Tạm biệt Vietnam

Seven ports are officially visited. It seems crazy that Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is already our seventh stop on this journey. Our travels to Vietnam from China got postponed for an entire 24 hours due to intense sea conditions that the captain did not feel comfortable taking us through. So instead of having five days in Vietnam we only had four. Since we were independently traveling this caused quite the issue with our plans going into Vietnam. We originally intended on going to a Southern Vietnamese Island, Phu Quoc, for the full five days. We had a bungalow reserved and everything is. However, since it was the New Year, having to change our flight was impossible, literally. Absolutely every flight at any time was sold out and didn’t even have a standby seat. (Yes we even went to the HCM airport and checked directly with every single airline.) Since the ship has a strict on ship time as well as a strict departure time we did not want to the risk of not being able to get back to the ship in time and being left.  So as any experienced travelers would, we came up with plan B. Our plan B was to get a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and experience the city life of Vietnam. Honestly, I am so happy that it worked out like this and of course Paige and I were traveling with the sisters, Kathleen and Caroline.

With a little help from our travel agent, my wonderful sister Erica McCarthy, we found an awesome hotel. This wasn’t just any hotel; it was the #1 recommended 5 star hotel in the city. We all agreed that if we couldn’t make it to the Island then this was our next best option. Once we checked into the hotel in mid-afternoon on February 9 we dropped our bags off and began to explore the city streets that surrounded our hotel. It was unfortunate timing that we were there because most things were closed down for the first days of our visit due to the Tet New Year. After some short exploration we went back to the hotel and went straight upstairs to the rooftop pool and hung around for dinner. The pool deck had a fancy restaurant connected to it and since we arrived so late and were exhausted we figured that was our best option. Our hotel also had a spa at the bottom and we heard that Vietnam is known for their massages. We decided our cozy and sophisticated hotel was a safe and sanitary place to get one, especially on our first night at 20:00. Let’s just say that the Vietnamese have eccentric massages, or at least the one that I had. Kathleen and I were in the same room for ours and that was comforting. We sat on the tables and these two tiny Vietnamese women walked in wearing matching skirts, white v-necks, and clear plastic stilettos. They were good at their jobs but the initially appearance threw us off, that’s for sure. We had a relaxing 70-minute massage with hot stones and warm lotion. It was a great way to end our first day.

The next day we tried to take full advantage of the rooftop infinity pool with a perfect panoramic view of the city at our hotel so we spent most of the morning and early afternoon catching some rays up there. After we felt crispy we decided to get up and go explore. We got a map from the front desk and just pointed to one place on it and went that direction. Through some broken conversation we ended up stumbling upon an outdoor market with an assortment of goods where we spent far too much money on things that we didn’t really nee.d Once again, we would all find something that we wanted to purchase, hand it to Paige, and she would take care of the bartering. When I say you barter for everything, I mean everything. We went to buy bottled water and we bartered for that, we couldn’t believe it. We met some pretty amazing Vietnamese people who owned the stands. Within the outside market was a nail salon that looked safe and sanitary so we figured why not. We spent over two hours in the salon while getting gel manicures and gel pedicures. The four of us agreed that it was the best nail experience we’ve ever had. Each Vietnamese pampering us spent so much time on each of us and it was very refreshing. Bartering, shopping, and getting our nails done was exhausting so we decided to mosey our way back to our hotel and call it an early night or at least so we thought. Considering it was only around 20:00 or 21:00 we decided to go up to the pool and see what was happening. Even if nothing was happening we knew we would still have a great view of the city. Luckily for us there was a rooftop club neighboring our hotel so we were at the top listening to their music, talking, and laughing. After what seemed to be 30 seconds it was already 02:00 so we figured we should go downstairs and at least get a little bit of sleep.

