I can't believe it's over...

Thursday, August 11, 2016
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The increasing feelings of sadness I've felt the last few weeks came to a head once we hit Ho Chi Minh City. I couldn't believe we were heading home in a few short days. We were determined to make the most of our time here, and had to get in a little more time on motorbikes on the busiest roads in Vietnam. We arrived early after a short flight from Quy Nhon and immediately left our guest house to explore the streets and sights. 

One of the most memorable museums from our trip was the War Remnants Museum containing the history and artifacts of the wars in Vietnam, but mostly the "American War". We felt a general sense of unease the whole time we were here; the displays were filled with atrocities and war crimes committed by Americans. Although there seemed to be a definite pro-Vietnam, pro-communism, anti-American spin on the contents of the museum, it was hard to deny how horrific the war was for the Vietnamese people. One room was dedicated entirely to the aftermath of Agent Orange. Generations of Vietnamese were seriously affected by its use in the war, and we could still see many people roaming the streets with significant deformities; passed down through the generations after parents or grandparents were exposed. In general, Vietnam does not have the means to support people with significant disabilities, so those with severe disabilities that cannot support themselves through work are left relying on family, begging on the streets, or working in various "handicraft villages" (which are, many times, not on the up-and-up). Although the museum left us feeling pretty crappy about ourselves, it was important for us to see and experience.

That night, we were picked up by some young tour guides and took a night food tour on the back of their scooters. Traffic in HCMC was beyond belief. I can't even begin to describe the organized chaos that we were in the middle of. We felt completely safe on the back of our bikes, but didn't know how anyone could predict what the person next to them would do. We visited several food stalls that night, each one more delicious than the next. My favorite was bahn xeo, an egg and rice flour pancake filled with meats and vegetables. 

We enjoyed the time with our guides so much that we decided to book them again for the next day, which happened to be our tenth anniversary. They took us on a tour of various districts in the city and we stopped at several historical sights. HCMC is comprised of 19 districts, each one known for something unique. We visited Chinese temples, the famous Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral (made entirely of materials imported from France during French rule). We walked through a morning market, and Jared was quite a spectacle as he had to duck under all of the shade clothes designed for much shorter people. We tried a delicious che ba mau (literally "three color bean dessert") - a sweet drink made with coconut creme, different kinds of gelatin, mung beans, and kidney beans. The woman that served us had made and sold this drink in the same location for 30 years. She was essentially the local queen bee of the sweet drink.

The most memorable monument of our trip was the Venerable Thich Quang Duc Memorial, dedicated to the monk that lit himself on fire in a busy square to protest the persecution of Buddhists in the South. Although he did not plan to make an international display of his self-immolation, a photographer happened to be in the square during his demonstration and a very famous photo resulted. Our guide said that during the demonstration, the monk entered into a higher state of meditation and didn't move a muscle while he burned. It was a very moving story, and one that I was surprised to not have heard sooner.

After a day of exploring the city, we enjoyed some well-crafted microbrews at a local brewery: Pasteur Street Brewing Company. Although the brewery has to extend its reach to obtain all of the proper ingredients for their beer, they did a pretty decent job of reminding us what we were missing back home. Rice beer was getting pretty old. After a few beers, we went out for a nice anniversary dinner and walked around the city. We happened upon a bustling square, filled to the brim with people enjoying colorful fountains, musicians, and street performances. 

Our last day, we had until about 9 p.m. to enjoy the city before we had to leave for the airport. We wandered around the city, shopped for a few final souvenirs, and ate at some food stalls. We tried to soak up little bits and pieces of what we've enjoyed so much over the past two months. Our final dinner was a fish hot pot, and by now we were pros at cooking this meal at our table. After dinner, we reluctantly hailed a cab for one last time.

It's hard to summarize my thoughts about this trip, and I think that is why it's taken me so long to finish this blog. To be honest, the only reason I think it did finally get done is because Travelpod was shutting down and I had to finish so that I could export it all in the same format. Every time I went back to write an entry, I felt a little sad that it was over and that it probably wouldn't be repeated and I wanted to avoid shutting the door on our experiences. We learned a lot on this trip, not only about the countries we visited and the cultures we explored, but about ourselves and how far we could push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We also realized just how little we needed to be happy. It made us feel a little guilty over the houseful of possessions we had waiting for us back home. I won't go too far down the philosophical road, and I'm sure some of our more conservative family members or friends have rolled their eyes when I share lessons learned from our trip, but I will say that it changed us and our outlook on our lives. I know that travel, especially travel to the more untouched places in the world, will continue to be important to us and we will do what we can to make it happen.

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Heather UK

Hi - what a fantastic trip - and most helpful - many thanks. I am planning our 6 week tour of Vietnam and Cambodia for December. I was sad to be missing Hoi An as the weather isn't great in December, but was 'pleased' to read your account :) The recommendation for the Halong bay junk is noted - I loved reading your account of everything, thanks loads. Heather