Vietnam was a completely different experience from the rest of Semester At Sea ports and other places I’ve been. The first day off of the ship my friend and I go to a tailor to get a dress made. We were talking with the workers and other SASer’s that were there before realizing that my iPhone was gone. Later on in the day we realized that it was taken out of my bag, along with a pen and my Cambodia itinerary. So, as you can image, it was a really bad start to the day/port. I was very mad/sad/ everything that someone would be when they realized their phone got stolen but I didn’t really have time to be sad – I was almost late to meet my trip to go to Cambodia!
So I get over losing my phone (kind of) and enjoy my time in Cambodia. The first stop we made after our hour flight was Phnom Penh. Right when we got off of the plane we went straight to Palm Tree Orphanage. This orphanage was beautiful, the conditions weren’t bad, the children were very happy and very talented at making crafts, drawing and some singing. We talked and danced with the kids for about an hour before moving to dinner. Dinner was delicious. We were all making jokes because there was rice in countless forms – rice, rice papers, rice pudding, rice tea and rice noodles. After dinner we headed out to the backpackers district for the night which was where all of the nightlife and night markets are. We first stopped off at the night market and I’ve never seen anything like it. In Thailand and China I have been to night markets but they didn’t have a stage with a band and singer and lights all around the state, unlike Cambodia. Everything was very inexpensive, shirts for $1.50 US. After collectively buying half of the market, my friends and I gave our purchases to the Resident Director of the trip so he could take our things back to the hotel while we go out. We then went to Heart of Darkness, which is a known club in the area. It was one of the best nights of the trip. It was people from all over the world and we were mainly hanging out with Belgiums, Australians and Germans. It was also my friends 21st birthday, we everyone was just having a good time and really experiencing the nightlife of Cambodia.
We had a early morning wake up call to get on the bus to go see the killing fields from the Cambodia genocide. The genocide happened about 30 years ago when Khmer Rouge (the communist party) was in control of Cambodia. It was a span of four years and about two million Cambodians were killed. We went to the fields where the Khmer Rouge would dig huge holes in the ground and one by one slit peoples throats, crack skulls, or beat them to death. The bodies would fall into these holes and act as a landfill… We were standing the thousands of dead bodies. Right in the middle of the fields is a memorial for those who were killed – a huge building filled from top to bottom with bones and skulls. The heads of the elder were closest to the ground and then it went up by age, followed by other body parts, filled to the roof. On most of the skills you could see the cracks from the tools the Khmer Rouge used on the Cambodians. The scary part was that if the skull did have a crack on it, it was exactly the same as the one next to it. It was a routine factory that was produced, killing people fast and the same. People weren’t people anymore, they were numbers – counted by the skulls.
After experiencing the shock of the Cambodian killing fields, we headed to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We walked into this used-to-be-school and saw what the people who were killed at the killing fields lived like. It was one of the harshest things I have ever seen. Since it used to be a school, the rooms looked like classrooms, some still with the blackboards on them. But instead of desks, there were pictures of people who lived in the room, original beds and torture tools. Looking out unto the middle of the prison you could see where they hung people and huge pots where they would dunk people for torture if they needed information from them. They would put chemicals in the dirty water and dunk their head until they would speak -regardless if they did they ended up with a extremely burned and distorted face from the chemicals. The Khmer Rouge also documented everyone who attended the prison by taking a picture (headshot) of them. All of these photos were hung up for us to see along with the chair that every single person who was killed in this disaster sat. That is when a lot of people broke down. All of the killings and everything that made the genocide progress was this chair.
After the Museum everyone headed to lunch while my friend and I wanted to wonder the city to find an inexpensive iPhone and inexpensive Beats by Dre headphones. It was a hilarious two hours. We hire a tuk tuk driver to take us around – anywhere that we would find phones or headphones. We couldn’t find any. We just went to place after place talking to Vietnamese people and making jokes with our tuk tuk driver about how all over other parts of Asia these two things are the easiest things to find! We made a total of 12 stops on our journey and finally decided to go back to the hotel. Nick was going to play chess with our tuk tuk driver but we had about 10 minutes to get some food and meet back up with the group so he couldn’t.
After the disappointment of not finding anything we headed to the airport to fly to Siem Reap to see some of the lost temples. We land after another hour flight and headed straight to dinner where we also saw a traditional Cambodian dance show. After that we headed to another night market. This was my favorite market – it was not only huge, but they had massages at every other shop that were $2 per hour. The night went as follows; a foot massage, went shopping, a head and shoulders massage, went shopping, got a body massage and then ended the night at a bar called “Angkor Whaaat?” . I spent $6 for 2 hours and 15 minutes (including tip) on the massages and I bought a lot of gifts, shirts and souvenirs and spent about $18. It was fantastic. We headed back to the hotel because we were planning to get up at 4am to see Angkor Wat at sunrise.
We woke up early and saw the sunrise over the lost city of Angkor Wat. It was beautiful. The sun was right over the towers in a piercing orange flame. There were a lot of people there soaking in the beauty and the meaning of the tempe. After a quick visit to see sunrise we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and breakfast before going back to Angkor Wat to tour the tempe. Our guide started off the tour saying that Tomb Raiders was filmed there and throughout the trip showed us where certain scenes of the movie took place. It was a beautiful place. After Angkor Wat we headed to a few other temples where my personal favorite was the Elephant Terraces. It was a ruin that had the trunks of telephones on the sides of buildings and it would protect them.