On the third morning we woke up and did a little bit more relaxing but we heard things were beginning to open so we headed back to the market that we had been the previous day. This was a great call because more shops were beginning to open since the Tet New Year was ending and stores were beginning to open. However, once again, we bought too much stuff that we didn’t really need. We made ourselves feel better by saying that we may never have the chance to be back in Vietnam and if buying//walking around with items like traditional rice hats is what makes our trip memorable then the purchase is worth it. We had such a blast walking around the market, {having Paige} barter for the unneeded items, and meeting the local Vietnamese people. We literally spent the entire afternoon out at the markets and were exhausted. We decided to head back to the ship and drop our bags off since we had been carrying them since we left the hotel. Once we dropped our bags off, cleaned up a little bit, and relaxed we decided to go to dinner in Ho Chi Minh City. We heard that the view from the sky restaurant, which is the tallest building of Ho Chi Minh City, was a great one. The rumors were true, it was incredibly nice up there, the food was pretty good, and the view was great. The night was a more relaxed and we just walked around districts we hadn’t seen before. The entire city was decorated beautifully for the Tet New Year but the new district we went to was absolutely magnificent. There were lights and decorations of all kinds everywhere. It was really interesting to see what a big deal the Tet New Year is in the Vietnamese culture. The days are very exhausting while we’re in country so we began to head back to the ship at around 20:00. Since we only had one more day in Vietnam we wanted to be well rested.

We began our final day in Vietnam with breakfast and then made our way back to the market. I know three days spent at the market seems crazy but we had the most fun there and were able to learn the most through the market experience. I didn’t even want to buy anything I just wanted to talk with the vendors and the local people. The best place to do so was where most of them were which happened to be at the market. By the time we left the market at lunchtime and with our previous two days spent there, we still didn’t see everything there was to offer. Kathleen and I decided to run across the street to grab some coffee while Paige and Caroline did some last minute bartering before lunch. Luckily for Kathleen and me because Paige and Caroline saw a physical fight break out in the market and from what they say, it was quite the scene. After that incident Paige and Caroline were definitely beyond ready to head to lunch. We didn’t really know where to go but we knew we wanted something out of the ordinary so we started to walk aimlessly but with lunch in mind. We stumbled upon a little hole in the wall café so we stopped and it was absolutely delicious. Coincidentally there happened to be a tattoo studio neighboring the café so the four of us went in and got matching ones. Okay, the tattoo wasn’t that spur of the moment, we have been looking for tattoo studios since the day we were in Hawaii and have been on the hunt for one ever since. Up until then we had run into bad luck at least four times with the studios being closed or them wanting $151 each for a tiny 360° on the inside of my left ankle. However, we really weren’t looking for a tattoo studio when we were on the hunt for lunch and we didn’t stop at the hole in the wall café because it was next to the tattoo place, we found that out after we sat down for lunch. The meaning of the tattoo is quite simple; we’re literally traveling around the entire world together and so we’re traveling 360° circumnavigating the world. Our travel agent and older sister, Erica, has it as well. It’s almost like a rite of passage as a Semester at Sea student. Don’t worry; the facilities were surprisingly super clean and looked nicer than a majority of the tattoo studios back home. However, the artist didn’t speak any English, in fact the only words her knew were “new needle” and “clean.” We later found out that it was a famous tattoo place and there was a Vietnamese reality show about the owner, which is really cool. We spent the rest of the day exploring the area surrounding the café and the tattoo studio. We had dinner at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant with an assortment of delicious new dishes. We’re all getting really good at using chopsticks properly, it’s an art. Since we had to be checked back into the ship with our passport turned in by 22:00 we decided to play it safe and head back around 20:30. Our last day in Vietnam, along with every other day, was absolutely amazing.

Another great thing about Vietnam is that most of the road traffic is traffic of mopeds. Moped filled the streets. We saw families of five riding on one single moped countless times. Not once did I see a parking lot but they have a huge section of sidewalk designated to parking mopeds and they we spots were always full. Crossing the street was quite the task. We were warned before that once you start to walk across the street, no matter how big or small it is, you don’t stop. There are no real stoplights or stop signs in the city and even if they are no one really pays attention to them. The same goes for the crosswalks. Pedestrians just go when they see an opening and if they don’t see an opening then they still go. It was actually a riveting experience to cross the street and I loved it. As long as I kept a steady pace and didn’t start running when a moped was headed straight for me then they would drive all around me but steer clear of me. Maybe I would only be cleared by a couple of inches but I would still be cleared. The moped drivers seemed to know what they were doing and as I said, entire Vietnamese families ride on one moped.

Vietnam is probably my favorite stop thus far. In general, the Vietnamese people seem to be so content and down to earth. We saw countless people pushing produce carts down the road and they were so content with that being their everyday life. It was really easy to connect with the locals. They’re English was no better than the English of the Japanese or the Chinese but the way in which they communicated with us was much different than any of the others, even considering our history with them. I never felt like I was being solicited to, even in the busy markets where bartering is all you hear. The people were proud of who they were and accepting of us as Americans. It was overall a great trip to Vietnam even if it wasn’t what we planned.

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