Falling in Love with Vietnam, One City at a Time!
As an American, I never knew that travel to Vietnam was a thing. In my mind, I learned only of the Vietnam-American War and formed pictures of a completely bombed country with little to see. You never hear of anyone around the U.S.A. speaking of visiting Vietnam, atleast not in anyone in my circle.
Boy was I wrong…
The first time I went to Thailand, every traveler’s response when asked what country they were headed to next, they would say, “Vietnam”. So on my year-long journey, I added this country to my list to see what attracted so many backpackers to this country. It only took me about an hour for the love-forming process to begin. I checked in my hostel, introduced myself to my new roommates and found my way to food just up the block from The Hide Out (my hostel). I am a bit embarrassed to admit that before Vietnam, I had never had the notorious Pho, so I knew automatically what I would order.
Coming from Cambodia where the country is just starting to rebuild itself after so many years of oppression, there wasn’t many cuisine choices. This was so apparent that they even served Thai food in every restaurant. I ordered my dish, not knowing what I was getting into. I tasted the broth first and was blown away! So many flavors burst in my mouth and in a daze I began to hastily chow down , at times pausing because it was still very hot. Wow. Vietnam is a food haven! I strolled along after eating and saw an unending list of different foods advertised in restaurants. So many foods I had never seen or tasted. As a food enthusiast, I was near tears. It was like discovering an abandoned city you had never known, a beauty you never thought existed.
The next day in Saigon, I awoke, had breakfast with my awesome ‘Kiwi’ roommates (New Zealanders) . Once again, blown away that their omelets weren’t plain, but cooked with cilantro and onion. I can get used to amazing food every meal!
I then met new people at my hostel and we went to the Chu Chi Tunnels, the tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam-America War. I got to see firsthand original (and some made for the tourists to see) about tunnels I read in history books throughout my school years. Whereas so many others are looking at someone else’s history, I walked around absorbing and witnessing my history-a history hushed so often by those in America. Walking through and seeing all the brutal weapons used against American soldiers, torture devices, hidden traps with long nail pits awaiting its victim, I sat there and imagined what it may have been like for a young 18 year old from America having to come here and go through trekking in the jungles, not knowing when you would be ambushed or walk in a trap. I thought about my brother, who currently is 19 years old and in boot camp training to become a Marine. It was overwhelming at times especially when it home for me and I had a sibling who could have been born during this time and would have had to endure such a heinous war. I learned just how much we messed up their country as well, learning for the first time about agent orange. Agent orange was a chemical poured across fields and jungles in order to kill off the plants and make it less difficult to determine where exactly the Viet Cong were. The outcome? Twenty percent of the Vietnamese population now are deformed-born with two faces, some with no limbs, some with shrunken heads-the list goes on and on. To this day there are babies still being born with deformities. It was tough to see but I felt grateful that I came and witnessed such a defining war that my country was involved in and instead of getting a rushed version in textbooks of a war my country is ashames of, I got to know and see the horrible truth of what both countries had to go through.
The next day, I continued my adventures and took a guided tour to the Mekong Delta. The It began pouring rain and all of us travelers were stuck in a rut, running from the rain and trying hide our electronics when shelter wasn’t available in order to keep them safe. The Mekong River was gorgeous but what made this trip wasn’t really the trip but all the amazing new friends I made. Belgium, Germany, English, Italian , Brazilian, French Canadian, Saudi Arabia: We were the united nations joining together to create hours of laughter, jokes and an endless array of swapping stories of our travels and recommending places to stay and things to do to one another. I even have began passing my Europe list to everyone, who all reviewed, deleted, added places to see , activities to do and where to go out at night.
Coming to South East Asia first was the best thing I could have done. I am always meeting people from all over Europe, many from major cities I will go to. So many of them have offered a place to stay and mostly to join me and show me around their city. So instead of being surrounded by travelers during my Euro trip, my best friend and I will get an authentic tour from a person belonging to that country. I am so overly joyed and each day I wake up with excitement- the anticipation of another adventure, the encounters with new friends, the never ending education I take in by hearing of others countries. It’s days like these that I wish could last forever.
So far Vietnam has been an eye opener into my country’s past. The place where I have met so many amazing new friends, ate delicious food for such inexpensive prices and have continued to sight-see every day. And to think today is day 4 of being in the country.
Well, my battery is running out. I have arrived in Mui Ne, Vietnam and will head out for dinner. Until next time!