January 10, 2016
Our stop came too early but again I was able to get more sleep than I had expected, even with the anticipation of little mice footsteps on my face. By 4:30am we were at our stop and walking to meet our driver. A very sleepy 20-minute drive put us at our hostel around 5. A very sleepy receptionist offered us a room to sleep in that hadn’t been cleaned out yet but was free for the next couple hours. We took it and slept until just before 10, then hurried down to not miss breakfast. We were also able to check into our actual room, which was a 4th floor walk up on a very narrow spiral staircase. Our plan for the day was to see as much of Ho Chi Minh City at we could on our way to the War Remnants Museum. We maneuvered through the busy city avoiding motorbikes and traffic while, "Ready, Set, I'm going" through the streets and intersections, which in addition to having millions of motorists on the road, had no real crosswalks.
When we got to the museum it was on a type of siesta and closed from 12-1:30pm so we decided to go to lunch to kill the time. About 4 or 5 blocks up from the museum we found a large roundabout street that had restaurants surrounding a large fountain. We walked around the entire circle, looking at the menus that were posted outside each restaurants. We settled on one that had a large menu and sat down. They brought us out moist towels to wipe our hands, the way they do on international flights, though I used mine to wipe my face instead, I was that sweaty.
The standard heat and humidity of Vietnam mixing with the city heat from car exhaust and crowds made it look like I had just gotten rained on. Mary tried the spring rolls and a beer and I got a strawberry yogurt drink and an extremely large Vietnamese pancake. This one was stuffed with rice and sprouts. I also got thorough lessons, not in English of course, from the waiter about how to properly eat it. He watched me intensely wrapping sections of pancake in pieces of lettuce then dipping them in salty fish sauce. It was extremely huge and filling but I proudly finished it all.
We had been warned time and time again about watching our phones and bags while we were out in the city. Our receptionist, before sending us off with directions to the museum had said, "Please be careful and watch your bags." Another passerby had also seen us holding out our phones to film the crazy traffic and
said, “Don’t hold them out like that or people coming by on motorbikes will snatch them.” This was similar to the reports we had read online before coming, and part of the reason Lee and Adam had chosen to not join us for this leg of the trip. There seemed to be warnings everywhere we turned that Vietnam was particularly unforgiving for western tourists. Though fortunately, no one had been anything but friendly and helpful in Ho Chi Minh and everywhere else in Vietnam thus far. Saigon was a huge change of pace from the quiet city of Hoi An though, so I was a little more guarded, choosing to carrying my backpack on my front instead of my back.
When we got back to the museum it was pretty busy but I’m glad we decided to stop there. It was perhaps the only place we saw that really epitomized the anti-American rhetoric we had been hearing so much about. The posters and displays were awfully one sided, supporting the communist party and condemning the horrible things the Americans did during the war. There were images of the after effects of Americans dropping napalm and Agent Orange among other things and accounts of them brutally killing innocent farmers and children. While the Vietnam War was certainly not our brightest moment as a world power, being at this museum made me feel fortunate to live in a country that not only teaches both sides to every story (or at least is getting better at it) but also fesses up to the stuff we've done wrong. It wasn’t as if I was some ill-informed American that had no idea about the horrific things many of the United States armed forces did to unarmed Vietnamese civilians. We were at the museum about 2 hours, I probably could have finished in 1 without Mary but she really took her time to read everything, so I tried my best to be patient. Though after walking through the outdoor, prison and torture section of the museum, we were both pretty much ready to go. The contraption that was essentially a human cheese grater was where I drew the line on new knowledge for the day.
We made our way through the financial district of the city to see the chapel, post office and opera house that were all famous architectural points of reference. We then headed to the tallest building in the city, where we had read you could go up to the sky deck and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, when we got there the price was nearly double what we had thought. $10 for an elevator ride seemed a bit steep so we opted out. Instead we walked around more as the sun went down, trying to find another bar to grab a drink before dinner. We ended up back near the hostel district at a bar called Go2, which was a rip off but killed some time before dinner. I had found a highly rated restaurant called the Rose Garden just a few blocks from our hostel so we went there for dinner. I got curry again, which was basically the same as the first time I’d tried it, just slightly less bland. It seemed I had exhausted the vegetarian options available in Vietnam. The local girls that worked there were very nice though. As I'm sure the two sitting next to the Australian man across from us were as well, for a fee.
We were eyeing a rooftop bar across the street from us while at dinner and decided to head over. The prices were a little expensive so we decided to go next door instead where there were buy 2 get 1 free cocktails. The deal was only for the next hour though, so I ordered 3. Mary did also, in addition to a beer. We guzzled them down, reminiscing about our childhood homes, and the fear that Mary’s dad might sell her's. We talked about relationships and places we wanted to travel in the future before stumbling to another bar were we each ordered one more drink. Mary had kissed Tony on New Years and was seriously considering a relationship with him, as they would be moving to New Zealand together in less than two weeks. We talk about the potential pros and cons of this before finally heading home. It was pretty late, I’m not sure how late, but I had had a lot of drinks.
When we got back to the hotel, the night receptionists, who had checked us in the night before, was clearly amused with our current state. We asked him to book us a tour for the next morning to the Cu Chi tunnels. He looked doubtful that we would be up in time to catch our bus, but he booked it for us anyway. I hit my head on an overhang on the way up to our room. I would not recommend having a few drinks, then climbing a narrow, spiral, staircase up four floors. I slept well, thank goodness, even though I woke up in the middle of the night disoriented and fully convinced Mary and I had mistakenly gotten on a train and were sleeping through stops we should have gotten off at. I was so convinced I came very close to waking Mary up, before finally remembering where I was. This was not the last time this would happen. Travel life…