After a quick breakfast, I took a taxi to the airport. I was leaving the island of Phu Quoc and flying to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (formerly known as Saigon). I checked in at Vietjet Air, and the combined weight of my suitcase and backpack were 34.4 kilos (75 lbs). They only allow 20 kilos (44 lbs) for all checked bags combined. The woman only charged me for 10 kilos over, which was $19 USD.
As I walked to the counter to pay the fee, a man was pushing his way through the line. Then a group of women from China came to the counter with me and surrounded me on both sides. I asked the employee behind the counter if she could tell them to back up. She motioned for them to back up and they slightly moved. In the U.S., we follow lines and give people space. I’ve heard from people who have visited China that the locals don’t follow our social norms when it comes to personal space and I definitely experienced it.
For my flight, we all boarded a cramped shuttle, walked outside, and climbed up the stairs to the plane on the tarmac. This was very common in Vietnam and Thailand. There weren’t corridors that take you to the plane. Instead, you board outside and climb stairs directly onto the plane. It was a quick flight, but right as we started taking off, my stomach was in knots. I couldn’t use the restroom because of takeoff, but thankfully, the pain went away.
Once we landed, we crammed into buses like sardines and were taken to the luggage carousels. While I waited for my luggage, my stomach started hurting again. I knew the food on the boat the day prior was not sanitary. I raced to the restroom and by the time I returned to the luggage carousel, my bags were waiting for me.
A taxi driver outside the terminal offered to take me to the hotel for $10 USD, but the Grab app quoted me $3 USD. I chose Grab and on the way to my hotel, I received a notice from Orbitz about a double booking. Their app double booked me and when I tried to cancel one of the rooms, they said the hotel is non-cancelable.
I arrived at GK Central Hotel frustrated. Thankfully, the hotel told me that they’ve had this issue before with bookings through Orbitz. They agreed to credit me for the extra booking, but Orbitz would need to ask them again. After messaging Orbitz through Messenger, they agreed to contact the hotel again for a refund.
After checking in at the hotel, my stomach was upset again. I took activated charcoal that I had brought with me. My doctor told me to take it anytime my stomach hurt because it would attach to any virus and bacteria, and eliminate it. I had to take it for about a week, but it did seem to help.
I didn’t want to waste the day because I only had two days in Ho Chi Minh City. It was extremely hot outside and I was sweating profusely. It was 95 °F (35 °C) with a real feel of 107 °F (41 °C). I walked to a museum and noticed that Ho Chi Minh City was different than the north. It was more modern, had more cars, wider streets, and more chain restaurants.
I arrived at the Remembrance Museum about the war with the U.S. Outside were American airplanes and tanks captured in the war. I walked around, looking at the vehicles and aircraft before heading inside.
Inside the museum, there were several different rooms on two different floors that displayed different parts of the war. One room had a sign above the door that said, “The world supports Vietnam in its resistance to U.S. aggression 1954-1975.” When I was in Hanoi at the Hanoi Hilton (a former prison), I thought they did a pretty good job of describing the war by pointing out the struggle on both sides. Sure, they highlighted how wonderful they treated the American POWs by letting them exercise and setting up Christmas trees, but overall it was pretty balanced.
Unfortunately, in Ho Chi Minh city, the museum was not very balanced. Room after room talked poorly about Americans, how they treated people, and how victorious Vietnam was. There was a telegraph from President Ho Chi Minh to Americans that read, “On the occasion of 1968 New Year, I wish you a Happy New Year. Obviously, there is not any Vietnamese who has ever interfered in the U.S. affairs. Yet, more than half a million GI’s who have been sent to South Vietnam, along with over 700,000 troops from the puppet regime and allied countries, routinely killed Vietnamese people and burned down their cities and villages.” The letter goes on with a few more similar sentences.
Then came a room about agent orange. If you’re not familiar, agent orange was a chemical poison that the U.S. released during the war. The sign read, “Scientists agree that ‘dioxin is the most harmful and toxic chemical ever discovered by mankind to date.’” There were many pictures of people who were deformed from the chemical. Then there was another room, and then another, all dedicated to agent orange. I don’t think anybody can dispute that using agent orange was a terrible thing to do to the Vietnamese people. The effects of it can last for generations.
Another room called “Historic Truths” had a sign that read, “The prisoners of war captured by the U.S. armed forces are subjected to treatments prohibited by the laws of war. The U.S. armed forces subject the civilian populations to inhumane treatments prohibited by international law. The U.S. government is guilty of genocide vis-a-vis the Vietnamese people.” Those rooms were full of pictures of American soldiers torturing and killing Vietnamese citizens.
I know war is ugly, and I don’t fully understand why the U.S. was in Vietnam in the first place, but there were many more Vietnamese people fighting against the communists taking over their country than there were Americans. Other countries like Thailand and Australia also helped fight with the Americans. I had met several Vietnamese people who said they were happy that the Americans were there because they felt their country was being overtaken by communists. When I was in Hanoi, I felt the museum did a better job of educating visitors about the war and was balanced in describing the pain on both sides. I know people who fought in the Vietnam war, and it wasn’t easy for Americans either. I felt that this museum was more about propaganda.
