I have done a lot of travelling through Asia, and Vietnam is a really cool combination that I have not seen in other countries like Japan, Thailand, or Malaysia. The people are very outgoing, but it feels like they are not catering to you in the same way that they do in Thailand, for example. I mean this in a good way! Every person you meet in Thailand, it feels like, is incredibly nice to you, but there is also a feeling like they are trying to maybe get something from you. In Vietnam, to me it felt more like an actual working economy that exists independent of tourism, and every person was just living their life… and if I was there, they were okay with that. To me, I prefer not to have my butt kissed all the time… but it is a personal preference.
We wanted our trip to be a combination of some interesting historic bits and pieces, and also have some total relaxation time, so we ended up doing quite a bit of traveling throughout Vietnam. Buses were easy to get around, and they were very cheap.
We started with the more intellectual stuff, in Ho Chi Minh City, and our very first day, we went to the War Remnants Museum (Nha Trung Bay Toi Ac Chien Tranh). Growing up in America, it was already embarrassing enough to even be in a country that my government and military treated as badly as it did, and the war museum just drove home that guilt even more. When I think about everything that country had to go through, and had to see so many unshakeable images… I get chills just thinking about it. To be honest, I am glad that I went and paid my respects, but I did not want to stay there very long. There was too much brutal information I did not want to experience.
Instead, we decided to lighten up our afternoon, and we headed to Ho Chi Minh Square, which was really beautiful. Talk about perfect landscaping! To stand in such a famous spot often does not feel as special, but it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by greatness standing there. There are no mopeds allowed on the square, so it is so incredibly quiet, the silence is probably what you notice the most, compared to the rest of the city. I loved seeing the statue, and the design of the place is stunning. To me, it sort of felt like it feels to stand in Paris somewhere and be washed over by classy style. The only slightly strange thing to me is that the square is completely surrounded by all of the biggest, most luxury brands you could ever imagine, like Chanel and all the rest of them. The very strange thing is that it feel like this city hall or town hall or whatever it is called could be out in the middle of nowhere, and it would fit perfectly. In fact, the fact that it is surrounded by flagship retail shops actually makes it feel so much stranger than it is.
Outside the city is Cao Dai Temple. I think it is actually not THAT far out of the city, but it took our driver about two hours to get there. At first I thought he was scamming us, but then I realized that he was on a flat rate, so he could not make extra money from us for the time, and we could see that we were hopelessly stuck in traffic, so I think it is just on an unfortunate road. Regardless, I still think a visit was worth the fact that it took up a day. This is a gorgeous religious landmark. The intricacies of the architecture and design work absolutely took my breath away. What a beautiful, special place!
It is also nice to get out of the city because… well, because the Vietnamese cities I went to are pretty loud. People drive a little crazy, they yell pretty quickly, and they do not generally hold back as much as you would find in a more developed, quiet society. I loved the energy of the streets, but after two days in Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to move to a slightly nicer hotel to have a little bit more of a respite from the manic world outside. I just found myself wanting to wear silencing head phones and having a break from the loud world.
Finally, we decided we were ready to totally unwind, and we headed to Phu Quoc Island. We chose it because we heard the scuba diving was really good, and we both got certified in the last year to scuba dive. This turned out to be the first time that either of us actually went scuba diving anywhere that was not a pool or a lake, and it was really cool. There was beautiful coral all around, and so many diving companies, they were all fighting for my business. I rented my gear from our tour guide because I knew I did not want to lug around my own stuff, and the entire day was perfection. There are so many beautiful fish and sea creatures here, and the coral is really wild.
After scuba diving, we asked around and it turns out that Safari Bar is an awesome place to stop by after a long day. It is full of happy people just looking to have a beer and relax. There are basically no worries, no concerns, and everybody knows your name (after maybe two days). We got a little tipsy and drank local beer, and it was basically the most chill end to a vacation you could ever imagine.
If you want to me more cultural when you are over there, we heard that there is the Phu Quoc Prison, and it is a good place for tourists to check out locally. Personally, I thought it sounded creepy and dark, so I opted against going, but people swear the tours are interesting.
I have to say something about the food in Vietnam: it was AMAZING!!! There is so much fresh seafood and lots of fresh veggies in every meal. I ate every single meal of every single day, and I never once felt over stuffed or gross. It just felt like the healthiest diet. Even if you eat a dish with noodles in it, there will still be plenty of rough, fiber filled veggies, and I know it sounds crazy, but after two weeks in Vietnam, it felt like I had been on a diet. Usually I come home feeling like I need one!
All in all, Vietnam was a cool combination of history, relaxation, and a neat vision into another culture. I like that the people generally do not bend over backwards to point out that you are a tourist – they mostly just go ahead and live their normal, every day lives, and that relaxed me as much as anything, I would say. Out of all the places I have been, all around the world, I would definitely go back to Vietnam… and that definitely says something!