"One more Cambodian bus trip ... and we've made it to Vietnam." Jeff and I were quite excited as we crowded onto a mini-bus and headed off toward our last border crossing in SE Asia. In a matter of no time (or perhaps it was 5-6 hours, but you lose track of time after one too many pot holes and dust clouds) we were knocking on the doors of Vietnam. And after much inefficient bureaucracy and health inspection nonsense, they actually let us in.
"Who's land is this anyway?"
Walking between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Vietnam is a communist country. It's funny how that simple label can create such damaging misconceptions and fears. In all my travels, I've consistently found one truth ... people are people, wherever they live. And I'm happy to let you know, the Vietnamese are a friendly people.
Jeff and I are from a younger generation, a generation that did not experience the war in Vietnam. So part of our time on this trip was spent learning more about this period of history and hearing the "other" perspective. We visited the War Remnants Museum, where we were inundated with graphic pictures demonstrating that, yes, death and destruction are the reality of war. We also visited the Cu Chi tunnels (an elaborate maze of underground tunnels used to conceal rebel armies that supported the north) and the Reunification Palace (the former presidential palace of south Vietnam).
Remnants of a tragedy.
Abandoned US tank above the Cu Chi tunnels.
Most of our time in Vietnam was spent in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. We stayed in the backpacker district in a clean, cheap motel with friendly staff. This section of the city caters to budget travelers and is full of small restaurants and shops. Jeff and I made use of the dirt cheap internet cafes, but soon found that it was much faster to just hand deliver the webpages. But I definitely recommend a one dollar haircut at the Bui Vien barber shop and fruit shakes at the SaSa Cafe ... both high quality operations. Vietnam has been developing rapidly in the last decade, and Ho Chi Minh is becoming more modern as foreign investment continues to grow. Jeff and I were quite impressed.
The backpacker district.
Jeff at a Vietnamese noodle shop.
Warning to potential travelers: Vietnam is NOT pedestrian friendly. Like in neighboring Cambodia, motorbikes swarm the roads, engulfing anything before them like killer bees around helpless prey. Jeff and I spent much of our time wandering the streets of Saigon on foot, and we soon found that in order to cross many streets, you had to simply walk out into the sea of bikes and hope that they would part like water before Moses. And then there are the buses. The buses are quite fine ... if you happen to be stone deaf and cannot sustain any further ear damage from the 8 billion decibel horns that all bus drivers feel compelled to sound every 20 feet.
Typical street in Ho Chi Minh.
The sea of bikes.
If they don't kill you, the bus will.
To finish off our time in Southeast Asia, Jeff and I spent a couple of days at Muine beach. This peaceful resort beach in southern Vietnam was a great place to relax and reflect on the previous five weeks of travel. We stayed at the Full Moon Beach Resort in a cottage right on the beach.
Jeff, enjoying the view from the cottage.
Morning at Muine.
The entire trip to Southeast Asia was an extraordinary experience. As I packed my bags at the end of the journey, memories from the previous five weeks filled my thoughts. Southeast Asia was no longer a distant, mysterious land. It's impossible to forget the generosity and friendliness of the people, or the vivid needs of the region. But for now, it's time to return home. For now ...