Vietnam Part 4 – Hanoi

Day 259: November 26, 2018

We had breakfast in our Hanoi Airbnb then I went for a workout. When I got back Danny went for a workout. I called my parents then cut a mango. We had ramen for lunch then took a Grab car to the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

https://www.facebook.com/tripsroundthesundm/videos/512475065916948/

Danny wanted to get the jacket he bought in Hoi An taken in a bit. The first tailor we went to only made clothes. The second didn’t really speak English, but using Google Translate we communicated and she sent us to another shop. The lady there didn’t speak much English, but Google Translate saved us again. We were able to say what we wanted and by when. We will see how it works out!

We walked down to Hoa Lo Prison which was constructed by the French in 1896. The people in the village that was there prior were relocated in order to construct the prison, court house and secret police headquarters. The prison had space for 500 political prisoners, but a maximum of 2,000 prisoners were held there.

From March 11-16, 1945, over 100 prisoners escaped through an underground sewer. On December 24, 1951, 16 prisoners escaped again through an underground sewer. The guillotine was also used by the French in Hoa Lo.

Sewer prisoners used to escape

When the French left Hanoi in 1954, the prison’s ownership fell to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. During the war with the Americans, pilots shot down were held in Hoa Lo prison. They sarcastically called it “Hanoi Hilton”. The museum said this was a little joke of the Americans as they were treated very humanely and given many luxuries. Americans, however, describe unsanitary conditions along with torture, beatings and poor food. John McCain was held in this prison during the war when he was a US Navy pilot. Every country seems to have its own way of displaying events to make themselves look better.

Prison uniforms of the Vietnamese and Americans

We left and walked up the street to a café called Cong Ca Phe which had the decor of the Vietnam War and the staff in army uniforms. We had a tea, but both of us weren’t really enjoying the busy streets of Hanoi. The traffic and honking was constant.

We walked north to Hanoi’s Train Street which squeezes between residential buildings. Many homes had coffee shops on the edge of the tracks. It was a very photogenic place to walk. We left the residents behind and thinking there would be an exit from the tracks further up, we kept walking. The train crossed bridges over the streets so where we thought we could exit we could not. The tracks were elevated from the street so there was no escape.

Hanoi’s Train Street

After going ten minutes too far we had to turn back. I felt anxious being trapped there especially since we didn’t know when the train was going to come. Back at the exit we caught a Grab car back to the Airbnb. Danny made supper and we watched some John Oliver videos before bed.

Day 260: November 27, 2018

We were up early for a quick breakfast then took a Grab car to the Old Quarter to be picked up for our day tour. The pick up was about 15 minutes late which made us both feel a bit nervous that no one would show up.

Our tour went to the province of Ninh Binh about two hours south of Hanoi. Our first stop was Hoa Lu, the first capital of Vietnam established in the 10th and 11th centuries. The local warlord Dinh Bo Linh, known as the First Dinh Emperor, created the capital in 968 after years of civil war. A majority of the capital no longer exists.

We walked through the main gate to the city which led to an open square. The city was located in a valley between steep limestone mountains making it easy to defend. There was a river running through the capital providing water and a food source. The population eventually became too big for the area between the mountains and the capital city was moved.

Main gate of Hoa Lu

We visited the Dinh Temple which had an area behind doors with a statue of the king. Businessmen will pay money to get inside to touch the statue for luck.

Dinh Temple, Hoa Lu

Outside we could see the flag of the first dynasty. It had red in the middle with yellow, blue, white and green outlines. The colours represented the five elements: fire, soil, water, metal and wood.

Flag of the first dynasty, Hoa Lu

The first king was assassinated and his general, Le, came to power establishing the Le dynasty. He married the first king’s wife to provide legitimacy to his rule. He was not as respected as the first king and therefore his temple, which we visited next, was not as ornamental.

We left and drove to a restaurant for lunch. Sadly, the food wasn’t that great. We enjoyed talking to some of the people on our tour. It is a bit sad now when people ask us about our trip. We don’t sound as excited as when we started our trip. Now we are just more excited to go home so we enjoy talking about that more than where we’ve been. It does make us seem a bit like downers, but I think we are just tired.

