Holy Culture Shock Batman: Welcome to Vietnam

I fear this blog is going to be jumping all over the place, but I just write with where I am in the moment and what I am feeling, so I am going to try to cover my explorations in Vietnam and know I will be getting back to Okinawa and New Zealand soon.

Vietnam was my first country where my really big challenge to myself was to not really plan anything which may sound like no big deal, but was scary and challenging for this usual excel mapped out vacations kind of traveler. I had my hostel booked for Ho Chi Minh city (still called Saigon by the locals) for the first few nights I got here, but that is it.

My flight was from Christchurch, New Zealand through Sydney, Australia and then onto Saigon and it was not a quick journey. Just watching the flight map on my screen after leaving Sydney making the way across Australia made me realize what a ginormous country it really is and I hope I get to explore it one of these days. I thought I was flying Qantas all the way through, but my flight from Sydney to Saigon was actually on Vietnamese Airlines which was a bit of a surprise. There was also a weird rule which was per the supervisor (I asked, trust me) that since I didn’t have an airplane ticket leaving Vietnam (since I was planning on busing it to Laos), that I needed to show that I was actually going to Laos. So at checkin I had to (frantically) book a hostel in Laos showing I wouldn’t be staying in Vietnam forever which was a smidge stressful and although I get the reasoning, it sure would have been nice to know this before getting to the airport. I had already followed all the rules to getting a Vietnam visa pre-approval visa, so this was another one of those curveball travel throws I wasn’t expecting.

Anywhoo, my flight to Saigon was quite interesting for sure. First off, there were very few movies in English on this long journey and one of the newest ones they had was The Titanic 😂🤷🏻‍♀️. Because when one is traveling on mass transportation showing a movie where many people die on mass transportation is a grand idea 😆. Also, their current music hits ranged from the Backstreet Boys to Bruce Springstreen to Pitbull to David Bowie. Such an eclectic mix.

Next up, there was quite a commotion up towards the left side of the plane about ten rows in front of me and a lot of yelling in Vietnamese and then the call over the intercom asking for medical professionals and I was wondering what in the world was going on. The guys sitting a few seats next to me happened to get up to go help and everyone was watching wondering what in the world was going on. This small Vietnamese man wearing a Mets hat was trying to climb over his seat and going crazy. He was yelling and there were about five flight attendants and a few medical professionals holding onto him and trying to get him to not climb over his seat and calm down. Eventually they first locked him in a bathroom (😳🤔), then restrained him in the last seat of the plane. I asked the medical professional sitting near me what was going on and he said the guy was having a psychotic episode and was adamant he needed something at the back of the plane and swore he only had a few drinks and no drugs. Anyways, this was my first intro to Vietnam from the magical land of New Zealand and I was wondering what in the world had I signed up for.

I can’t remember why Vietnam had made it to my top five on my travel bucket list (Vietnam, New Zealand, Bali, Italy, and Tibet), but it had and I was certainly excited to get here. I think it may have been the multiple Anthony Bourdain episodes where he raved about it or some travel blogs/books I had read, but whatever it was it has been in my top five for years and I was stoked to finally step off and discover all it had to offer.

Luckily on another site I had learned about this fast track service visa service you pay $30 for and they basically do everything for you when you get to the airport. After a four hour flight to Sydney with a five hour layover and another nine hour flight and getting in around 7pm, I thought this was the best money spent so far. A dude waited for me at arrivals with my name on a sign, I handed over my passport and visa fee, and he took it to a special desk. He even helped me get a Vietnamese SIM card while waiting for the visa to get processed (less than 15 minutes), and was I was able to skip the at least hour long immigration line. He took me down and waited for my luggage, whisked me through customs, and then called me an cab to my hostel. Seriously worth the $30!

Once I was finally settled into my taxi, the holy culture shock batman feeling began to settle in. There was constant honking of both cars and motorbikes and more motorbikes than I had ever seen in my life! They wove in, around, and all over the place and I am still impressed to this day at how many people they can fit on a bike (most I saw was five!!!) and also what they transported as well (tvs, mattresses, windows, and so much more)! The sounds, colors, and landscape could not be anymore different than New Zealand in every way possible!

