We were just pulling out of Hong Kong, when Mark Ferne, the Dean of Students, called a ship-wide meeting. This was a first, so we all went to the Kaisersaal (auditorium) for the meeting. He said there were high winds in the South China Sea, and that we could not leave Hong Kong until tomorrow morning. This meant that we were going to lose a day in Vietnam. Just 24 hours later, we learned that our planned side-trip to Cambodia would be impossible on the new schedule and we would not get to go to Angkor Wat, a famous archeological and religious site. I was really looking forward to seeing the amazing temples and ruins of Angkor Wat… so our journey in Vietnam would have a lot of expectations to live up to…
Here’s a look into our days in Vietnam from my travel journal.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2016
DAY 75 – HO CHI MINH CITY -> DA NANG
Day 75. That’s quite a long time. Three quarters of the way to 100 days of travelling since we left home!
I woke up this morning, pretty late, and watched the boat going up the Saigon River towards Ho Chi Minh City, (which used to be called Saigon) by run down houses and large trees. I went up to the top deck, and as I walked out the door leading to the pool, a blast of heat hit me, and within seconds I was sweating.
We were fortunate to be in Vietnam at this time. Vietnam is currently going through their biggest holiday of the year. It’s called Tet. There are lots of super cool decorations hanging everywhere. The wires, the telephone poles, people were even hanging flags on their own roofs.
With the delay, we don’t get to spend as much time travelling which was REALLY disappointing. We walked around Ho Chi Minh City for a while, and it was very hot. I was absolutely sweltering, and Sydney and Piper were not happy either.
What’s the first thing we really noticed walking around Ho Chi Minh? Scooters. The Vietnamese can’t live without ’em. Often, you’ll see more than 100 scooters waiting at an intersection, and when you cross the street, well, I know Piper doesn’t like it, there’s WAY too many of them. In fact, the method of crossing the street is to JUST WALK SLOWLY AND STEADILY and they will flow around you. And, nobody minds if you put four people onto one.
Something else that you don’t think about when you think of Vietnam is that Vietnam is one of the world’s five communist countries, even though its economy is heavily capitalist. There were lots of signs with Ho Chi Minh promoting communism throughout the city.
Our first stop was the War Remnant Museum for the Vietnam War. They had some of the aircraft that the Americans used in the war, and how many people each of them killed. They had pictures of Americans and South Vietnamese doing horrific things to their enemies. It didn’t make me feel proud to be American.
Next, we went to a restaurant just to get my favorite Vietnamese food, Pho, and a drink to cool us down. They had three TVs in there, and one of them was playing Star Wars, so my eyes were glued to that TV the whole time.
We were on our way walking back to the ship, when we found a square full of people celebrating Tet. In the middle of the square, there was a statue of Ho Chi Minh, the former leader of Vietnam. To the sides of Ho Chi Minh, there were lots of lotus flowers commemorating Tet. Down on the other side of the square, were huge arches with blue and green lights made to look like planet earth. There was a huge crowd of people, most of whom were picking off the lotus flowers as part of a tradition during Tet.
We got some Pho for dinner, but we only ate the noodles, not the beef that came with it. Why?? THE BEEF WAS STORED IN THE BATHROOM!!! Ugh. Nasty.
We got back to the ship at about 7:00 so we could start our excursion to Da Nang and the nearby Hoi An ancient town that night. This was the first time we went on an official Semester At Sea expedition– there were 25 of us, with about 18 students, a couple of other adults … and our family. Everybody that was doing the excursion needed to get on a plane at 10pm from Ho Chi Minh City to fly to Da Nang in Eastern Vietnam… and when we finally got to our hotel in Da Nang, it was very late, about 12:00, and we got right into bed.
After the whole day, we were very tired, and lying in bed, closing your eyes, and going to sleep feels extremely nice.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2016
DAY 76 – DA NANG
It’s simply not comfortable to wake up, drenched in sweat, in a hotel without the air conditioning turned on, and I was amazed I was able to fall asleep, even though I was so tired. It’s just really hot here.
