The second half of our tour of Vietnam took us south to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and the surrounding area (if you missed the first part of this series, we started the trip in Hanoi and the incredible Halong Bay!)
The southern portion of Vietnam was similar to the north in many ways, but different in some ways as well. I really loved both, but I think I would edge toward the south if I were going to live in Vietnam.
Getting around Vietnam is so easy, so long as you can figure out how to navigate sans English! We collected business cards from all of the places that we wanted to go, and simply handed them to taxi drivers. Unless I’m forgetting somewhere, they were the cheapest taxis I’d ever been in!
Another thing that I really loved about this country was seeing their art. The Vietnamese people are known for having incredible dexterity in things that require detail. I bought several beautiful paintings, but also marveled at the art that they had made out of sand and eggshells.
A few interesting things about Vietnam that I didn’t realize before this trip.
1. The money exchange rate is 20,000 Dong to 1 USD. That’s insane!
2. The country is actually still communist. It seemed a bit strange to me that I didn’t know that, but it came as a surprise to me!
3. There are still a ton of issues afflicting the country from the Vietnam War.
The whole trip through southern Vietnam was an interesting lesson in the skewed perspective one picks up in a history class, from their government, or even in that which is passed down from the older generation. You hear regularly about the bias in history, and I was very aware that it existed.
Seeing the war through the Vietnamese lens though, and therefore realizing the lens that we see things through in America, was fascinating.
We visited the War Remnants Museum in HCMC and the Chu Chi tunnels nearby. There was definitely some pretty intense anti-America propaganda going on that really made me wonder at how friendly people had been towards us! The Vietkong were celebrated as incredible, brave warriors. Stories were told of child soldiers that were heroic war heroes, “killing 80 Americans in one day!” The corresponding video featured smiling children enjoying their military service and picking flowers in their free moments.
While many things were clearly fabricated or embellished, there were many more things that rang much more true but had been left out of the American version of the story regardless. For example, I had no idea how much suffering was still going on in Vietnam, some 50 years later.
To this day, children are being born with horrible birth defects because of the Agent Orange that we sprayed over vast areas of the country. Girls my age are being told that they should never have children for fear of passing the dangerous genes on. Water and land are still toxic. The extra bombs that we decided to dump in Laos, simply to get rid of them easily, are still blowing children up.
It all makes me question what the real history on many events is? What other things am I completely unaware of? How do other countries perceive misconstrue my country? And how does all of this needlessly affect the way that we function as a global community?
It was very thought-provoking.
Ho Chi Minh City wasn’t all stories of war, though. It is a colorful city full of the sweetest, most servant-hearted people you’ll ever meet. We strolled through street markets, finally found good Pho (the traditional noodle dish), and marveled at finding a place that might rival Jakarta in the crazy amount of motorbikes!
One of my favorite cultural experiences was the water puppet show. Water puppets have been a traditional form of art and entertainment in Vietnam for hundreds of years. I had never seen anything like it! The puppeteers stood in the water behind a curtain, and utilized the water brilliantly. The show was about an hour that had short, rapid-fire acts. The different acts portrayed different aspects of Vietnamese culture, looking at traditional holidays, gods, family relationships, etc. If you ever make it to Vietnam, I highly recommend going to see one of these shows!