Our boat stopped at a floating restaurant, with a bathroom aka hole in the wooden floor (which I had never been more thankful for) before the Cambodian border where we paid twenty-two American dollars for our Cambodian visas in preparation of the border crossing coming up. Normally, visas for another country are bound inside a passport, but Jordan and I applied for loose visas due to time constraints and instead of stamping the visas and giving them back, the woman simply took them. We asked if we would need them at the border and she said we were all set. We were suspicious, and then asked if we could just keep the visa as memorabilia. The woman said no, and left with no other choice, Jordan and I boarded the boat and headed for the Cambodian border.
Our boat docked at the border, where we (unsurprisingly!) needed our visas to cross! So Jordan and I were held on the Vietnam/Cambodia border for a solid hour while we tried to explain (charade) that the woman had taken our visas at the last stop. Meanwhile, our boat, with no lights and a tight schedule to arrive to Phnom Penh before dark, was waiting in the river with a full crowd. Finally, after standing by in one-hundred degree weather and floating in our own nervous sweat, someone called the visa office and gave us the go ahead. With that, we got back onto our boat, rode 5-hours, transferred to a van with 10 seats, 15 people and 15 backpacks, and rode through flooded, bumpy dirt roads for 4 hours with explosive diarrhea.
Jordan and I chose to take combinations of uncomfortable canoes, speedboats, buses and vans on a 3-day venture from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in an effort to see as much as possible. The majority of the trip was by way of the Mekong Delta, and we wove in and out of floating villages for hours.
The people who live on (and in the middle of) the Mekong Delta are a close-knit community of people who share their resources and tie their houses and boats close together during the rainy season so that they don’t drift away. They use the Mekong to farm fish, bathe and do laundry, but they mostly use it as a toilet–so we decided to steer clear of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta seaweed specialty.
I have a short, poor-quality video taken from the motorboat portion of the journey, but i’m having serious trouble uploading it, so for now pictures will have to suffice. Also, if you’re wondering when my traveler’s diarrhea kicked in, it was about one hour into the eight-hour, non-stop boat ride.
Here’s a photo of Jordan and I on the Mekong that makes it less of a mystery why so many people thought that we were a couple.
Jordan and I traveled south to Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, where we replaced Jordan’s long lost Lonely Planet guide (we got a boot-leg one with nearly non-existent maps from a local vendor), had the world’s best spring rolls, and visited the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.
The museum was four floors of heartbreaking, history-packed, journals, photos, and memorabilia. The entrance was lined with children and adults alike that suffer multiple disabilities due to the effects of Agent Orange, an often deadly chemical that was sprayed indiscriminately on the people and land throughout Vietnam. The disabilities are both mental and physical, and include blindness, deafness, and growth defects. Walking past them was a bone-chilling, stiff reminder that the Vietnam War is not just a thing of the past. Today, people are still living and adjusting to the horrible causes and desperate decisions made by the United States.
To not be touched by the War Remnants Museum, you honestly have to be cold-blooded. Jordan and I left nearly in tears and felt ridden with guilt that our country had caused so much pain and destruction. But what’s interesting is that the main message of the museum was not anti-american, but anti-war in general. The goal of the museum is to promote awareness and peace, and and prevent something so horrific from happening again, not just to Vietnam, but around the globe. The vibes of the museum were ones of forgiveness and hope, common to the vibes of the Peace Museum in Hiroshima that I visited with my family when I was studying abroad in Japan.
In both Japan and Vietnam, where the U.S. caused unimaginable destruction, I feared being disliked simply for being an American. And if I was, I would have understood. But in both places I was welcomed with open arms, and open discussion of our countries past was encouraged with the common hope that together we can prevent history from repeating itself.
Artwork sent from elementary schools around the world promoting peace.
After spending a day exploring Ha Noi, Jordan and I decided to spend two days and one night in Ha Long Bay, which was recommended to us by many. Unfortunately, we were looking for an adventure filled with hiking, kayaking, swimming and cave-exploring and we ended up getting a vacation that revolved around a booze cruise.
We didn’t realize that we should have opted for the senior-citizen cruise until we were surrounded by a bunch of 20-something, drunk, obnoxious, 3/4-naked foreigners cleverly trying to round up a game of spin the bottle. Nontheless, we did enjoy beautiful scenery, swimming, a short kayaking expedition and brief cave exploring, so it was hard to complain.
The Vietnamese used hidden caves like the one we visited (Jordan and I pictured above) as secret hospitals to help the wounded in the Vietnam/American War. The Americans weren’t able to see what was going on from planes above and never suspected Ha Long Bay as an area assisting in the war effort, and this cave with remnants from the 1970’s is one of the few places in Vietnam to remain untouched, and it proves how resourceful the Vietnamese really were.
I would like to make a formal apology to my readers for not having posted since December. Contrary to how my blog appears, I am not stuck in Hanoi with no internet access; I have been home since Christmas and, for the most part, resumed with my life pre-Asia. So, sorry mom and dad for not keeping you electronically updated.
The purpose of this blog was to allow my friends and family to follow my travels, and once I was home, proved I was alive and well and could tell the stories in person, I feared that my blog lost it’s appeal, thus I neglected it for few months.
But, I have decided to pick up where I left off, and I hope that this blog turns into more than just a record of my trip. I plan to write about the adjustments I’ve made at home since this life-changing trip, and how, as a direct result, I am fulfilling my new quest to live more minimally and to donate 10% of my income (as I explained we all should during my Kim Kardashian rant). Additionally, I plan to read a book a week, and write everyday (even if only something short) in the hopes of spreading awareness and opening dialogue about issues that I learned are far too real and too close to ignore.