After lunch, we went for a boat ride. It was a row boat with space for two people. A lady rowed the boat while we sat enjoying the view. All the rowers used their legs to row instead of their arms. It was pretty impressive and they seemed to have more power.

Row boat ride, Ninh Binh

We floated passed the steep mountains and went through a few caves. Our rower was super quick and we passed everyone. Back at the dock we walked up to a restaurant and were provided some lemon tea and fruit.

Going through the caves, Ninh Binh

We then hopped on some bicycles for a short ride through one of the villages. After the bike ride we hopped back on the bus and drove to Mua Island which had a little cave at the base then a 500 stair climb to the top.

Hiking up Mua Island

The view from the top looked down at the river our boat ride had been on. The other way looked over the rice fields we had seen on our bike ride.

At the top of Mua Island

We climbed back down and then returned to the bus for our two hour ride back into Hanoi. We were dropped off in the Old Quarter and walked to a pizza place. The pizza was very yummy! There were many people working there, but we were the only customers. It was similar at the convenience store next to our Airbnb. There were about four or five people working there, most just standing around. Back at the Airbnb we fell asleep early.

Day 261: November 28, 2018

We were up early again and took a Grab car back into the Old Quarter. Our Airbnb location has been a bit inconvenient because we keep having to catch rides into the centre. It is about a 25 minute drive one way.

Our tour to Bai Tu Long Bay picked us up and drove us to the harbour about three hours east of Hanoi. Bai Tu Long is right next to the famous Ha Long Bay, but much less busy.

A small boat took us out to our larger boat which had about 24 cabins. The cabin was perhaps the nicest room we have stayed in on this trip. Our window was huge and looked out at the steep mountains in the bay. The bathroom had a two person tub with another huge window.

Our boat to Bai Tu Long Bay

I called my dad to show him the gorgeous view then we went up on the deck for lunch. We had a bit of relax time then got ready to go kayaking. We went out into the bay and rowed over to a cave. When we got back to the boat we were able to jump in the water for a swim. The water was not as warm as in Thailand or Cambodia.

Kayaking in Bai Tu Long Bay

We returned to the room and cleaned up for supper. It was nice to dress up a little bit since we were on such a fancy boat. We sat at the front of the boat before supper with a bottle of wine and talked about home.

Sunset view from our boat, Bai Tu Long Bay

We went to the dining room for supper and enjoyed a very nice meal. The chef brought out some very fancy food carvings. Then one of the crew members played a beautiful melody on a flute. After another member of the crew did some magic tricks. He was looking for a volunteer and I quickly pointed to Danny. He went up and did an awesome job.

Danny participating in a magic trick

After supper we looked up at the stars from the sun deck. Then we returned to the room to sleep.

Day 262: November 29, 2018

I didn’t sleep very well so I was up early enough to participate in tai chi on the sun deck. The scenery as we moved through the islands was beautiful. We had a buffet breakfast then got ready to go for a walk on one of the islands. We walked out to a small sandy beach then climbed the stairs up to a large cave. Local fishermen use the cave during large storms for protection. It was a very beautiful cave to walk around.

View from outside the cave, Bai Tu Long Bay

We returned to the boat and sat on the sun deck enjoying the view going by. Lunch was a buffet. We returned to the sun deck then until we arrived back at the harbour. Our van to take us back to Hanoi picked us up there. We stopped once to view a water puppet show. It was funny, but not as amazing as I thought it would be. Apparently the one in Hanoi is a lot more impressive.

Water puppet show on the way back to Hanoi

We were dropped back in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and took a Grab car to our Airbnb. It was in the same building as our previous one in Hanoi, but a different apartment. We relaxed for a bit. Both of us were exhausted.

We took a Grab car back in to the centre around 6:30 pm. We had supper at Bun Cha Hang Manh which is famous for its bun cha, a dish of grilled pork served with rice noodles, herbs and a sauce (fish sauce, sugar, lemon, vinegar, stock). The sauce definitely made the dish.

Bun cha

After we walked up the street to the tailor we had dropped of Danny’s jacket at to have it taken in. He tried it on and it was a bit too tight. Uh-oh! Nothing she could do. We will have to let it out ourselves.

