My first sight of Vietnam was of the forest-lined river delta of the Sông Soài Rạp. This is the river leading to the Ho Chi Min City Port. The delta leading up to the port is teeming with life. From the lush forests surrounding the rivers to the many small fishing boats going up and down the delta, it was an incredible overall experience.
As we landed in the port and walked into the city, the smells of pho and the whirring of motorbikes overwhelmed my senses. The concrete buildings were reminiscent of colonial times mixed with modern architecture. It created a sense of a past and present colliding. The vibrance and life of the city seemed contrary to what we had been told and heard about Vietnam.
As we wandered, it was impossible to miss the remnants of a country torn apart by war only a few decades earlier. Disfigured beggars lined the bazaars. They wore their trauma caused by agent orange attacks like a shirt. However, there were deeper, hidden scars that ran through the rest of the country. It was the first time I had really seen this kind of tragedy. And considering it was a direct result of familiarity with my country, I didn’t know how to feel. Learning about these kinds of things in school or looking them up yourself doesn’t compare to actually seeing them up close.
We decided to learn more and soon found ourselves at the War Remnants museum.
Learning about the Vietnam War from a different perspective was eye-opening. It’s obvious from pretty much everything you learn in the US that the US committed war crimes. However, the true level of how badly this occurred was astounding. From massacres to dioxin exposure, it was eye-opening to get an opposite view of something I had learned so much about back home. If you ever find yourself in Ho Chi Min City, I highly recommend visiting this museum. While it’s not for the faint of heart, it is something that’s important to see.
On a lighter note, another thing worth trying while you are there is snake whiskey. It can be found in pretty much any bazaar and is worth a try. While it may seem bizarre, it’s a pretty cool cultural experience. It’s usually made with venomous snakes, scorpions, or other reptiles. First used as a medicine in ancient China, it’s available now in most southeast Asian countries. While you most likely won’t be able to take it home with you, it is something to try while you’re in Vietnam.
Another sight that you need to see is simply any busy road. It’s mind-boggling to see the sheer number of motorbikes with precariously perched passengers that fly by. The fun part of this is that there really aren’t crosswalks. So, when you need to get to the other side of the street, you just start walking. Somehow, everyone swerves around while you just walk at a steady pace. This was the most indescribable experience I’ve ever had. The fear of getting hit by one of the hundreds of bikes, mixed with the knowledge that there are a surprising lack of crashes, is one of the craziest experiences ever.
Getting out of the city, I traveled up and down the Mekong river delta, as well. As a part of a trip I lucked into, we got to take a boat around the river delta, visit some of the fish farms, and get taken through some of the smaller waterways with guides. While we didn’t get to see the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins, the Mekong Delta is a sight to see for anyone visiting Vietnam. After visiting the fish farms and traveling back to the ship, I was on to the next country: Myanmar.
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