I’ve never seen this film, but I feel like the title embodies my experience in Vietnam. I particularly recall waking up on the last day, bathed in the Vietnam sun, and just simply stretching. I was never unhappy in Vietnam, in fact sometimes I felt a sense of stupid joy. You know, those times when you look over to your friend on the left and they just have this stupid grin on their face, I was that friend. It wasn’t like I did anything special either. I spent most of my time in Ho Chi Minh, only venturing as far out as Ben Tre which was about a two-hour drive. Yet, I had the time of my life.
My choice to stay in Ho Chi Minh was not exactly a fully intentional decision. It was a choice of financial convenience, and a choice the reflected my lack of time. If I had it completely my way, I would have been in Northern Vietnam in Phong-Nha-Ke Bang National Park, exploring some of the largest caves in the world. But I wasn’t, and I don’t regret the alternative experience at all.
No Plans in Vietnam
What I wanted to do was not feasible, so the outcome was no plans at all. I had a field class on the second day so that was one out of five days figured out. The only thing I basically had well planned was the food I had to consume, spring rolls, pho, and Vietnamese Iced Coffee. I heard some things prior to arriving about really good cheap massages and general spa treatments, so I thought about getting a massage and then doing some shopping. Of course, this wasn’t much of a plan, and I was okay with that. The day we ported in Vietnam, I woke up without a travel group nor an idea of where I wanted to go. I ended up joining in on my roommates plans who was also travelling with two girls that were in my field class. This was extremely convenient because not only did I know them, we had matching interests, they also planned to stay around Ho Chi Minh, and we each shared the same liability. For students with a field class, you must be back on the ship before 12 a.m. the night before your field class day.
Semester at Sea provided shuttles to the center of the city from the port every 30 minutes. We hopped on the bus which dropped us off in front of the major central post office that sits right next to the Notre Dame Cathedral and a McDonald’s. We began to walk in a direction which we believed was towards the Ben Thanh market, our intended location. We didn’t end up too lost, but asking people early on kept us from venturing off farther than necessary. The market was a large indoor space filled with various merchants ready to barter some prices. Ben Thanh is definitely a traveler’s destination, they insisted on prices in dollar despite my persistent reminder that I only had dong. We saw many foreign faces while walking around Ben Thanh and eventually came to the conclusion that we would find better prices at a local market.
Somewhere in Ho Chi Minh
Somewhere in the city after walking and asking, we found ourselves at a nice outdoor local market. The prices were not so different, but the attitude towards bartering was much more relaxed. The good ole tactic of walking-away was not followed by someone desperately lowering the price. Instead it was followed by an unaffected silence as they watched you walk away. We strolled through the market, passing many merchants who lay in their stores escaping the heat. We dodged multiple motorbikes as they squeezed through the narrow pathways of the market alleys. I particularly wanted a nice casual dress and possibly a pair of lightweight pants, but I ended up not buying anything at all.
Our day was not just spent at markets but we ventured into many shops and stopped several times for cool drinks. We sipped on fresh coconut during the day, and I had the best chicken and rice for dinner. Who knew that at this point in my life, a simple dish such as chicken and rice would change my life.
It was so fun to stroll through the city, especially at night as the temperature turned cool. Plus, once I got a taste of Vietnam’s café culture, I was hooked. There is a café every few steps in Vietnam, each with its own theme. I haven’t been homesick, but every now and then I do miss a Vietnamese milk iced coffee (and a burrito bol from Chipotles).