Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City

Everything seemed to be going so well. We got let into Vietnam without any issues and our bus even arrived to Ho Chi Minh City a half hour early. Then we got scammed twice within 10 minutes, leaving Vietnam -2 points right off the get go.

The taxi we chose to get in ripped us off. It was a "fake taxi". The meter was going up exponentially fast and we immediately knew that this guy was taking advantage of us. In the midst of this, we realized that we needed to exchange money to pay the guy ripping us off. He took us to a sketchy jewelry store where a sketchy man was waiting for us. His sketchy exchange rate was atrocious, but we kind of had no other option. We thankfully only gave him 1,000 baht, because come to find out, he had given us some fake money. This was almost enough to make us turn around and go back to Cambodia!

In the morning, Brittany and I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were about 90 minutes outside of the city. This is where the Vietcong dug three-tiered tunnels to attack the American soldiers during the Vietnam War. It was interesting and our Vietnamese guide was very knowledgeable. We got to crawl through one of the tunnels which was a bit too stuffy for us. We tapped out at the first stop.

Back at Saigon Backpackers Hostel, I went to take out my computer to upload pictures, and realized my laptop was gone. I immediately broke down because this is any travelers worst nightmare. Brittany and I went through the scenarios, but it all came back to us having no clue! I called my hostel in Phnom Pehn. It was not there. My only thought is that someone swiped it from the bus at one of our stops. Leaving things on a bus is an amateur move, but I'm normally too trusting of mankind. I had to try to think positively. At least I still had my money, passport, and phone. In the midst of it all, Amelia's friend Jason came to take us to dinner. He's been living in Vietnam for a month and we found a great place to eat Vietnamese. We had a lot of fun and took my mind off of the mystery of the missing laptop for a few hours, until I got in and FaceTimed my parents. Water works all over again. Now we're joking about how light my backpack is without it (and how I can help my friends carry their belongings). Always look to the bright side!

So, Ho Chi Minh City, usually better known as Saigon, is another city along our journey that is rich in history. I've always known the name Saigon, thanks to my early Roz's Dance Works days. When I was maybe 7 or 8, my cousin Kara danced to The Heat Is On In Saigon, along with another song from the musical Miss Saigon. Although I don't remember the dance, I can remember that number was my favorite throughout my 12 years at Roz's, and it also made me think that Kara was a huge superstar. Which she is ;) They actually still wear the rice paddy hats here!

HCMC is one that I really enjoy. It is pretty modern, green, and clean, and reminds me a bit of New York City in a way. We found a program where Vietnamese university students take people on free tours, so we decided to do that. It was interesting. Hii took us to a market, to the Reunification Palace, lunch, a Chinese pagoda, and most strangely of all, the Vietnam Museum of Natural Medicine. It wasn't technically a free tour, since we had to pay for Hii's entrance fees and lunch. Fine print of course. We were confused as to why he wanted to take us to the extremely pointless and boring medicine museum instead of the War Remnants Museum, but we decided to do that one on our own the next day.

I would highly recommend the War Remnants Museum. It gives a play by play of the history of the Vietnam War. Lots to read and lots of photographs. The whole second floor was filled with photographs from the action that brave (or crazy) photographers and journalists took. They were really intense and eventually got brutal. The pictures show the truth though. Weapons, blood, scared children, soldiers.

Most surprising to me was the fact that many American soldiers became monsters. Coming right from learning about the genocide in Cambodia, we talked a lot about how anyone could kill innocent people, and here we were learning that our guys did something similar. To me, it looks as though when you're in the midst of a war, you desensitize yourself, and maybe start finding other victims, even if they are innocent civilians. Some of the stories in the museum of what American soldiers did to civilians is horrific.

With all the scams and corruption that I ran into in Ho Chi Minh City, I am still happy with my visit. With bad always follows good. The people who scammed us and who stole my laptop will get theirs. It's called karma. The good for me came in experiencing the history and a new city. I also had sushi for the first time since America, and that was enough to keep me smiling for days!

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