We touched down in Ho Chi Minh just after sunset. I turned on my phone to double check the booking info for our guesthouse. It was a university dorm that rents out rooms to the public. We got a large room with 3 double beds and a private bath for about $20. But then I realize its located in District 3… damn! We knew nothing about this city, but what we did read was to book accommodations in District 1, which is the busy tourist/backpacker area. Honest mistake. District 3 is a quiet, suburban area according to what I was reading briefly while waiting for our bags. Not many tourists around here, or restaurants by the sounds of it and of course after our flight we are all hungry.
We checked in and decided to walk the street for some food. We actually were on a main road that had some food options. We grabbed a beer at the 7/11 and walked by a market. A group of locals were sitting at a table eating snails and drinking beer on ice. They stopped us to say hi and being that we just cracked our beers we decided to sit and join them. We spent a solid hour chatting with King, Lee and Hill. Lee was the only one who spoke english so he tried to translate some of the conversation. Laughter and “cheers-ing” is universal language so we stuck with that for the most part. Lee works in tourism and gave us some tips for the rest of our visit. They even bought our beers. Truly good people, we were lucky to meet them. This encounter helped solidify our love for Vietnam. We found an awesome pizza joint before heading back to the “dorm” and crashing. I guess District 3 wasn’t a mistake after all.
In the morning, we realized the War Remnants Museum was fairly close to where we stayed so we decided to check it out. We hadn’t heard about this place before but definitely wanted to see some more history. The museum was way beyond our expectations. It was a huge building with multiple floors and different areas showcasing horrifying accounts of the war. The whole exhibit really demonizes the American involvement. I can imagine it is hard for some westerners to see. Most shocking was probably the room dedicated to Agent Orange, the chemical American troops sprayed in Southern Vietnam. It shows the horrible genetic defects caused by the use of this weapon. A preserved fetus on display was a shock to see.
The Vietnamese people have experienced unimaginable pain. Their families, homes and land were destroyed by the war. We left feeling a mix of sadness and anger. Sad for what happened here. And angry that wars just like Vietnam are still happening today, in other parts of the world. Its a disgusting part of humanity.
After that heavy experience it was time to pack up and move to District 1. We checked into Galaxy Hostel and roamed the streets for the rest of the day. Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam. We continued to improve our street crossing skills here and nobody got hit by a scooter! Its a very developed city. It still has smaller areas with charm like we seen in Hanoi, but also modern sky scrapers, designer malls and all that 21st century jazz you would see back home. We grabbed a map and hit a few points of interest like the Reunification Palace, Notre Damn Cathedral, Central Post Office and Opera House.
A walk around the city isn’t complete without a stop for some refreshments. All over south East Asia you see food stalls and restaurants that have outside seating, but they use “kid sized” plastic tabled and chairs. We noticed this especially in Vietnam. It seems like a local past time to kill the afternoon or evening, eating and drinking beer on ice, while sitting in these little chairs. We made this a usual activity of ours as well. When we met King, Lee and Hill we all sat at the little plastic sets as well. We noticed they had quite the snail and mussel feast with their drinks. We made it our mission to experience that as well. A couple days later we did and it was awesome!
This part of our trip was special for us. March 17th marked 10 years since we became an item. Anyone that knows Britt won’t be surprised to know we hit a burger joint! We’ve been enjoying all the local foods but Soul Burger hit the spot. We walked back to our hostel through a nice park. It was lit up beautifully and they had these small pavilions busy with couples young and old dancing. A mobile DJ rolls his cart up and plays all the hits. It was really cool to see.
Another educational excursion we had planned for a while was the Cu Chi Tunnels. Its a couple hours out of the city. We booked a package with our hotel that included bus transportation and a guide. These tunnels were initially constructed around 1948 as a means to hide from French air strikes. It was more famously used for Viet Cong fighters during the American War and expanded to a 200 km system. At one time housing underground hospitals, schools and kitchens. The guide explained the traps used against the American Soldiers who came to the Cu Chi area. We also got to climb through the tunnels. Its a creepy, claustaphobic experience. And these were just the “tourist versions”, expanded to about 1 square metre. The original tunnels were very small and the Viet Cong had to crawl through them on their stomaches. It was more of a “look at the cool tunnels and traps” kind of thing, rather then a war history experience so we were really glad we stumbled across the Remnants Museum as well.
We have been lucky enough to travel slow for the first part of our trip. Five weeks in India and 4 weeks in Thailand gave us enough time to really get to know a place. Unfortunately with Vietnam and Cambodia, we will only scratch the surface. They deserve so much more time to explore but we are lucky to have spent anytime here. We are already talking about coming back.