We walked down to the breakfast buffet, and I got to eat Vietnamese omelets, which are the same as American omelets. Yay!! After breakfast, 25 people plus our tour guide got into our coach, and rode off to Hoi An ancient town to go see a couple of shrines, a famous bridge, and a tailor shop to get some clothes made.
We got dropped off right by a market. It was here that our tour guide told us about the weirdest, type of coffee ever. It literally translated into “weasel s**t coffee”. I am SO going to try that so I can say I ate poop. Weasel poop. That would be really amazing. Apparently they feed the weasels coffee beans, but they can’t fully digest them, so when they poop it out, the coffee beans are still mostly intact.
We went to a very small market next, and got to go into a couple of shrines within the market. There was a heavy smell of burning incense with lots of smoke in both of the shrines– the incense is formed into giant red spirals like you see below in the picture. Al through the town, we saw lots of people selling foods or little souvenirs right on the sidewalk, next to lots of old buildings.
One of the sites in town is the most famous bridge in all of Vietnam. The bridge is so famous that it made the 20,000 dong bill. (20,000 dong is just a little less than a dollar. That makes me a millionaire.)
I rose to the challenge of joining our dean of students and trip leader in eating a shrimp head at lunch today, and it definitely was not my favorite food. I was much happier when just a couple minutes later, we walked to the beach!!
We made a ridiculously awesome sand castle. We even made a quotation for it. “Who needs Angkor Wat when we can build it ourselves??” It had three walls and three moats, and in the middle we had tons of decorations with a pond, a mountain, cool buildings topped off with shells, and lots of arches. We even made a large tunnel right through one of our mountains. On the front, we wrote three gigantic letters: SAS.
And… We get to stay in a different hotel!!!! Maybe this one will have air conditioning turned on. We were all a little dirty from the sand and the ocean, so when we arrived at the NEW hotel, we dropped our bags off in the room, and we jumped into the pool. It was 90 degree Vietnam, so I expected the water to be pretty warm… and it was FREEZING!! I only jumped in a couple of times to get some cool pictures. Although the other hotel was nice, I definitely liked this one better.
Finally, when we arrived at dinner, I hurriedly looked at the menu to see what I would be eating, unfortunately it was a set menu. We were to eat moneybags (like little dumplings), rice, and mango salad. It was okay, but I wouldn’t choose to eat them again.
For our last activity, we went to a fair that was set up for Tet. We walked around the fair a little, and I wish that we could have gotten to do some of the carnival games, but unfortunately, my mean dad won’t let me.
Good night or goodnight, it doesn’t really matter, as I’ve just figured out!!
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2016
DAY 77 – DA NANG
20 kilometer bike ride today. I was pretty excited, because instead of walking around in the intense heat, we get to bike with the air blowing on our faces.
We rode to the nearby river, where we got to row in basket boats, which are exactly what you’d imagine them to be, woven basket boats. We had lots of fun in the hot sun, as there was a little bit of a splash fight, (which I initiated) then got back on our bikes and kept on riding.
We arrived at a large bridge with a big uphill, which, in turn, means a big downhill!! I tried to get up the uphill as fast as I could as to get to the downhill… which I just blazed down as fast as I could. NO PEDALING!!
We rode through rice fields and through dirt roads, over concrete, and most unfortunately, there was some cow poop that we rode over. (poop seems to come up a lot in Vietnam)
When we finished our bike ride, we ate a quick lunch, went to the tailor for anybody that bought clothes for fitting, then went to our cooking class.
First, we went to the market to get any extra spices or meat that we may want in our food, but we didn’t get anything. We then took a boat to where we were actually to do the cooking. We got a clipboard with a packet of cooking recipes on them, we were showed just once how to make the foods, and then told to go make it. One of the more impressive things that I did, was PERFECTLY flipping my Vietnamese pancake without any practice flipping anything from a pan. I think the number one explanation for my skills is simply… Kendama.
I MADE THE BEST PANCAKES EVER!!
And, it was really fun!! We even get to bring the recipes home!! That means more Vietnamese pancake skills.
And the great thing is, it’s always easy to go to bed on a full stomach. Tomorrow… we’re off to Myanmar!!! We’ll be there in 5 days. Super excited!