Xin Chào!! (Hello/Good morning in Vietnamese, pronounced “sin chao”)
After TWELVE DAYS in Southeastern Asia, I have many stories! Some good news and some bad news, but overall my 12 days in Vietnam and Cambodia were amazing; full of culture, cuisine, learning experiences, and adventure. I was with a cohort the whole time I was in Cambodia, February 12-14, and the other days between February 4-15 I was in Vietnam. I learned so much from Cambodia that I believe it deserves a second post – so stay tuned! But for now, here are my stories in Vietnam.
Reasons I was excited for Vietnam included the pho, cheap and fashionable clothes, and the weather. Once we were notified about having 12 days in Vietnam due to China cancellation, I began to research, and realized Vietnam’s incredible landscape diversity and biodiversity. I also made sure to study up on my history of Vietnam before porting, as the Vietnam war and imperialism over the country has a big influence in Vietnamese society and politics today. Vietnam proved to be a country much more tourist friendly, activity-filled, and nature-scenic than I expected. The cities, beaches, and forests were all a pleasure, and there are so many places to visit. I recommend researching Vietnam if you are looking for future travel destination abroad (especially on a budget)!
My first two days in Vietnam I spent touring Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Saigon. I went around the city trying new foods, buying the tourist elephant pants, visiting their famous yellow post office, the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace, Saigon Sky Deck, some temples within the town, and the bustling Bên Thành Market.
My third day, I went with a group of friends to the Mekong Delta. This area was beautiful and the trip was a highlight of Vietnam! We got to bike, ride in boats and tuk-tuks through the jungle, eat lots of fruits and native protein sources, and try coconut candies that we watched be hand-made. Through food and exploration, our understanding of the tropical ecosystem was expanded, as we learned before porting in our global studies course that the factors of ecosystem and society are deeply intertwined in this region. The water level, soil nutrients, and climate all play roles into the success of food harvest, tourism, and survival in the communities. The Mekong Delta region is the 7th largest, hosting a population of 21 million. Sea level rise has threatened the future use of the sustainable food practices, shelter, and survival of the delta communities.
After sometime in Southern Vietnam, I flew up to Da Nang with two friends and visited Hoi An for the lantern festival! We stayed at the nearby beach An Bang, and relaxed on the beach during the day and visited the cities at night. The lantern festival happens once a month, and was lovely to participate in. We had a boat ride along the water and let paper lanterns with lit candles into the water to make a wish. I enjoyed seeing so many decorative boats with happy locals, tourists, and plenty of members from Semester at Sea – the festival was quite a hit!!
After two full days in the coastal area, we flew north to the capital city, Hanoi, where we stayed one night. The next morning we got picked up for a 2 day-overnight tour cruise of Ha Long Bay – one of the world’s seven natural wonders! On our boat tour, my two friends and I were with a group of 11 other tourists and 1 guide that led our group in English – but myself and my two friends were the only people with English as our first language! We enjoyed talking to the different couples and friend groups from other countries including Austria, India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. We had a lot of seafood, enjoyed a cooking class, tai chi lesson, and we got to kayak through an oyster pearl farm. I also caught a squid while fishing! (of course I put the baby squid back!)
Our hikes with the tour were to Ti Top Island where you could get an elevated view of the bay. We also went to the (not very creatively named) Surprising Cave that had been formed from water intrusion into limestone, and continuously formed through the slow drips shaping calcium stalagmites.
Once we were back in Hanoi, we got to see a water puppet show and go shopping. New, comfy and cheap grey adidas for me! The water puppet show illustrated Vietnam’s history with a variety of stories including French imperialism, family struggles on rice patties, and artistic representations of the four symbolic animals; the unicorn, turtle, phoenix and dragon. If you ever go to Vietnam, seeing this show is a must!
We flew back to Ho Chi Minh City after the show, and the following day I went to the Cu Chi tunnels and Vietnam War Remnant Museum. I was so thankful for this day of history. I learned a lot through hands on experience at the tunnels, and we got to talk to a veteran from the war. A lot of our conversation as a group revolved around the importance of education, and reasons why it should not be forgotten in the US.
The museum exhibits were thought provoking to viewers of all nations. I read from media sources during the war about domestic and international opposition of US involvement. I moved through rooms displaying remnants such as a well that children hid in, weaponry, and fragments of a B-52 wreckage. I held back tears moving through an exhibit on The Effects of Agent Orange. I reflected on my privilege to travel in a country that people from my nation and even from my family were here once to serve. I am believe the US and countries across the world still have improving to do, but I am thankful and privileged to not have grown up living in fear and danger. Thank you to those who have served!
I left for Cambodia the next morning. Once I arrived back on the night of the 14th, I spent that evening and the next day in the city. I had more pho and boba tea, went back to the market to bargain for family presents, and rode a motorbike a couple times around town with my friend using “Grab” (similar to Uber) before getting back onto the ship. Thank you Vietnam!!
So the bad news I’ve had since leaving Vietnam is that due to Coronavirus, our voyage has not only been diverted from China, but also Malaysia and India. At the time I got the news, my boyfriend Henry was with my family prepping gifts and goodies to bring me as we were going to spend the time I had in Malaysia together. I am really upset we won’t be able to see each other for another few months, but it will make us stronger. ️<3 In addition, the airline made a deal with Henry to delay his flight to a later date this year, so its likely we will be going to Malaysia someday!!
After a few days of thinking, I have become increasingly grateful for our itinerary changes. As of now (subject to change), we have 4 days ported in Victoria, Seychelles, a country I had not even heard of before the reroute, and is way out of my price range to fly to anytime soon! Semester at Sea has refunded me for all of the programs I had booked in India and Malaysia, and we are not charged any additional costs for the port changes. We also have 4 days in Port Louis, Mauritius, and an extra 2 days (now a total of 8) in Cape Town, South Africa. A lot of students are really excited because they realize they can fly back to India and even Malaysia someday, popular spots for tourism, but Seychelles is much more difficult to get to, especially on a budget. If anyone has been before or heard of it and has travel advice, let me know! I am thankful for Semester at Sea’s work to keep us safe – this program is adventurous, resilient, and my voyage being their 128th, I trust they will make the best travel decisions for me!
Thanks again for reading! I am eager to write about Cambodia and share my life-changing learning experiences. Stay tuned!