We stopped at a convenience store to pick up some food items for tomorrow. Then we returned to the Airbnb and went to sleep right away.

Day 263: November 30, 2018

Neither of us slept very well again. I’m not sure if its just nervousness or excitement for going home so soon. We chilled in the room watching TV then Danny called his parents. After he went to the gym while I caught up on blogging.

For lunch we went into the Old Quarter to Banh Mi 25. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sub. These ones were delicious! We sat in a park eating them and watching a legit cock fight. I had no idea that they were still a thing. Between fights the “trainers” would rinse their birds with water similar to a boxing trainer rubbing down their fighter in the corner.

Cock fight

We walked up the street and I went for a massage. Danny went across the street for a haircut then walked over to the government buildings and square in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. He met me back at the spa and we returned to the Airbnb.

Ho Chi Minh Square

Danny made supper while I packed up. We ate and watched videos. Then we thought we should try to get a bit of sleep. Our flight to Seoul was scheduled to leave at 2:00 am so we would not be getting much rest.

While I was getting my massage I started really thinking about being home again. I think it finally sunk in that in less than a week we will be home. Danny and I talked a bit about this then eventually fell asleep.

The alarm at 10:00 pm was a very rude awakening. We got about an hour and a half of sleep. We packed up and caught a Grab car to the airport. Everything took awhile to get through because it was fairly busy at the airport. On the other side I gave my parents a call while we waited to board.

I don’t think either of us really enjoyed the city of Hanoi. It was so busy and noisy we really didn’t want to spend much time in the Old Quarter. I was glad we had two trips booked to get out of the city. Bai Tu Long was absolutely beautiful and I don’t regret us spending the money to go there in class. I’m getting more and more excited every day to get home. The flight to Seoul feels like the first step towards home and I can’t wait for the flight after that takes us back to Canada.

M

Vietnam Part 3 – Hoi An

Day 255: November 22, 2018

We woke up and took a Grab car in to Hoi An from our Airbnb near the beach. We found a place to have breakfast then walked up the street to Yaly Couture. This tailor was suggested to us by our GAdventures guide.

We went in and said we wanted to order some clothes. We were both assigned a lady to help us. They brought us catalogs to look through to pick designs. Danny picked out a nice suit with a vest. I started out looking at blazers then moved to blouses and dresses. I picked out some designs and talked through what I liked. We then went and picked out fabrics which was pretty tough. I found it hard to imagine what the article would look like in the end. Next the lady, Sally, took my measurements. I ended up getting two blazers, a long sleeve blouse, a tank top and a dress. Because I ordered over a certain amount I received a free short sleeve blouse.

We paid a 50% deposit then left feeling confused if we would like what we had purchased. We walked around the ancient town which was very beautiful. We browsed in the shops and enjoyed the lanterns hanging in the streets.

Streets of Hoi An

We ended up returning to a tailor we had passed earlier that had a very nice dress outside. I asked the price and it was very reasonable so I agreed to it. Then I also ordered a jumpsuit since finding one is always impossible for my long body and short legs. She took my measurements and I paid for the items.

We continued our walk to a food market. We ordered a traditional Hoi An dish, cao lau, which was noddles, pork, lettuce, herbs and crackers with a sauce. It was pretty good and super cheap.

Bought some bananas

After lunch we decided it was time to head back to the Airbnb. We changed into our swimsuits and walked down to the beach. It was way more windy than we expected making the water very choppy. Instead of swimming we walked along the beach then sat watching the waves.

Walking along An Bang Beach

We returned to chill for a bit in the Airbnb then went up the street to a hotel restaurant for supper. There were lots of friendly doggies around the streets to pet. When we returned to the Airbnb we went to bed.

Day 256: November 23, 2018

We were up early and tried to get a Grab car into Hoi An. Apparently, we were too early as there were no cars available. Up the street we saw a taxi so we walked up to see if it could take us. The driver was just getting ready to wash his car, but agreed to take us into Hoi An.

