Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Southeast Asia Vacation - VIETNAM

So here I am, about a week and a couple days after arriving home from my month long vacation and I am finally writing it all down. The memories, the moments, the excitements, the beauty. All of it. I am proud of myself; I have struggled in the past to journal in a notebook. I never keep up with it. Honestly, I get bored of it. Which is funny that I've kept this blog for this long. But, nonetheless, I journaled in every city and destination we were in. So, while I'm late and slack in keeping up with my blog in terms of my vacation, I do have it written all down as it happened in my journal sitting by my bed. Memories are a beautiful thing. 

I am going to do this summary and highlights of my vacation in three separate blog posts. One for each country I visited while away on my Southeast Asia adventure! So first: VIETNAM! 

Really though, I should say southern Vietnam. Unfortunately, a month is not long enough to see as much of Vietnam as I would have liked plus Cambodia and Thailand. So, we (I should also clear up now that whenever I say "we" I am referring to Brittany and Erin and I - my two friends that I travelled with on this wonderful trip!) decided to stick to southern Vietnam where it would be warmer. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), also known as SaigThe American team who are brother and sister were really good. They were last to skate in the third heat. Scott and Tessa's heat is warming up now. on. 

Now, this trip was not short on bumps in the road. I mean, it's me. When does anything ever go smoothly and without disruption in my life? So, my amazing travel luck began with a little mishap at the airport in Ho Chi Minh. After collecting our Visas and heading to the luggage carousel, I noticed that my backpack was off the rig and on the floor, wide open and my things scattered around it. After careful examination, I figured out that I was missing 4 bags: three zip lock bags of clothes and electronics, and a purse that I intended to use as my day-to-day bag that I had packed hygiene products in for the flight. Luckily, after visiting lost and found I found the clothes bags and the electronics bags, but the purse was gone and it has never been found again. At first, I thought that the backpack had probably just burst open in the plane and they threw all of my belongings on the carousel as they found them. But the more I thought about it, and the more I went over the picture in my mind of how I found my bag, the more I am convinced that someone opened my bag and took the purse thinking it was filled with purse like things (money, passport, credit cards, etc.) But, AH HA! it wasn't, and that awful person got a lovely surprise when they stopped and opened the bag to find tampons, a brush, medication, and some hair products. 

After I cursed and fumed away in aggravation, we found our way to the hostel we were staying at in the Backpacker District in HCMC. The first thing I wanted to do upon arriving there: SHOWER! After my shower and moments before the girls and I were to head out for a meal and exploring, I started to feel some awful pains in my stomach. And they kept getting worse and more intense. I told the girls to go ahead, that I wasn't hungry and I should probably wait until these pains pass before I leave the hostel. While they were gone, the pains got so bad and I started to get really sick (I won't go in to the details, you can imagine...) and then these big red blotches started appearing all over my body. I have had allergic reactions in the past, but not like this. These blotches were the size of tea saucers on my body, and they were EXTREMELY itchy. Eventually, they started swelling off of my body. Every time I went to the bathroom to be sick, I came out with new blotches on my skin. Even my scalp was burning and itching uncontrollably. When the girls arrived back to the hostel, I rolled over and looked at them and I kid you not, I said to them "I think I'm dying..." Shortly after that, we ended up at the nearest clinic where I was given an IV and medications to make the reaction go away and the sickness in my body to cease. I lost track of time and I couldn't tell you how long we were there, but I know that when I woke up I felt SO MUCH BETTER! Erin and Brittany were so patient and they sat by my bed even though I couldn't keep my eyes open and I know they were just as tired. Thanks, girls! 

So that was Day 1. Needless to say, I was pumped for Day 2 and that it really couldn't be much worse than day 1 was. 

We did some amazing things in HCMC, and I quickly fell in love with this place. HCMC has a huge backpacker population. There is always people coming and going out of this city. People from everywhere and all corners of life. I think that this was probably one of my favourite things about being in HCMC. This being my first time traveling internationally (besides the US), I was excited to see what this backpacking culture was all about and see if it fit me and my personality. I LOVED meeting all of these new people and hearing their stories. My favourite night in HCMC was when we went out in the Backpacker District. There are bars and pubs everywhere, and we ended up at a bar where we ended up getting free drinks because we were "hot girls!" Yes, the bar was advertising free cocktails for "sexy ladies only!" and I guess we fit the bill. As the night carried on, we ended up befriending girls from the UK, a guy from the states, and brothers from Germany. It was such a fun night, and we ended up leaving with memories and some great tips for our upcoming travels. 

I definitely wouldn't say that I am a history buff, but I do enjoy learning about different cultures and their past. So while I knew about the Vietnam War, I definitely didn't know a lot and would never be able to explain it to someone in a conversation. So, what better way to be given this knowledge than in Vietnam itself. We spent some time learning about the war and how it evolved and what it entailed. What I didn't realize about the war was how brutal and ruthless it was towards the Vietnamese people. I know that I don't have the full stories, and I know I have so much more to learn, but what I did learn was very eye opening and impacting in many ways. Most of the stuff I learned about the Vietnam War was during our visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are underground tunnels at various depth levels that were used as a means for the Vietnamese people to hide from the enemy and to protect themselves. Our tour guide, who called himself John Wayne, was so knowledgeable about the subject matter and taught me so much. He knew the ins and outs, and he was very passionate about his culture and its history. At the end of our trip, we got to have an opportunity to crawl through the tunnels. While I wouldn't say I am completely claustrophobic, I don't enjoy being in small, tight, dark spaces. And that's just what these tunnels were. My chest got tight and my heart started to beat a lot faster, but I pushed and crawled my way through the tunnels. Because when in Vietnam! We also visited the War Remnants museum where we learned even more about the war through pictures and stories. 

That's the face of confidence right there!
Other things we did in HCMC: 
 *- took a day trip through an area of the Mekong Delta, a water way that flows in to the Saigon river used for the transportation of goods. It also surrounds these little islands inhabited by people who are crafters and farmers. 
 *- went to the night market for shopping. 
 *- enjoyed some delicious, delicious food like Pho, fresh spring rolls, and Vietnamese coffee (addicted!)
 *- visited Handicapped Handicrafts, a business that sells handmade crafts made by Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange. What a powerful and special place!

Pho. Yummy, yummy Pho!
Traveling through the narrow water ways of the Mekong

After spending 4 days in HCMC, we spent the weekend in a beach town about 2 hours away from HCMC called Vung Tau. I'm not going to talk much about this place because there really isn't a lot to say. All we did was sit on the beach for two full days. However, I can't say I'd ever be chomping at the bit to go back. This place definitely wasn't one of the more popular beach towns, but we chose it because of it's proximity to HCMC as we had to get back there to catch a flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and feared the traffic getting in our way of getting back in time for our flight. So, since it wasn't really a tourist hotspot, we did get the beach all to ourselves which was quite relaxing and peaceful. But the town itself was a little dirty and run down in ways. However, we made the most of it and it is a good memory! I mean, it's the place where I first put my feet in the South China Sea. That's a special kind of memory, folks!

I can't wait to go back to Vietnam. I've already started considering taking another trip to this beautiful country so I can see more of it, especially the northern area near Halong Bay. There is a lot of this place that I haven't seen, and I don't think that I can say I've REALLY been in Vietnam until I see more of it. So for now, I'll tell people I've been to southern Vietnam only.

Next up, we move on to Cambodia! Stay tuned :)