Episode 5: Ho Chi Minh, history from a different perspective

One thing that I’ve loved about traveling is seeing the world from a different perspective whether that means from a plane, a tall building, or actually seeing how other countries view the world and what’s going on. Ho Chi Minh was no exception to this.

We began our second day in Vietnam with a bowl of pho.  But our way of ordering was slightly out of the ordinary.  You see, the four of us went to our friend’s favorite pho place around the corner from our hotel.  He was supposed to come with us but was too tired and told us he couldn’t make it but he would meet up with us before our tour.  We wandered into a local pho restaurant, sat down, looked around and then looked at each other.  It was one of those moments where everyone you’re with arrives at the same realization at the exact same moment. None of us can speak or read Vietnamese…

We looked around, looked at the menu posted on the wall and stared at each other.  Finally we came up with a brilliant idea and called our friend to tell him what we wanted to eat.  While we were on the phone, the waiter came over and we handed him the phone.  Our friend on the other line told the waiter what we wanted, we got the phone back and then we waited.

A few short minutes later, four bowls of pho and a side of meat balls appeared.  Our brilliant plan had worked!

Pho in Vietnam is slightly different than pho back home. The noodles are slightly thicker and the broth has a slightly different taste due to the meat in Vietnam compared to the meat in the U.S. And the basil they give you is significantly larger than in the States and you get a giant plate of limes and chili peppers instead of jalapeños.

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I ordered my usual and got a giant bowl of pho with meatballs.  One thing to note about these meatballs is that they are peppered and are more flavorful than the meatballs I typically get back home.  I do love the pho back home, but this was amazing. IMG_6338

As we finished up our food, our friend met up with us to get ready for our tour.  But first, we had to get back to the hotel so he could park his scooter. You see, the boys had already experienced riding on a scooter in Ho Chi Minh but we hadn’t yet.  So we sent the boys back to the hotel in a taxi and we hopped onto the back of our friends scooter and made our way back to the hotel.

If you’ve ever experienced traffic in major cities in Asia, you know that scooters and cars share the road.  In Ho Chi Minh, it feels like organized chaos.  There are scooters and cars everywhere, but the scooters predominantly stay to the right side of the road but there’s really no speed limit.  Technically, you’re only allowed to have two adults on a scooter at any given time but we managed to fit three and it was a short ride.  Our friend thought it would be a great idea to drive as fast as his little scooter and traffic would allow, this included taking excessively sharp turns.  I’m pretty sure we giggled and screamed the entire way home while our friend tried to give us a tour.  I know he was talking cause we have a video on the scooter, but the only things I really remember would be holding on for dear life since I was half hanging off the back of the scooter and laughing the entire way back to the hotel.  At the hotel, we picked up a taxi and made our way to the backpackers district to meet up with our tour bus.

We ended up at a Trung Nguyen No.1 Coffee Shop in the backpackers district to enjoy some good Vietnamese coffee. This is a great little coffee shop right on the corner across from the tour buses and they have different kinds of roasted coffee each served in an adorable cup with condensed milk on the bottom. After finishing off our coffee we made our way to the tour bus and began our journey to the Cu Chi Tunnels.IMG_6344

The first stop on our tour is was at a small little artist shop in one of the villages right outside of Ho Chi Minh where people who have been effected by Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are taught art and create beautiful pieces of work that you can purchase.  We saw beautiful artwork from paintings to small trinket boxes to giant vases that used different materials to create the images.  One of my favorites was a beautiful landscape created just by broken up egg shells.  If you ever get a chance to stop buy, it’s a great place to buy good souvenirs for people and supporting a good cause.  All the proceeds go back to helping the families that were affected by the war.

After that stop, we headed to the Cu Chi Tunnels. I must admit that I am not well versed in history.  It has never been one of my strong suits even though it’s fascinating to me. That being said, the Vietnam War was something that I’ve only ever learned about during history class and the occasional show I might have seen growing up.  But in all honesty, I don’t know much about it. Going to the tunnels was an experience to say the least.  This isn’t an opinion on whether the war was right or wrong but rather just trying to figure out how to put the emotions I experienced on this day into words.

If you don’t know about the Cu Chi Tunnels, these are the tunnels that the Viet Cong lived in during the war.  I recommend that every visit this place because it is amazing and breathtaking in so many ways.  It’s deep within a wooded area, obviously with some buildings added to it for the tourism. But the tunnels still exist and the history and what is shared is fascinating.  On the tour, you get the opportunity to climb into the entrance of a tunnel and have the lid placed over you.  This entrance to the tunnel has been expanded by about 50% to accommodate this activity and even then, it is still very small for the average human. After that, you walk through the forest and see various things like where air holes were created, make shift chimneys, weapons, traps, homes, etc.  The part that got to me the most was actually experiencing the tunnels.

They have expanded the tunnels so that people can go through them.  But the expansion isn’t much to say the least.  There is one tunnel that you can go down with exits at 20 meters, 40 meters, 60 meters, 80 meters and 100 meters.  It’s about 20 to 25 feet underground.  On this day, it was about 80 degrees fahrenheit and 100% humidity. As a rule, you cannot go down into these tunnels by yourself, you have to go down with a tour. We went down in the tunnels and started our journey through the tunnel. The tunnel was so small that I was squatting and waddling my way through the tunnel.  If I tried to stand up straight, I would be bent over exactly in half and there is no way I would be able to actually walk through.  As we were going through our journey, one of the ladies at the beginning of the line began to panic as the tunnel got slightly smaller and she stopped.  She stopped. In a tunnel. So we stopped and at that moment, I panicked.  As I sat down and realized just how tight the space was, how humid it was, so humid that the air felt heavy, and that my exits were limited I knew I needed out. As soon as we hit the 20 meters, we bursted out of the exit and I gasped for air.  At that moment I couldn’t stand next to anyone, I needed space and I needed to take big breaths to remind myself that I was no longer in those tunnels. IMG_6414

Standing there waiting for the rest of our group to come out of those tunnels was a great time to reflect.  You see, people used to live in these tunnels. There are people in this world who were born in these tunnels.  A place that was so small that army crawling was potentially the easiest way to get around. This is a place that prevents you from seeing daylight, a place that is so far removed from the surface that even climbing out of the tunnel put things in perspective. After everyone emerged from the tunnel, we went to one last stop where we watched a documentary on the war and then climbed back onto the bus to head back to the city.

We got off our bus at the Vietnam War Museum when we got back to Ho Chi Minh and decided to take a tour of the museum. Looking back, I don’t regret this decision but I don’t think it was the smartest decision I could have made.  If you ever want to be incredibly sad, do the Cu Chi Tunnels followed by the Vietnam War Museum in one day. The museum is an interesting place to visit.  It’s always interesting seeing the other side of the story.  This place documents the war from Vietnam’s perspective and it was hard to see. I understand that it was from Vietnam’s perspective and what I’ve learned previously was from America’s perspective but it was still hard to see. It’s hard to see what people went through there and how the country was affected by what happened.  As I stood looking at the photos of people who were affected by Agent Orange and the physical consequences of the poison, I became incredibly overwhelmed.  I had to step away and take a break from everything.

After the the museum, feeling drained, we felt the need to cheer ourselves up with some food so we headed to a local northern Vietnamese restaurant.  To be continued…

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