We arrived at the hotel where our day tour was picking us up. We walked up the street to try to find breakfast, but nowhere was open that early (it was just after 7:00 am). Finally, we went into a hotel that said they could make us breakfast. It was basic, eggs and bread. We paid then walked quickly back to our pick up point.

The tour van picked us up on time then we picked up a couple other groups of people and started our drive into Da Nang. Our first stop was Linh Ung Pagoda which means “the Buddha blesses you”. The location was called Monkey Mountain by the Americans due to the monkeys located there. The pagoda was built between 2006 and 2010.

Monkey God

The highlight was a 67 m tall Lady Buddha statue facing towards the sea. She has an image of Grand Master Buddha on her crown. Her one hand shows she is meditating and the other is holding a bottle of holy water used to save the world. Her bare feet are standing on a lotus flower. Underneath the flower are clouds because she is flying in the sky to help people around the world.

Lady Buddha

We returned to the van and drove to a marble statue carving place. To make a Buddha statue it takes four months of carving and one month of polishing. From there, we walked over to one of the Marble Mountains. There are a set of five marble and limestone mountains named after the five elements: metal, water, wood, fire and soil.

We visited Mount Thuy (water) which has Buddhist and Hindu caves. We went up the elevator then climbed steps to enter the temples. There were many different statues of Buddha around. One relief showed the four holy animals of Vietnam: dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix. Some of the caves had holes in the roof from bombs during the war.

Holy animals of Vietnam

We continued down to Am Phu Cave which is considered hell. Buddhists believe you go there to confess your sins and then you can ascend to heaven. There were scary sculptures looking like demons. After looking around hell, we climbed a steep staircase up to Heaven. At the top was a view out across the water to Da Nang.

From Hell to Heaven

We returned to the van and were taken to Hoi An for lunch. After we returned to the van and drove out to My Son Hindu temples that were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the Cham people. The temples are dedicated to the god Shiva. My Son means “beautiful mountains”.

My Son Temple

Linga and yoni are what was worshipped inside the temples representing the male and female characteristics. The temples were very interesting to walk around. There were many towers which had windows. Then there were sets of a meditation house, a gate and a main temple. Only monks would enter the main temples.

My Son Temple

We returned to the van which dropped us off in the centre of Hoi An at 6:00 pm. We were late for our fittings, but it seemed all right. We tried on all of our clothes and our ladies marked off where things needed to be taken in. Danny looked super spiffy in his clothes.

Next we went to the second tailor and I tried on my other clothes which looked amazing. Danny kept commenting on how awesome they looked. It’s been so long since I’ve worn nice clothing especially something fitted. Danny then decided to get a wool jacket made. Then I decided to get one as well. Earlier in the day I had noticed a hotel in my only pair of pants left so I also ordered some pants.

Clothing purchases

After we had spent more money we went up the street for supper and celebratory drinks. Then we walked up the lanterned streets. At a bridge we bought lanterns and took a boat ride. We placed the lanterns in the water and made our wishes. What a magical place!

Evening boat ride in Hoi An

We walked some more, but an announcement in the streets said the tourist hours were over at 9:30 pm. We hadn’t realized there was a closing time, but we were almost ready to leave anyways. We took a Grab car back to our Airbnb then went to bed.

Day 257: November 24, 2018

We slept in a bit then walked up the street to a hotel for breakfast. Danny called his parents when we returned then we caught a Grab car into Hoi An. We tried on our clothing one last time for final adjustments. They had to do some touch ups to the button holes so we arranged to pick everything up later.

Walking around Hoi An

We went to a family restaurant for lunch then did some wandering through the streets. At 3:00 pm we had massages booked. We both came out with very sore calves; apparently we had both been tight there. We chatted with the receptionist who had brought us tea after our massages. Then we returned to pick up all of our clothing purchases.

Fancy clothe purchases

We had supper at the same place as the previous night, but ordered Vietnamese food instead of pizza. This included white rose (dumplings), wontons topped with salsa, spring rolls and a green mango salad. After we returned to the Airbnb and had a fashion show with all of our clothes before bed.