I splurged in Saigon for a hostel and got a room to myself with my own bathroom (!!) as I tend to like my own rooms in big cities just for safety wise. It was actually a really cute hostel with a great breakfast, but it wasn’t one where you could really mingle with the other guests so I was on my own for exploration. I was told Saigon is one of highest cell phone snatch cities in the world (they drive by on motorbikes and either snatch your phone or your purse), so I don’t have much pics from my walking explorations, but I did do some awesome motorbike tours. One of the other travelers I met on this tour had his phone snatched out of his hand the day before when he was walking around!

I have always been slightly afraid of motorbikes as I know what happens if you get in an accident and it’s usually never good. Well, my 2017 NY resolution was to say YES to things I usually say no to, so I figured there was no better way to explore the city than to hop on the back of a motorbike and get over my fear. I found an awesome company owned by women and all the bike drivers were women, so I decided why not and actually signed up for two tours to go all in. I did a day city tour which was not only awesome because we were able to get off the beaten path, but saw some of the main attractions as well. I had SO much fun on the bike I was shocked! I won’t lie, there was many times I clenched my eyes shut as I was sure we were going to crash, but that never happened. I also was paranoid as the first question I was asked before getting on the bike was if I wanted a Saigon tattoo and I could tell by the way she asked my answer should be no so I said no and then she proceeded to tell me that you get one if you are not careful about getting on and off the bike and where the tail pipe is 😳. Yup, that is a hard pass in tattoo land for me 😂.

I loved the city tour as we met up with four other tourists and went around the city together to the famous post office (where there is an old man who has worked there for something like 50+ years), a famous church, a local market where we tried some delicious coconut treats, a temple, a building from the famous last helicopter leaving Saigon with the ladder, drives through the amazing flower market and China town, and a shrine dedicated to the monk (Thích Quảng Đức) who lit himself on fire to protest the persecution of Buddhist monks by the South Vietnamese government in 1963. You should read up on this monk, he was amazing and did not move the entire time he was engulfed in flames. I am probably leaving a few stops out, but it was a kickass tour that left me feeling empowered about conquering a fear!

The next day I went out and explored the city on foot and went to the sobering War Museum. After visiting the Hiroshima Memorial I was pretty done with seeing the atrocities that humans do to one another, but I knew this was an important place to visit, so on the day that is was down pouring outside I slowly walked through some parts of this museum with a sickening feeling in my stomach and there were some parts that I had to quickly walk through (namely the Agent Orange part). I know it is very slanted in one view, but I still think it’s a very important place to visit and think about. There were numerous times traveling through this country where I really questioned what kind of research our government did before engaging in war here as these people and the terrain are hardcore. Just from my point of view which I know is not my area of expertise in any way, but there is zero way I would choose to engage in war with this country based on what I saw and felt here.

Next up on my time in Saigon was a Friday night city and food tour, again on motorbike, which was insane, both traffic wise and food wise. Friday night is the night out in town so everyone and their Grandma is on their bikes in full force and it’s indescribable other than intense, insane, crazy, and fun. I ate all kinds of things I have never tried before (frog, goat, balut) and fell in love with Bun Bo Hue, a type of noodle dish. I also had some amazing chili crab and scallop dishes and I have to say this tour was by far my favorite thing I did in Saigon!

My last day in Saigon was spent on the back of a motorbike yet again, but this time it was with a local woman I met on a Girls Love Travel Facebook page! Trang is a tour guide for her “normal” job, but she build a she built a special tour for me based on what I wanted to see and other local places she takes people to. First up we went to one of the oldest apartment buildings in the city which was crazy to see. There are so many people living in such a small amount of space, yet it even though a bit chaotic it seemed so orderly as well. We walked through a local market and I tried some foods I never would have tried without her. On the earlier city tour I noticed a pink church I wanted to return to, so I was able to go back and get some awesome shots and fall in love 😍😍😍. A pink church?! What?! Loved!! I also had coffee at the oldest coffee shop in the city that has been opened since 1938! We had a great time and it was fun to meet someone off a Facebook page that I have been on for some time now. All in all, Saigon was a fun city and I felt like I really was able to soak it up and see a big part of it.

Next up I will write about my time along the Mekong Delta in Can Tho and my favorite island of Phu Quoc.

I am slowly catching up…😊😊🌈🌈!

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