We headed to the airport back to Vietnam for the night and continued the night. Right when we got off the plane my friend and I went to a fitting for our dresses. After we walked around Ho Chi Minh City for a bit, going to different shops and looking at different types of food and shops. We were exhausted from getting no sleep in Cambodia so we went back to the ship and had a good nights sleep.
I woke up at 8:00am by a phone call from my two other friends, Kendra and Colleen, who went to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay while I was in Cambodia. We planned to meet up and explore Ho Chi Minh because none of us really had. We go straight to Ben Thon Market and walk around there for a bit. We then went to lunch at a nice restaurant that ended up costing us a total of $11. We were having such a good day! We then headed to a electronics market where I bought a cheap Nokia phone that I will be using until I get a new on e back in the US. It’s a great phone…it even has the game snake (if you are about 20 years old you will understand the significance of that). We then headed to the War Remnants Museum and started to get an understanding of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese side. It was completely bashing the United States and they had a huge room full of pictures of rallies of many different countries protesting against the US. They also said that the War happened because the United States just wanted to gain control of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. It was crazy to read this because that was not what we are taught in the US. Also, there was a huge room dedicated to Agent Orange. It was insane to see the affect that Agent Orange had on both sides, but also the defects that children of war veterans had. There was a place on the wall that I will never forget that showed a picture of a young blonde girl from Philadelphia who didn’t had an arm because her father fought in the war, but she (her parents) were compensated for the defect. All of the pictures of the Vietnamese with defects didn’t get any compensation, and they made that fact known. That was another major way that the Museum bashed the US. It was neat to be walking the Museum with other Vietnamese people, especially older Vietnamese because they were alive during the war.
After the Museum we took scooters to Kendra and Colleen’s dress shop so they could have their fitting. We then met up with the girl that we were going to be couch surfing with! Let me start by explaining couch surfing. It is a website where you can find people in the places you are and you can hangout with them and stay on their “couch” for free! It is a backpackers website with a concept of “I just want to travel and experience different cultures and don’t have a lot of money or friends to see things with'”. It was one of the funnest experiences of my life. We stayed with a girl named Tom. She was 20 years-old and born and raised right outside of Ho Chi Minh. We met her at her house. She lived above her mothers restaurant with her sister. They didn’t have air conditioning, just 2 fans that were blazing around the bed (which was a very thing mattress on a low bed housing). Anyways she took us to one of her favorite bars. We stayed there for a while and actually met two other American students who were suiting abroad in Ho Chi Minh. It was really interesting to hear what they had to say about the country. They said that studying abroad there was a horrible decision because they couldn’t do anything without registering it with the police. For example if they wanted to sleep over at a friends house they would have to get it approved by the police. One of the first nights one of the girls didn’t and she almost got arrested and police were looking for her because they thought she was missing. They also have both gotten robbed twice.
We went with the two American girls and Tom to the Vietnamese backpacking district and met up with a bunch of SASers. It was a lot of fun, the music and the environment was great. We then headed back to the ship and thats where things went very downhill. We were standing at the side of the ship when a scooter comes by and snatches Kendra’s purse right off of her shoulder. Her iPhone, wallet, camera and Colleens wallet was in there. She also just bought the purse she was wearing that the market earlier in the day. Kendra was furious, she yelled to the other scooter drivers to take her to follow but they just continued their conversations. It was disgusting. Tom starting crying and was saying that she hates Vietnamese people and that they do things like that. Long story short it was a long night where everyone was mad at the scooter drivers and the view they had on Vietnamese people went very low. Other than the last part of the night it was a fantastic day!
Yesterday while we were walking around we also hired a tour company to take us to the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was an amazing day. We had to drive around a lot to get to these two places but well worth it. We went to the tunnels first and saw first hand how the Vietnamese Army defeated the US. We saw the tunnels that went on for miles, how they cooked underground with a chimney through leaves that would smoke sideways instead of straight into the sky, the shoes that they wore backwards so the the US soldiers would think they went the other way, and the variety of traps that were throughout the grounds. It was unreal. We walked through the tunnels and saw the different bunkers. The tunnels were very very very tiny – the one that tourists can go through are almost 3 times as big as the real tunnels because most people wouldn’t be able to fit in them. The 3 of us could barely fit into them. After the tunnels we stopped and picked up food to eat in the Mekong Delta. When we arrived there we took a boat to an island and learned about the surrounding area. The Mekong Delta is one of the largest rivers in the world with about 20 million people living on it. It starts in Tibet and goes through almost all of Southeast Asia. We went to Unicorn Island and stuck out hands in a honeycomb with bees all around it, drank a drink that had a dead bird, gecko, scorpion and snake in it, had crispy honey-covered banana chips and ate dragon fruit. After that we went on a canoe ride through a small river in the island. It was beautiful with water coconut plans growing all over the place. After that we got in the car and headed back to Ho Chi Minh with time to pick up completed dresses and to buy a few more souvenirs.
Overall I had a great time. However, I will not vista Vietnam again. All of the people I met were rude and their actions were disgusting. My friends and I weren’t the only ones that were robbed – there are countless others on the ship. I loved meeting Tom and had a blast with her so if I ever do come back it would be to visit her. I would, on the other hand, go back to Cambodia. I had a blast there and loved the people and the environment. Everyone was so nice and wanted to learn about us and America!