Day 258: November 25, 2018

Our host arranged a driver to take us to the airport in Da Nang. After not being able to get a Grab car the previous morning and it being a 40 minute drive we thought that was the safest route. We said good bye to the quiet neighbourhood and were driven to the airport.

We checked in and went through security. Then I called home as everyone was together for a birthday celebration. It was so nice to see my family. I can’t wait to give them all huge hugs when I get home.

We had pho for breakfast and waited for our flight to Hanoi. Danny received some messages from work that made him a bit anxious. It’s hard being so far away and not able to just handle things.

Our flight from Da Nan to Hanoi took just over an hour. At the airport we took a Grab car to our Airbnb. It is a very nice space with lots of room, perfect to relax. In the buildings was a Korean restaurant with plates of food on a conveyor belt which we thought would be fun. It ended up being a hot pot. We had so much food brought with it. We were getting worried about price, but it was actually a buffet with a set price.

After lunch we walked up the street to a supermarket. It was actually legit too. We were able to buy enough food to make a couple of meals which we haven’t done in what feels like forever. I also found enough ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. I have been craving to make them since forever. I couldn’t find baking so Da or powder and I had to use oat flour, but they were edible.

For supper, Danny made a Greek salad and we watched a part of a series about the Vietnam war. I was starting to get sleepy so I went to bed and Danny stayed up a bit longer.

Everybody was telling us how amazing Hoi An was to visit that we were almost prepared to be disappointed. We were not disappointed. Hoi An is spectacular. The streets are wonderful to walk through and I loved ordering clothes. I kept wanting to get more and more. The atmosphere is very laid back and everyone in the streets is super friendly. It is definitely a place we want to return. Now we are in Hanoi for a couple of days.

M

Vietnam Part 2 – Hué

Day 251: November 18, 2018

We were up at 6:30 am to take a Grab car to the Ho Chi Minh airport at 7:30 am. We were warned that traffic might be bad, but it ended up being all right. We checked in then chilled in the airport. We ate some pho and spring rolls for lunch then boarded our hour and a half flight to Hué.

On arrival we got a Grab car to our Airbnb. I had selected the wrong address in the app so we had to do a bit of a loop. Our Airbnb was huge, but very impractical. The main floor had a living room, kitchen and garage, but it was too open to have A/C so we really only stayed up in the bedroom.

We chilled for a bit then walked to a pizza place for supper. Sadly, it wasn’t very tasty. We walked back a different route looking for a grocery store, but none seem to exist here. We did find a place to buy water then we walked back to the Airbnb to sleep.

Day 252: November 19, 2018

I was bitten by bugs all night so I ended up sleeping in to try to get enough rest. We got dressed then walked up the street, looking for a place for breakfast. We settled on a hotel restaurant, but the food was a bit disappointing. We continued walking up the street, across the Perfume River to the Imperial City.

Gate to the Imperial City

In 1789, Nguyen Anh ascended to the unified Vietnamese throne. Construction of his capital city started in 1804. The complex was the seat of power until the French arrived in the 1880s. In 1947, sieges occurred that destroyed much of the inner city. Restoration is still ongoing.

Inside the Imperial City

Ramparts, 2 km x 2 km, protect the Imperial City. The entire complex is surrounded by a moat. There were not many people visiting even though GoogleMaps labeled it as “very busy”. It was a nice place to walk around and look at the architecture and gardens.

Danny at a pool in the Imperial City

We left and went to what we thought looked like a grocery store. It was not. We continued walking to the centre of town to a local restaurant suggested by our Airbnb host. It was basic, but tasty.

We walked to a nearby mini mart and purchased some yogurt and snacks. We then took a Grab car back to our Airbnb as we were very tired of walking. It wasn’t insanely hot, but I was still pouring sweat from the humidity.

Danny went for a run and I chilled. Eventually, we walked up the street looking for food. We crossed the canal in front of our Airbnb to go the opposite way we had the previous night. There were many nice looking coffee shops, but none had food. There were lots of little local stalls, but we weren’t sure about eating at them. We ended up at a different hotel restaurant. They had really good pizza which made up for the previous night’s pizza.

We walked back to the Airbnb with full tummies, but angry moods. We had started arguing over supper about money. It doesn’t really matter to either of us, but neither of us wanted to back down. Sometimes when you reflect on what you are fighting about it just doesn’t make sense.

