Sadly, our only stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. I will absolutely have to go back – there is SO much more than I want to see, Halong Bay in particular. HCMC was a quick glimpse into a crazy country that is still developing – crazy really is the best way to describe the city. Upon arrival, you are immediately hit with the traffic, the likes of which I have never experienced in my life. There don’t seem to be speed limits, lights and streets signs seem merely discretionary, hell, even the right/wrong side of the street is discretionary. It’s NUTS. At any given time, there are 30 motorbikes headed straight for you at high speeds. There are crosswalks, but again… you guessed it… discretionary! You just have to walk (slowly, don’t run!) into the middle of the road and hope they don’t hit you – and, amazingly, they don’t! It is an exercise in bravery and discipline.
Sightseeing-wise, there isn’t tons to see in HCMC. We spent a lot of time just walking around and wandering through markets. We saw Reunification Palace, which is kind of like what you would envision in your head a 1950’s communist building to look like. I would say that my favorite food that we ate in Southeast Asia was in Vietnam – amazing. We went to great restaurants that were hip, swanky, yet totally inexpensive – wonderful! If you go, I recommend the Temple Club and Xu. Another highlight was that it was a national holiday, so after dinner one night, we emerged from the restaurant to find the streets completely packed with people to watch the fireworks show over the river. It was really amazing – better than any 4th of July fireworks show I have seen, and all of the people were just happy and enjoying the moment. It was really one of the coolest experiences I’ve had abroad.
We developed a travel pattern where our first day we bummed around the city, then took day trips out to various sites on the second day. In every city we went to, we found that some of the best sites were outside of the city, which of course usually meant hiring a driver and tour guide. If nothing else, they were always there to give us a little… local flair. We went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the old Viet Cong tunnels and bunkers used during the Vietnam War. It was worth the trip way out of town to see… very creepy yet extremely interesting. The innovations that they came up with having not materials or weapons were frightening yet genius. Our tour guide was a little much: laughing about how many Americans got killed in horrific ways, making us getting into the tunnels for a photo op (which she called romantic… uh huh…).
We also went to visit the Cao Dai holy land outside of HCMC. Cao Dai is apparently a new religion (?) that combines aspects of all the other major world religions. And I mean all of them. Very bizarre. During my three weeks in Asia, I saw some ornate, over-the-top religious sites, but this one really takes the cake. It looked a little bit like a fair ground – I mean no disrespect though. The all-seeing eye is a major symbol of the religion, seen around the temple, but they really lost me when I saw the unicorn adorning the temple. It suddenly turned into an odd mish-mash religion to a… well… cult? This was at least my impression…Check it out: