BUCKET LIST: EXPERIENCING THE PEARL OF INDOCHINA: VIETNAM

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend Vimal calls me up to ask if we could travel together, she couldn’t come to Egypt because she had already booked her leave so we decided on going to Vietnam. The irony was 3 months ago when I first met Vimal we actually talked about going together. We had had an awesome vacation singing Vietnamese songs….
Viettttnaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmm.. Ho Chi Minnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn…….

The journey began in Southern Vietnam in Ho Chi Min City, formerly known as Saigon. The name was changed during the Viet Cong communist region by the nation’s revolutionary Ho Chi Min. During our first day there while exploring the city, we were convinced by a cyclo driver that he was the best in Vietnam. We couldnt refuse, and enjoyed being cycled around the city main parks and museums.

The highlights of that day was our driver, he was so pro globalization and was glad for the foreign intervention saying “Got mouth to eat, Got no mouth to speak”…. Coming to Vietnam I didnt know much about the country it was eye opening because it gave me a lot of understanding of the situation of the French Indochina and the harshness of the war…a must see is the war remnant museum… We visited the Tai Chi main city park, the Mussoleum, the Notre Dam cathedral beside the Post Office and Reunification palace. We chilled by a roadside cafe taking in the sights and smells of the cities before treating ourselves by a massage by the blind association… we then met up with Nhu to eat a lovely VIetnamese dinner….

We had signed up for a tour to visit the Cao Dai temple. Cao Daism is a very Vietnam specific religion and one of the three most practiced religions in Vietnam. The temple was like going through some mad alice in wonderland dream… so much modern art and detail everywhere.. The architecture was like nothing I have ever seen before, but when we watched the prayers it gave me a peaceful feeling which reminded me of a masjid. The religion was quite intriguing because the lead its founder, Ngo Minh Chieu (or Ngo Van Chieu), was a French civil servant and was also a mystic who was well-versed in western and eastern religions, he began receiving revelations about the truth of religions from God (Caodai) that told him to combine the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and other religions into one religion to promote peace.

We then went to the Cu Chi Tunnels which was were the VietCong controlled underground because the Americans controlled the sky and land… I found the tunnels extremely genius… our tour guide was an actual Viet Cong fighter which gave us a new perspective on how Vietnamese perceived the west…. we watched videos at the beginning where Viet Cong rewarded people for being brave fighters against the evil americans…. it also made me realize how nationalism went along way in the sixties and seventies, i doubt it would be the same now…… that night we had another lovely dinner and partied vietnamese expat style… music scene is not the most happening, but we had a quite a good night… hearing the fussion of francophone culture..

we then took an internal flight to Danang… it was like taking a busy public bus, people were flying with huge plastic bags.. the flight was noisy and for three girls who got less than three hours of sleep it was not the most fun especially when we were harassed when we arrived to find cabs to take us to Hoi Ann.. We eventually found a cab, and after five minutes of driving, he stops the cab, opens the trunk and there was a black car behind us. Once we realize what happened, Vimal tried to open her door, and it was locked. My immediate reaction is like I am not going to have my things robbed from me. It wasnt going to happen. I jumped to the passenger seat of the car, rushed to the trunk and pushed the driver aside, not sure what I was yelling. We all took our bags and walked back to the airport. The driver kept saying it was cheaper to take a private car but after hearing the horror stories of backpackers in Vietnam we werent going to find out.

An hour later, we eventually made it to Hoi Ann.. It was one of UNESCO Heritage Sights, we spent the day with out rented bicycles seeing the city drinking lots of Vietnamese coffee and tea in the pouring rain.. The city is magical, no wonder it was soo loved by all the foreigners who colonized Vietnam, and thank god it was not touched during the Vietnames war… The pagados, the old houses, and the atmosphere.. We also had loads of fun singing at the top of our lungs…. nothing beats the tailored clothes… We wondered the city for days before taking our next adventure to the Hue another world Heritage sight on the sleeping bus… This bus is hilarious, they actually have beds, three rows of beds in a regular bus unfortunately it is customized for the Asian body…

Hue was stunning unlike Hoi Ann there are less tourists and city seemed more real, we cycled around visiting the old fortress, temples, and played football with a group of young Vietnamese girls… it was hilarious realizing how bad we sucked…

The bus driver was hilarious… on the bus to Hanoi, he stops on the way walks into a shop to try on jackets… I have never seen anything like this.. he made us all wait for a good 20 minutes so he could try on jackets which in the end he didnt even buy…

My final stop was to Hanoi.. the second biggest city in Vietnam, which was a bit overwhelming after enjoying the peaceful countryside… we met up with Vimals friend and her mom, where we wondered the city. The highlight was the water puppet show.. a must see for anyone going to Hanoi… it shows the imprint of Chinese arts in Vietnam…

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