Day 253: November 20, 2018

We slept in a bit then talked about our money discussion the previous night. Once we were happy again, we took a Grab car to the Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh King. The driver told us he would wait and take us to our next stop which was great because we weren’t positive how we were going to get back.

Khai Dinh was the twelfth Emperor of the Nguyen dynasty and he ruled from 1916 until 1925. He worked closely with the French making him unpopular among the people. The tomb itself looked much older than it was. There were interesting bodyguard statues at the second level.

Bodyguards outside the Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh King

At the top there was a building with the tomb inside. It was a quick visit, but worth the stop.

Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh King

We located our driver, but when I put our next stop into the Grab app it said there were no drivers. We agreed to pay the price Grab had quoted in cash and drove to Thuy Tien Lake Abandoned Water Park.

When we arrived there was a closed gate with a sign saying, “No Visitors”, and two security guards. I read online later rumours that it was closed very recently due to safety concerns.

We had our driver take us back to the centre of Hué where we walked along the river then stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I had a milk tea which was sugary flavoured milk with jelly pieces inside.

Milk tea

After lunch, we walked around looking at the clothing and souvenir shops. We eventually headed back to our Airbnb. The honking here does get on your nerves and crossing the street involves a lot of dodging of scooters.

Back at the Airbnb I caught up on blogging and Danny booked us some upcoming day tours. For supper, we went up the street to a hotel restaurant. The waiter was hovering a bit. We soon learned he just wanted to chat to practice his English. We had a nice conversation with him. It is nice to talk with a local that isn’t trying to sell you anything.

We walked back towards the Airbnb and along the way we saw a mass of people sitting in front of a café. Vietnam vs. Myanmar football was on the screens and everyone was watching. The seats were packed out on to the sidewalk and spilling out onto the shoulder of the road. We took some seats on the shoulder and ordered teas.

Locals watching the football game

The screen in one café was slightly slower than in the café right next door. When something happened in the game, half the crowd would cheer then a second later the other half would cheer. It was comical to watch.

We finished our drinks and left at the half. At the Airbnb we watched “First They Killed My Father” on Netflix. It is based on a true story of a girl that lived through the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I had watched it previously, but hadn’t understood some of the intricacies of what was happening. It was nice to re-watch and understand it a bit more.

Hué was a nice quiet town, but I’m not sure if we needed so many days there. It was nice to see the Imperial City and the tombs were interesting. Next we are heading by bus south to Hoi An.

M

Vietnam Part 1 – Mekong Delta & Ho Chi Minh City

Day 247: November 14, 2018

We were up early to head east towards Vietnam. We left at 6:30 am and stopped for breakfast at 8:30 am. We continued driving for another 2.5 hours to the border. We went through Cambodian immigration then carried our bags across to the Vietnamese immigration. The heat was almost unbearable waiting for our passports to be stamped.

On the other side we boarded a new bus and enjoyed the A/C on a further hour drive to our lunch stop. Our drive then continued to our home stay in Can Tho along the Mekong Delta. We stayed in very basic rooms with mosquito nets over the beds.

Our room at the home stay near the Mekong Delta

We watched a demonstration on home to make Vietnamese pancakes which are similar to crepes filled with sprouts and ground meat. I found them extremely delicious. More dishes were also brought out and we had quite a feast. After dinner we cuddled under our mosquito net and went to sleep after a long day of driving.

Day 248: November 15, 2018

We woke up, had breakfast at the home stay then drove to the river where a boat took us out to Cai Rang Floating Market. It is the largest wholesale floating market on the Mekong Delta.

We saw houses on stilts and floating houses along the shore. There were lots of boats selling tropical fruits. Usually there are 100-200 boats. The market is open from 5:00 am to 4:00 pm. You can purchase a three kilogram watermelon for $1 USD. A lady selling refreshments came alongside our boat, hitched on and offered us coffee.

Lady selling coffee and other beverages from her boat

We continued floating around the market. Then we stopped and got on a young family’s boat that were selling pineapple. The woman showed how she cut them. We bought one for $1 USD and it was absolutely delicious.

