(In front of the Notre-Dame Basilica happily wearing our Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee shirts as promised for a photo to send to the coffee company in Georgia. Go order some coffee from them, drink coffee and do good.)
We were in Ho Chi Minh over the Christmas holiday. We figured if we were going to be away from our Texas family anyway and missing that choas we might as well go somewhere else and spend a chaotic Christmas with about a million other people. It was a short trip but as is everything in Asia, it was jam packed – with adventure.
About a month before the trip I went to the Vietnam Embassy to get our visa’s – all by myself! Lucky for me, it’s not too far from our house. The process was a little tricky but manageable. I only lost my head once and even then I walked out and cooled off and came back in once I was able to think rationally. The Embassy people never knew. I ended up having to leave our passports with them for a week, which I did not like but there was no way around it. They were even able to get our oldest daughter’s visa without having her passport since she lives in Texas. I had a copy of it and some extra passport photos and that worked well. Hers was a little more expensive but again, it had to be done. I do recommend planning ahead on getting visa’s before travelling. Some Asian countries require that you already have a travel visa before you arrive and sometimes it might take a month to get it. We’ll be facing this again on a hopeful trip to China this summer. Tommy’s going to help me with this one or better yet, do it himself. I think it’s his turn, right?
We left on a Wednesday afternoon (two days before Christmas) and got back on Saturday evening. We took Tiger Airways (budget) for the short and thankfully uneventful flight to Vietnam. The Vietnam airport was very nice and quiet. Very clean! We were honestly a little surprised. It was easy to find our way around and we got through with ease. Our hotel shuttle guy was waiting outside for us with our names on a sign. Good morning, rather, good afternoon, Vietnam!
In our short 4 day trip, there are just too many stories to tell but the highlights are:
1. In our first trip to the Ben Thanh Market, an old Vietnamese lady pinched Tommy’s rear. We think it was to get him to move out of the way but who knows??? She might of just thought he was cute. Or she could have been trying to pick his pocket. Regardless, the look on his face and tone in his voice when he exclaimed, “That lady just pinched my butt!” was priceless. We laughed SO hard! That alone was worth the trip.
(I know this picture is blurry but it’s the only one I have that shows how crowded this market was. I had a hard time just staying on foot and keping track of Anna much less trying to take a decent photo.)
2. Tori was oogled over by many men but one guy followed beside us on his scooter on the sidewalk for a long time. Ok, not so much a highlight cause it was gross. After a while, Tommy gently put his hand on the back of his bike and asked him why he was following us. He moved on but not without one final stare down. Yuck! I guess we can’t fault Tori for being so tall and gorgeous, huh? We did look a little different than what they were used to seeing, I think.
(The ladies at this shop, where we bought Anna’s dress, were so impressed that Anna was only 10 and she was taller than them. Anna is used to that now. She’s as tall as most of the grown women in Asia. No one believes she is only 10. They look at her for a long time in restaurants when we order her a kids portion.)
3. We might as well have had dollar signs plastered all over us. We were grabbed, followed, hustled, you name it. Most of it was fun. But I did have to protect Anna at one point from three “eager” shop ladies. I used my arms and stepped in front of her and gave them the “back off, don’t mess with my kid” look. They did back off and were actually very pleasant after that and we bought a beautiful traditional dress for Anna from them and I’m sure paid way more than we should have for it. Oh well… Anna loves it and it’s all she wanted! I also had to physically peel a shoplady’s hands off of my arm. She had such a tight hold I was practically dragging her as I walked. I won.
(Anna in her Vietnamese dress we bought. She looks so grown up!)
All in all, the sights were amazing. We felt mostly pretty safe but were always aware of who and what was around us. We wore our backpacks in the front alot of the time. We stayed close to each other at all times. The shopping was an advenure and everything was super cheap if you know how to bargain. The history was, well, history, and sad, but it was a good experience for us all. The food was good and the coffee was wonderful! The people were mostly VERY friendly. The children were just beautiful! My favorite part of all!! We felt very welcomed there inspite of what we’d heard it might be like. We did feel like we had to be “on our best behavior”. We were in their country and we would like to be safely back in ours in a few days. There were a few times we would have liked to have screamed in the face of the scooter guys coming at us ON THE SIDEWALK WHEN THEY HAVE THE WHOLE ROAD but we refrained. You really can’t stand your ground when a motorcycle is coming at you.
Language was a barrier but they definitely understood numbers. They could talk money, no problem. American dollars or Vietnamese Dong were both fine with the markets and small shops. The restaurants we ate at were good. We loved Pho 24 and ate there twice. We had German food, locak food and steaks and LOTS of good coffee. We think Tommy got sick from the salad at the steak place but it was good food and luckily at the end of our trip.
(Vietnamese coffee is amazing. It brews from the top into the cup at the bottom. So you wait for a few minutes. It’s super strong and super sweet. A little cup but a little goes a long way.)
We used bottled water for everything even to brush our teeth. We were told that the hotel had filtered water but we weren’t willing to risk a messed up vacation because of water. There was a mall connected to our hotel so it was very easy for us to get bottled water.
Our hotel was very nice! We stayed at the Windsor Plaza in District 5 on the Executive floor so we got three free breakfast buffets with the room and free cocktail hour which served as our dinner one night. The breakfast was only $10US anyway and it was really good! It was a bit of a hike from the hotel to the shopping/downtown area, District 1, but a free shuttle was available throughout the day. We actually liked that we were a drive away from District 1. It was nice to see some of Vietnam that we wouldn’t have seen if we stuck close to downtown and we had a/c! We didn’t have to take a taxi the whole time we were there. We did walk alot but living in Singapore has conditioned us for that. I think if we were coming there from the US we would have been a lot more wimpy about walking so much.
(Tired of walking perhaps??? We really were having a good time. They were just goofin’ off.)
We’d like to go back and visit the more rural areas of Vietnam. See the farming and the floating markets, etc. We liked the city enough to go back there too but we don’t think we’d like to be in the city for an extended amount of time. Too much noise pollution for us. Although the source of the noise pollution made for some great photos! In this photo, just imagine all of them honking at once.
There are too many pictures I’d like to share so I’ll try to get to another post and share my favorites. I must get this one in, though. It cost me $1USD. Of course we always look like tourists wherever we go over here. We physically look different but I’m always carrying my camera. On our first day we passed this group of people on the sidewalk having their lunch. I smiled at the boy and he smiled back. I tell you, I love looking at the little children! They are so innocent, so unscathed by the world’s twisted views and they just don’t know any other way of life but theirs and they are content. Anyway, I smiled at him. He smiled back. I asked the older lady if I could take his picture and she told me for $1USD. Well, that was a no brainer. They assumed position, as I felt they had done before, and I snapped away. I handed the boy the dollar and told them thank you with another smile directed into his sweet little face. We left. I got my $1 photo. Totally worth it!! I’m fairly certain that the sweet little boy didn’t get to keep that dollar.