Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Try-Umph Travels: Vietnam

In order to reach the port in Ho Chi Minh City, we had to travel through a narrow waterway. It was a sunny, balmy morning, and a lot of us were standing on the deck, watching our approach. We passed fishing boats, houses, and fields. As we got closer to the city, though, the skyline appeared. High-rises came into view and I realized how cosmopolitan some aspects of Vietnam had become since I’d visited in 1999.

My first two days in Vietnam were spent experiencing Ho Chi Minh City. My friends and I went to the well-known Ben Thanh market. There were so many arts, crafts, clothes, suitcases, bags, and jewelry. Every stall was filled. It was souvenir saturation! Near the center of the market there were food stalls. The freshly made dishes, combined with the smell of fresh fruits and burning incense created an interesting nasal experience.

We left the market to explore the city and visited a ridiculously adorable coffee shop. We sat outside and enjoyed coffee, fresh fruit juices, and blueberry cake. It was relaxing, fun, and made me smile each time I reminded myself that I was sitting in Vietnam.

We discovered a movie theater on the top floor of one of the shopping centers we visited so we purchased movie tickets for 40,000 dong each, got some slightly sweet popcorn, and saw Hot Boy Noi, a film that is scheduled to be shown at the Toronto Film Festival. The film was shot in Ho Chi Minh City so we recognized many of the locations on the screen because we’d just walked through the city.

On the third morning I boarded a plane with two friends and we headed north for Hoi An. Hoi An is a quaint city on the coast of the South China Sea. I loved it! The city is laid-back and filled with culture. Shops outlined the streets and there was so much color! Buildings were yellow, orange, red, and turquoise. The vegetation was a lush green. The water was several shades of jade. At night, lanterns of all hues illuminated. It was beautiful, breezy, and exactly what I needed.

My last day in Vietnam was spent back in Ho Chi Minh City where we declared it Food Extravaganza Day. We began with a visit to the most adorable restaurant. It was located on the second and third floors of a clothing boutique. There were colorful couches and cushions everywhere. The sunlight was spilling into the room. It was perfect. I ordered breakfast sushi. It was a rolled up omelette that had been cut and served like sushi. Not only was it pleasing to look at, but it was tasty, too. My favorite, though, was the dessert we ordered. Banana wontons served with coconut icing should follow every breakfast.

After breakfast we bought coconuts from a street vendor and walked to the War Remnants Museum. This was a sobering experience as there were graphic photos and descriptions of the impact of war on Vietnam. As I took in the photographs and read the stories of people’s lives after war I wondered why war is ever an option. I looked at the weaponry on display and questioned why we build such things to destroy one another. It was a staggering, but necessary visit.

My six days in Vietnam couldn’t have been planned any better. I had amazing food every day, shared great laughs, and created wonderful memories. I crossed many intersections without getting a Saigon kiss, saw water buffalo on the side of the road, visited the beach, was part of a scavenger hunt for local students, saw a Vietnamese film, had cupcakes from a bakery's grand opening, and admired a culture that is often misunderstood at home. Although my bank account disagrees with me, Vietnam was a priceless experience and it was even better the second time around. Next stop, China!

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