Pineapple boat

A boat in Vietnam costs about $2,000-$8,000. Many people live on their boats to save money to buy land and a house on the mainland. The toilet on the boats go straight into the water. It didn’t look too clean.

Our next stop was a noddle factory. We watched them mix rice flour and tapioca starch (cassava root) to make a batter. It was then cooked for 30 seconds and transferred for drying under the sun. The rice paper produced was then cut with a machine to make noodles. The factory makes 300 kg of noodles per day and they charge $1/kg.

Noodle factory

Next we visited a local market where people shop for their daily food. Then we boarded the bus for our last bus ride into Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. It has an unofficial population of 13 million. It was much more modern than the cities we visited in Cambodia.

We checked in to the hostel where Danny and I were in separate rooms because we were separated by gender. We walked with the group to a street food market for lunch. Some of the group went for massages, but we stayed with our guide, Happy, who took us on a walk around town.

We walked to the Reunification Palace originally built by the French in the 1860s. It was named Norodom Palace after the King of Cambodia. The French governors used it as their residence and office during their occupation. During the Vietnam War, it was home to the Prime Minister.

Reunification Palace

Next we passed the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon built by the French between 1863 and 1880. Bricks to build the church were imported from France. Approximately seven percent of the population is Catholic.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Up the street was the Post Office constructed between 1886 and 1891. Next we walked down a street full of book stores then over to “Times Square”. We eventually ended up back at our hostel. I was sweaty by the end, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as the heat in Thailand or Cambodia. I actually really enjoyed the city.

Post office

At 7:00 pm we met for our farewell dinner. We received a little gift from Happy. She was so incredibly sweet. After supper we went up Bui Vien Walking Street where our hostel was located to find a bar for some drinks.

Bui Vien Walking Street

It was so loud in the bars that Danny and I decided to just get ice cream. I’ve never experienced such a party atmosphere. The music was blaring out of all the bars. There were people everywhere. After ice cream we returned to the hostel to sleep.

Day 249: November 16, 2018

We were up pretty early for our trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was about an hour and a half drive from our hostel. Even though our GAdventures tour had finished, six people in the group were continuing on tour through Vietnam with GAdventures. We decided to join them on this day trip.

France occupied Vietnam in the 19th century creating the French Indochina colony in 1887. When France fell to Germany in WWII, Vietnam was transferred to Japanese control. At this time Vietnam asked the United States for help to remove Japan from their country. Ho Chi Minh declared independence for Vietnam in 1945. The French then returned to Vietnam resulting in another Indochina War.

In 1954, the big countries sat down and China wanted to split Vietnam into two. The United States and France were happy with this as well. They agreed to hold elections in two years at which time the country would reunify. The south was backed by the United States and Ngo Dinh Diem became Prime Minister. He was anti-communist and Roman Catholic. Ho Chi Minh, in the north, was backed back China and Russia. He wanted to reunify the country under a Russian style communism.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are part of a 250 km tunnel system from Saigon to Cambodia. The tunnels started being built during the French occupation of Vietnam. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, but also to transport supplies, store food and weapons and serve as sleeping quarters. In the daytime farmers helped the Americans, but at night the farmers became the Viet Cong.

The tunnels were chosen in this location as it was close to a river that could be used to hide soil that was removed from the tunnels and also to escape into. The soil was very hard making it supportive for tunnel building.

The first layer of the tunnels was 0.5 m deep and used for fighting. The second layer was 2-3 m deep and used for old and young people to hide. The third layer was 8 m deep and used to escape from chemical and rocket attacks. The bottom layer was 12 m deep. Wells inside the tunnels provided water.

Cu Chi Tunnel system

Many tunnels had traps inside. The American troops were trained to stay against the walls so traps would be placed along the edges. Most of the traps were used to catch the soldiers, but not kill them. Hooks on ends of spikes were used to make them hard to pull out. The Viet Cong wanted to demotivate the soldiers so that they would leave Vietnam.

Trap around the Cu Chi Tunnels

We saw a hiding hole and a private bunker where guns would point out. Ventilation holes were used to provide fresh air in to the tunnels. The Viet Cong learned to put hot peppers there so the American dogs couldn’t smell them. Later the dogs were trained to smell the hot peppers. Then American clothes were cut and placed in the holes to throw off the dogs.

Ventilation hole

The Viet Cong would cut open American unexploded rockets to get the explosives out to make land mines. Many land mines still remain even though the war officially ended in 1975.

Some of the group tried shooting AK47s. The noise of the guns in the area was intense. Danny and I played with an orange kitty. We were then able to crawl through the tunnels for about 200 m. The tunnels have been expanded 30% for tourists. At the end we were fed cassava with salted peanuts as a snack which soldiers would typically eat.

Danny in one of the tunnels

Nixon was responsible for putting in place “Vietnamization” which shifted responsibility of fighting to the locals so that the Americans could pull out their troops starting in 1970. The Paris Peace Accord was signed in January 1973, but American military involvement did not cease until August 1973. The North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon in April 1975 officially ending the war.

The United States placed an embargo on Vietnam from 1975-1995 which harmed Vietnam’s development. Even after the war, the Vietnamese were very poor and starving. Many countries took in refugees during this period. Canada is home to 240,000 citizens with Vietnamese ancestry.

We returned to the city which took more than one and a half hours. We went with the group back to the street food market for lunch then said our goodbyes. We headed towards the hostel, but got caught in the rain. Luckily, it didn’t last too long.

We picked up our bags from the hostel and took a Grab car up the road to our Airbnb. We relaxed in our own space and I called my parents. For supper, we walked up the street to a Korean restaurant. Then we returned to the Airbnb to sleep.

Day 250: November 17, 2018

We slept in then I FaceTimed Caitlin. While Danny FaceTimed his parents, I went to the gym to workout. After, we took a Grab car to the War Remnants Museum. Outside there were many American planes and tanks.

American plane outside the War Remnants Museum

On July 20, 1954 the Geneva Conference was signed to cease the fighting in Indochina and recognize the independence of Vietnam from France. The country was to be split into two until elections could be held in 1956. The United States gradually eliminated the French influence in southern Vietnam and sponsored Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister of the “Republic of Vietnam”. Ho Chi Minh had support of the population in the north and was backed by the People’s Republic of China.

According to the museum, the United States and Diem tried to sabotage the Geneva Agreements by preventing reunification of the country. A military coup on November 1, 1963 removed Diem and killed him. On August 2, 1964, the United States Army fabricated a story, “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, accusing the Navy of Vietnam of attacking a US destroyer. This authorized the American entry of direct fighting in Vietnam.

Agent Orange was used during the war in Vietnam to destroy the tropical rain forest and prevent the Liberation forces from hiding. It had a high dose of dioxin, a carcinogen with genotoxic effects passing to at least three generations. American veterans have been compensated for the damage, but Vietnamese victims lawsuits have so far been dismissed by the US Supreme Court. 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange. The photos showing the effects of Agent Orange were difficult to view knowing that it all could have been prevented.

Seeing the atrocities of war, the immediate impact of napalm bombs and the lasting effects of Agent Orange was very emotional. After a couple of exhibits I just had to sit down.

Statue in one of the exhibits of the War Remnants Museum

In the museum, the war is referred to as the American War in Vietnam which gives a much different perspective than I grew up learning. I remember being told it was a civil war that the Americans became involved in. The Vietnamese see it much differently. Our guide at the Cu Chi Tunnels had told us the local people wanted independence and the Communists were helping them with this. Vietnam is proud to be reunified.

Photo from an exhibit in the War Remnants Museum

We left the museum and walked back to a shop Happy had taken us to. Then we went to a sushi place for an early supper. Sushi is much cheaper in Vietnam than in Canada. We caught a Grab car back to our Airbnb. Danny went for a workout while I watched Netflix before bed.

Ho Chi Minh City has been a bit of a surprise. I was expecting not to enjoy it since I don’t typically like cities. The air was cooler there than in Cambodia which was a relief and it was a nice place to walk around. It has been a very nice start to Vietnam and I’m excited to see what our next stops in Vietnam have in store.

M