Eric enjoying a ride on the Mekong River

AAAHHH, at last we arrive in Southeast Asia! Tackling 4 major cities in a row in China was a bit much for us, and we are ready for some quiet country-side culture and warm weather! We kick off the last month of our adventure in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon. The two names are used interchangeably).

First impressions: we like it here! Even though we’re staying in a super touristy area, in the backpacker district, we still like it here! We’re back to cheapness which is essential after Shanghai & Hong Kong. We’re staying at a hostel for $22 a night and so far we haven’t had a meal that has cost more than $6. We defintely like it here!

Coming into Vietnam from China, you feel an immediate difference in the way things are done here. The dress is different, the food is different, the people are different (much nicer here than in China) and the landscape is different. Saigon is a major city, and being that we’re feeling citied-out, we only explored for 1 full day. We spent the bulk of our time walking around getting a feel for the location, eating traditional foods and spent a couple of hours at the War Museum. I think the delicious fresh spring rolls we ate and the war museum were probably the highlights of our first day in Saigon. The museum is completely depressing (seriously, bring tissue!) but very thought provoking and educational. It’s possible that you’ll leave there with a completely different perspective on the Vietnam war than what you had when you entered the building. Vietnam has been ravaged by war from the French, Chinese, Japanese, Americans, and their own civil war.  The country has only known peace for the last 20 years or so and over half the population is under the age of about 50 or so because anyone older than that most likely lost their life in one of the many wars. For the small percentage of Vietnamese who are in their 70s and 80s, this is the only time in their entire life that they’ve had peace in their country. Almost impossible to imagine.

We took a day trip outside of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels where the Vietnamese had built extensive underground tunnels during the French and American wars. They had a whole massive underground system that they used for secret meetings and even for living in. We got to go down into some of the tunnels ~

Going into a tunnel

Just barely enough room to get in!

claustrophobia sets in pretty quick! The tunnels are tiny with barely enough room to squat in, and the tunnels that we went in were enlarged for westerners. You have to crawl along on your stomach in order to move comfortably, which really isn’t comfortable at all and is filthy dirty! But the tunnels were fascinating to see and experience, and Eric got to play around with shooting some big-ass guns!

Eric inside a tunnel. Not much room to move!

Eric shooting an AK-47

Next stop was Cao Dai temple. Cao Dai is a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Catholisism. It was started by a small group of Southern Vietnamese and today less than 10% of the population follows the religion. I don’t even know how to describe their temple other than to say it was the strangest regilious building I have ever seen. I felt like I had walked onto the set of Alice in Wonderland. The only word I can think of to describe it is whimsical. And their symbol is an eye. Creepy.

chanting at a Cao Dai temple

Creepy eye symbol

We stayed a seond night in Saigon but left early the next morning for the Mekong Delta region. We traveled by bus for about 3 hours and saw this along the way:

Big happy buddha

I love it! You can’t not smile when you see this guy!

We did a 2 day boat trip along the Mekong Delta and it was absolutely wonderful! We stopped off at a few villages along the way for lunch, traditional music, and candy making. But by far the best part was the floating markets. This is as authentic and cultural as it gets. Early in the morning local Mekong villagers row their boats out into the middle of the river and trade or sell goods, mainly fruits and vegetables. This is their grocery store and it provides for thousands of people who live in the Mekong region. The river is their sustanace of life, and without it they wouldn’t even be able to buy groceries!

fruit stand at the floating market

It happens every morning early between about 6-8am, literally hundreds of local villagers row their boats back home and go about the rest of their day. It’s definitely a must-see!

So far, Vietnam gets the thumbs up!