Goodbye Vietnam

11 Oct

The last leg of our Vietnam trip was spent in Saigon. We got in sometime in the afternoon and checked into the Hideout Hostel, the hostel we had heard about most from other backpackers, located within the backpacker area of the city. We were completely desperate to do laundry on arrival as none of our wet canyoning clothes dried in Dalat, making a massively smelly situation. Laundry, according to the front desk would take longer than usual because of the rain and the fact that they hang dry the clothes. This pushed our time in HCM from two nights to three which was fine by us. Laundry over everything.
I felt like complete garbage upon arriving in HCM. While I slept the whole bus ride I was insanely sleep-deprived from our 5 day bender with an endless cough and runny nose. We hadn’t eaten all day, except a Twix bar that I had stashed away, and were desperate for some Western food, particularly pizza after our failed mission to get some in Dalat. Anisa had told us about a place in HCM that does fairly inexpensive NYC slices. While we were reluctant to believe that, it was close to the hostel we were staying at so we knew we had to give it a shot. I would actually recommend Espy’s pizza to anyone visiting HCM and in need of pizza. While it wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had as a NYC pizza snob, it actually was really good and better than a lot of pizzas I’ve had (shoutout to terrible Connecticut pizzas). After the emotional experience of eating both a BBQ chicken and a pepperoni slice we headed back to the hostel where I attempted to drink my free beer. I quickly realized that it was not happening and instead sat and watched back to back Die Hard movies in the hostel’s hangout room (which I later realized I could have changed), wrote, and went to bed early with some Netflix while Angela went out. It was the anti-social TV night that I needed. 

The following day we got very necessary cheap pedicures before heading to the War Remnants Museum. The War Remnants museum, while certainly filled with some war propaganda, was for the most part extremely eye-opening, disheartening and quite frankly tough to look at. The hardest exhibits included images of soldiers and innocent civilians including children, women and the elderly, dying or being killed or tortured. An Agent Orange exhibit showed the immediate and after affects of the terrible poison and featured names and stories of individuals. It was a quieting and poignant experience.

After a dinner of Bun Cha, one of our favorite meals from Hanoi, we headed back to the hostel for free beer and a night of drinking with our Australian friends that we have seen in each place we’ve been since Phong Nha, and our Canadian friends that we had been in a room with in Nha Trang, joined by many others. While talking with Scott, one of the Canadians about laundry here, I mentioned that I had lost a dress since I last did laundry, either in Nha Trang or Dalat, and had no clue where it was. I could see the wheels turning in his eyes as he said “wait a minute…” and told me that Danielle had found a dress in her bag and didn’t know how it had got there. Danielle did indeed confirm that she had the dress, told me it was probably in the laundry and that she would get it back to me the next day. She left it nice and clean with reception the following day, making my life feel slightly more complete. It still amazes me how small the traveling world is. As for our night, as always, we started a game of Kings followed by a round of Fuck the Dealer before heading out on the hostel’s pub crawl. 

Since Angela and I had one more day to kill we decided to do the Mekong Delta tour. A bus picked us up earlier than we desired and we headed out for our first stop, the Vinh Trang Buddhist temple and pagoda, where we got to see three massive Buddha statues and an actual Buddhist prayer session. Afterwards we got on a boat to go down the Delta to lunch on one of the islands along the river. 

Following, we went to another island where things finally got a little more exciting. We got to see how coconut candies are made from the start of the coconut to the final product, and taste tested the pieces warm and right off of the “production line” (put in quotes because it’s simply five individuals running the local show). For some reason, the place had a boa constrictor in a cage that we could hold if we wanted to. While my better judgment said don’t do it Ciara, the Instagram potential screamed yes Ciara, do it. It was not scary at all and the snake had such a unique and actually quite soft feel. I think I’m a snake fan now. 

After saying goodbye to my snake friend we took rowboats down a smaller part of the river to try local honey at a bee farm, where they mixed the honey with tea and juice from a kumquat and serenaded us with some pretty dire Vietnamese music. Like, I’ve heard some okay Vietnamese music here but this actually sounded like people were in pain and I’m not sorry for saying that. That night we got back our laundry, which almost made me cry of happiness, ate at the Bun Cha place again because we’re super original and daring, and went to the hostel bar for a few cheeky drinks before parting with our Australian friends, who were heading to a different area in Cambodia, and said see you later to our Irish friends, who had booked a later bus the following day to Phnom Phen and would be staying at our hostel. 

And so ends my Vietnamese journey. I am on the bus to Cambodia as I write this, fully entrusting a random Vietnamese man with my passport, listening to a Vietnamese child cry over the Mumford & Sons playing through my ear phones, and smelling the desperately stringent odor of hand sanitizer someone rigorously applied after using the bus’s certainly disgusting toilet. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been on the road now for 33 days and have made it through all of Vietnam. It truly feels like it’s been only a handful of days, but my tired body, weight gain, mosquito bitten legs, tanned shoulders, dirtied up clothes and bags and awakened soul prove that I’ve certainly made ways. I arrived in Vietnam sleep-deprived, completely nervous, culture-shocked and excited. I leave Vietnam equally excited, slightly less nervous, culturally enriched and able to actually cross a motorbike-laden street. The poverty can and should shake you, the cities should excite and overwhelm you and the rural countryside will take your breath away. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and some days or experiences were harder than others, but Vietnam has been the perfect start to my journey and a total initiation by fire to my unaware, under-traveled American self. It has made me grateful for the life I have, yet understanding and appreciative of the world’s differences. I’m sad to leave Vietnam and wish I could go right back up north and do it all again, but I’m ready for the next adventure in Cambodia, ready to meet new people, ready for the shocking and overwhelming things there. 

Last night, Wade, one of the Australian friends, was recapping their day selling the bikes that they had used to journey all the way from Hanoi to HCM. He and another friend sold their bikes to two other Australian girls who were just starting out in Vietnam, and spent the day driving the girls outside the city and giving them lessons before sending them off. With a recollecting smile on his face, he told me how they nervously asked all the same questions he had previously asked and rode anxiously like he had during their practice runs. He eventually watched them ride off, saying goodbye to new friends and a farewell to the bike that had been his faithful companion for the past month. “I never cry,” he smirked, “but I had a single tear fall out of my eye watching them drive off. It gave me a chill.” And with that perfect end of Vietnam story I got a chill as well. I’m sad to leave, jealous of the ones just starting out, grateful for the experience and flooded with a tingling calmness for what is next. 


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