Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City & Huê’

Following Cambodia, I arrived at my 3rd of the 5 current communist countries: Vietnam. I would be happy to visit Cuba sometime, but as for North Korea, I prefer visiting places only after their god-king inexplicably doesn’t live forever.

Now I’ve gotta be honest, when I got to Ho Chi Minh City my energy and motivation just crashed. I might have some more thoughts on the trip as a whole later, but for now I think that a full year of travel isn’t entirely… necessary. It’s a long time, and I no longer feel the need to challenge myself and go out of my comfort zone. I unapologetically want to go home and sleep for a week.

My lack of motivation didn’t keep me away from the various cafés however, and I tried a few of the local specialties like Lychee Iced Jasmine Tea. 

I walked through one of the city parks where many shoe shiners exclaimed at the obviously offensive state of my shoes and insisted on cleaning them. Having been to Istanbul, this game was familiar, and I was saying “no thanks” as soon as they pointed at my feet.

My walk through the city brought me to the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. Like Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam was colonised by the French, which explains the cathedral and some of the other buildings in the area. 

I was a big fan of Vietnamese coffee. Iced or not, the essential ingredient that seemed to define Vietnamese coffee was sweetened condensed milk. 

I didn’t see too much of Ho Chi Minh City due to my schedule and decision to take some rest days, but I found it pretty interesting. I would have been overwhelmed if I hadn’t already been to India, as the unofficial bike lane is the sidewalk, but India had given me the (perhaps misplaced) confidence to walk into traffic and dare the bikers to hit me that resulted in my ability to easily get around the city. I even helped another group if tourists cross the street by being the first person willing to walk through traffic.

Ho Chi Minh City was formerly named Saigon, and got its current name following the Vietnam War that ended with the Fall of Saigon.

Despite not wanting to do anything requiring more effort than a walk to the nearest cafe, I signed up for a tour through my hostel to the Mekong Delta.

It was a full day trip that started at this beautiful temple. Vinh Tràng Temple is a Buddhist temple in the Mekong Delta in the south of Vietnam. It is known for its huge statues as well as its beauty.

The statue in the last picture is actually a statue of Budai, who is often confused with The Buddha. A figure from Chinese folklore, he is sometimes called the laughing Buddha and thought to be an incarnation of the future Buddha, and always a content and loving character.

Following the temple, the tour was brought to the boat that would take us to our various destinations in the delta. We first stopped at a place that specialised in bee products and were given tea with honey and bee pollen. 

He’s holding a board of bees. Didn’t like that.

Next we were brought to a place that made coconut candy. We got a demonstration of how a coconut could be quickly de-shelled using a spike planted in the ground, and then saw the machine mixing together coconut milk and caramel over a fire. Finally there were the people wrapping the candies. The whole operation from raw coconut to candy was in that one room, and it was pretty cool. The candy was good too. 

My favourite part of the tour came next, as we were brought down into a narrower part of the delta where boats rowed by locals were waiting to take us the scenic way back to our main boat. 

We had one more stop before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City: the Coconut Temple.

This was a very colourful, somewhat touristy, place to relax at the end of the day. Apparently at one point somebody decided to create a coconut religion, and this temple was the result. 

Anyways, the tour was awesome, and it was nice to get out of the city and see the famous Mekong Delta. Wanting to see more than just Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, I departed for Hue. Hue, a city name with accents my phone doesn’t have, so I’m sorry.

Huê is in central Vietnam and was the imperial capital. One annoying thing about Huê was the number of drug dealers that approached me on their motor bikes. They always start by asking where I’m from in a friendly way, but it happened so much that I wanted to answer “where are you from?” with “I don’t want your weed.”

Anywho, it was actually a really nice place, and since it was the imperial capital there was an Imperial City to explore. 

The Imperial City was quite similar to the Forbidden City in China, though distinctly Vietnamese. It seemed to me that Vietnam had its own distinct colour scheme when it came to temples and palaces. 

The palace was damaged during war, but has undergone restoration projects. More than just the Vietnam War, as it’s known in the west, Vietnam was right in the thick of all 3 Indochina Wars. 

Following WW2, the French colonies of French Indochina decided that they no longer wanted to be French… or colonies. The Viet Minh, founded and led by Ho Chi Minh, opposed France retaking control of their colonies and fought for independence. The First Indochina War resulted in French defeat and the independence of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. France was backed by the USA and NATO, while the independence movements were backed by the Soviet Union and China. 

The first war ended in 1954, just in time for the Second Indochina War to begin in 1955. The Second Indochina War is known both as the Vietnam War and the American War, and lasted almost 20 years. It was a Cold War era proxy war between the republic South Vietnam and the communist North Vietnam. The North was backed by China, the USSR, as well as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and the Pathet Lao and many others. The South was backed by the USA, Australia, South Korea, and again, many others.

The North Vietnamese defeated the South and the US at the Fall of Saigon and reunified Vietnam. The southern capital of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Many war crimes were committed during the conflict, but one with the most lasting effect was the use of Agent Orange by the Americans. Agent Orange is a chemical with the ability to damage genes, and both sides suffered from exposure to it. Causing cancer in those exposed as well as handing down birth defects to the next generation, Agent Orange was truly evil.

The time after the Vietnam war is known as the Third Indochina War, but isn’t one particular incident. The war included the Pathet Lao consolidating their rule in Laos, a brief war between China and Vietnam, and the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. I think the Cambodian-Vietnamese War is a great example of why it’s important to question government and why labels of “good” and “evil” are rarely accurate. Despite the ongoing genocide of their own people, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia enjoyed a seat at the UN and was widely recognised as the legitimate government. The newly unified Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and deposed the Khmer Rouge, a move that was criticised by China, the US, France, and the UK among others. Like I said in the Cambodia post the world was very wrong in general about the Khmer Rouge, and I’m glad the Vietnamese were able to depose them.

The Imperial Palace was such a beautiful place to explore. It was nice to not be with a tour, because I explored the garden areas near the back by myself where the tours didn’t seem to visit. The lake area had many types of birds I’d never seen before, koi swimming around, and geckos in the grass.

Hopefully nobody needs the bathroom.

After the palace I still had some energy and wanted to see a certain pagoda. I had already been walking for hours, and the pagoda was 6km away, so this is one time where I somewhat regret letting my cheapness win out, because I walked.

My walk took me along the banks of the Perfume River, so called for the aroma of the flowers that fall into it during the autumn, until finally reaching the pagoda. 

Seven stories tall, the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady is a symbol of Huê constructed by the Nguyen Dynasty. It overlooks the Perfume River and is a popular tourist attraction. 

My legs were killing me on the walk back, but I knew I’d be mad about spending money on a taxi after getting so far, so I stubbornly kept going. 

Back at my hostel I met an awesome girl named Ellie. We talked about our experiences so far in Vietnam and shared travel tips, as she was also travelling solo. Before I left for Hanoi, we went for coffee and tried the local specialty: coconut coffee. It was surprisingly good, and somehow not the weirdest coffee I would have in Vietnam. Next stop Hanoi! 

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