specialized in honey-tea. We tried the tea and were given local fruits such as pineapple, dragon fruit, logon and milk apple. Then, local performers came out to sing and play instruments for a few traditional Vietnamese songs before we got onto small rowboats that would take us up the Delta. We were met by our larger boat which took us back to the bus.

After our drive back to Ho Chi Minh, we went to dinner at a very touristy restaurant. (The live band was playing songs like the Macarena and country music.)  They served Vietnamese food which is not much different than the other countries we have been to. Rice and noodles are big staples in their diet, as well as pork and spring rolls. As a whole, Vietnamese food is spicier than Chinese or Japanese, and this I believe is a way to keep them cooler. Vietnam is very hot, so much like other countries close to the equator, they like to eat spicy foods to make them sweat and stay cooler. We got back to the ship at around 10 pm, so I had time to pack for my trip to Cambodia before going to sleep since it was going to be such an early morning.
On day 6, Cassie, Kayla and I decided to tag along with the boys to see their suits they had tailored. The boys went on day 1 to get sized, and we were going to their fitting. Because the boys were on our Cambodia trip, they only had day 1 and day 6 free, so we had to get to the tailor’s by 7:15 for the fitting. This would give the tailor the rest of the day to make alterations before the boys picked them up at 4. Understandably, the Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year) lasts for 7 days, and was ending the second day we were in port. This tailor was one of the only ones open, so multiple SASers came here to get suits tailored and she was very overwhelmed when we showed up for the fitting.

Raj’s suit jacket turned out great and it was modeled after a David Beckham suit. Matt on the other hand, was having difficulties with his. Modeled after a Justin Timberlake suit, the jacket was way too tight and too short for his arms. The tailor said she would fix the mistakes, and by 3 their suits would be ready for pick up. Kayla, Cassie and I then went to get our nails done while Raj, Matt and Milad went to another tailor that was their first choice but closed on day 1. They wanted to order a suit for Milad, and Raj and Matt ended up ordering jackets there too.

 We girls were completely pampered at the nail spa. We had two people working on each of us, and paid less than $20 for a mani-pedi and foot massage and scrub. We spent roughly 2 hours there, and then met up with the boys for lunch at a local restaurant. The boys had made friends with the manager of the tailoring shop, so she recommended a smattering of food for us to try. Without questioning, we ordered it all and hoped for a good outcome. It turned out to be a great lunch with different dishes of noodles, pho, spring rolls and pork.

After lunch, we went to the War Remnants Museum. It was a 3 story building with artifacts and pictures of the war and things associated with the war. There was a room dedicated to Agent Orange and the aftermath of its use. That room alone took roughly 40 minutes to get through because of the amount of pictures and stats that showed the affects even today. It was hard walking through parts of it, but I am so glad we had the chance to go.

After the museum, it was time to go back to the tailor and see the final products. Unfortunately, this is where things started to go downhill. When we walked into the shop, the tailor looked frantic and explained that the pants of all the suits for the entire SAS group were at the tailor’s factory in a different city. They would be flown in, but too late for the boys to get since on-ship time was 6. Things started to get really messy when Matt and Raj tried to reason that they didn’t want to jacket without the pants, and they were only willing to pay for the shirts they bought. As soon as some of the other guys came in and began arguing with her more, Kayla, Cassie and I knew it was time for us to leave, so we stopped at a coffee shop down the street. The Vietnamese make excellent coffee, and it was the best iced coffee I have ever had. After that, we took a taxi back to the ship and made it in time for a social treat. The dean gave us incentive to get back to the ship early by bribing us with BBQ, so if anyone was back by 5, there were ribs, mac and cheese and other yummy foods for us to eat. 

I loved the port of Vietnam, mainly because of my time in Cambodia, but it was generally an amazing port. My Cambodian post will be up shortly, but in the meantime, check out a few of my favorite photos from the trip so far on the “Favorite Photos” page :)


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