It has been a busy couple of days since my last post. In only three days Vietnam has already completely exceeded my expectations.
On our first full day we headed to the Presidential Palace. We were able to tour the building and see a lot of rooms where important people met during the war. I especially enjoyed touring the basement where many war decisions were made. They had all of these old maps on the walls and phones, radios, etc. still in place. I was really able to picture people meeting in this basement and strategizing their next step.
After the Palace we went out for a Vietnamese lunch and it was amazing! I am not a very adventerous eater, however I honestly enjoyed the food–it was all so fresh! After lunch we went back to the hotel where we met with Tony, a Vietnamese-American who, after being separated from his mother when he was sent to live in America, returned to Vietnam and now runs a business here. He was able to give us some good advice and explain some of the key cultural differences that we should be aware of.
That night a group of us went for drinks on the roof of the Rex hotel. I LOVED IT! Drinks were obviously a lot more expensive than other places, but the view and the atmosphere was amazing. Our entire group is going to go there again tomorrow night and I cannot wait.
Yesterday we set off on an all-day journey to the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Words cannot even begin to describe how amazing these sites were. As soon as I am able to, I will be sure to post pictures. The Cao Dai Temple was full of so many bright colors and intricate architechtural designs. We were able to watch the first ten or so minutes of their worship service which was also really interesting. Everyone worshiping there was so nice and accepting of us. I felt a little disrespectful taking pictures (especially during the service), but our tour guide assured us that it was ok.
Our visit to the Cu Chi tunnels was probably something that I was most looking forward to on our entire trip. A majority of us actually went down into the tunnels and it really made me think about what the Viet Cong experienced. The tunnels were extremely small and hot and dark (and that was with a few lamps and after widening it for Americans!). It was incredibly scary at times not being able to see in front or behind yourself, running into the walls and having to continuously crawl to unknown places. I was only in there for about ten minutes and I cannot imagine what it would have been like to enter these tunnels day after day for hours at a time. We were also able to see several of the traps the VC used and they were brutal! Finally, we had the opportunity to shoot a gun outside the tunnels. Even though I have no experience with guns, I decided to do it. We went and shot them not thinking too much after it, and it was not until the bus ride home that I really realized how horrible it is. It is absolutely horrible to think that our entertainment was shooting guns at a place where so many men were killed. In fact, we were even able to see a bomb crater left from the war. The whole visit really gave me a much better insight to the war, and as scary as it was I am really glad we did it.
This morning we had class, lunch, and walked around the city. It was extremely hot and humid, but it was fun to be able to explore more of the sites on foot rather than via bus. The whole city absolutely amazes me. There are so many beautiful and elegant sites surrounded by poor and dirty houses. And the roads are something else. It amazes me that I have not yet witnessed an accident! Cars and motorbikes will drive on sidewalks, cut others off, and basically drive as they please. It is definitely an interesting experience trying to cross the street! All in all, I think the phrase that best sums up what I have seen of Vietnam thus far is beautifully awful. Some things are so amazing, but we have learned though our classes of the many challenges Vietnam faces. And as much as I love HCMC, I am eager to head out to the more rural areas and see what life is really like.