I walked back outside and spent some more time visiting the aircraft and tanks taken from the U.S. I wanted to see more of the city, so I started walking towards another site. A man who was riding a bike with a cart in the front asked if I wanted a ride. It was fairly expensive, but I decided to go on it to get the experience. I sat in the bucket in the front as he pedaled away while motorbikes zipped by.
I saw some beautiful buildings like European churches. Across the street was a post office, and it was on a list of places to visit. I walked inside and it was majestic. It was a huge building with a tall, curved ceiling. It had a large rectangle inside with a wraparound counter full of people who could assist with post office needs. I walked up to a man behind one of the counters and asked about shipping items back to the U.S. He gave me a box and tape and said I could bring it back to ship it, but I would need to pay with cash.
I took a Grab back to my hotel and went through my luggage to ship some stuff back home. I was flying to Australia in two days. I didn’t want to keep paying for overweight fees and I wanted to lighten my load since I would spend six months in Australia. I put souvenirs inside the box and then sorted through clothes. I shipped my hiking sandals and water shoes back along with some hiking gear. I didn’t anticipate needing much of that in Australia because I planned on visiting mostly cities while there. I would end up regretting this decision.
The box I was sending back home was large and heavy. I took out cash at an ATM near my hotel and took a Grab back to the post office. The doors were locked, and a security guard held one door open to let people out. He told me that they closed at 6:00 pm, and it was 6:15 pm. I pleaded with him and explained that Google maps said it was open until 7:00 pm. He pointed to a small sign on the outside of the building with their 6:00 pm hours. I pleaded some more, “Please let me inside. I have a full day tour booked tomorrow and I won’t be able to come back. The next day I have an early morning flight. This is my only time to ship this.”
The security guard let people out of the building after they completed their transactions, but wouldn’t let me inside. I stood there holding my heavy box because I had no other option. I thought maybe he’d have sympathy for me if I looked pathetic. I pointed towards the guy that was 100 feet away and said he’s the one who helped me and gave me the box. I asked that he speak to that man and see if he’ll still help me. I also explained that I had the cash ready.
I continued to stand on the steps while tourists looked at me funny. Suddenly, the security guard came back after talking with the man and let me inside. He told me to hurry up, so I skedaddled to the man’s spot behind the counter. There were just a couple of people left finishing their transactions.
I thanked the man profusely for letting me inside and he told me to hurry up. I had to fill out the form while he opened the box to check the contents. He taped it all up and asked if I wanted the three month delivery on a ship for $65 USD or a plane (which would still take a month) for $85. I wasn’t in a hurry for my stuff to sit at my parent’s house, so I chose the three month option. Sure enough, it was delivered in three months.
Once my box was taken care of, I walked around the city and headed towards the World of Heineken – the highest Heineken bar in the world. When I got to the counter of the high-rise building, I was told they were sold out for the Saigon Skydeck trips that take you to the top deck to see a 360-degree view of the city. Instead, they had one ticket left for the 7:00 pm tour of the Heineken Experience, which is the floor just below and the ticket would include access to the Skydeck.
The tour started and a small group of us followed a tour guide through the sections explaining how to properly pour a beer, the history of Heineken, and a 4-D virtual reality experience. The silver beer is only found in Vietnam. After we poured and drank a beer, we had free time to enjoy the bar with neon green bottles everywhere. I stood at a tall table with a beer and some snacks, and talked with another solo female traveler, Lenai.
Lenai is from the Philippines but has lived in Dubai for the last five years where she was a secretary. She appeared to be in her early 30s and had dark hair pulled back. She was only in Ho Chi Minh City for two days and then was flying to the Philippines to visit family. Lenai told me about life in Dubai and the sandstorms that they get. The country restricts Facetime and Skype, so she hasn’t been able to see her family for a while. Lenai told me about a guy who commented on a Facebook post about the recent New Zealand mass shooter. The Dubai government quickly found him and arrested him because they monitor everything on Facebook.
I asked Lenai if it’s true that being gay is illegal there. She confirmed that it is. People are still gay, but they hide it. She has gay friends, but when they’re in public they have to hide it. I was happy to have Lenai to talk with. The bar was popping and it was nice having company while we drank our two free beers. We also went up to the Skydeck together and took pictures.
Afterward, we walked around the night market together. We found a North Face store that was selling cheap jackets and coats. I could never afford a North Face jacket in the U.S., but at this booth, maybe I could. Ben and Berry, who I had met weeks earlier in Vietnam, bought some very cheap North Face jackets in Vietnam and explained they’re available because the factories that make the jackets are there in Vietnam. Many of my clothes at home do say “made in Vietnam.” The owner of the stall said if there is even a very small defect, they can’t sell it overseas but the locals can sell it at their stalls.
After lots of searching and trying on many jackets, I ended up buying a heavy gore-tex snow coat and a light rain jacket for $40 USD. In the U.S., those coats are $400+ USD. Lenai got a light jacket as well and we finished walking around the night market. We parted ways and I sent her a link to a tour that I was doing the following day and told her that she should join it too. I picked up a sandwich on my way back to my hotel, but my stomach was still in bad shape. I just hoped it would go away by the time I woke up.
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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider