Category Archives: Vietnam

Vietnam #9: Don’t Skip Hoi An

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit
Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam
Vietnam #8: Two-Wheeling in Vietnam

I fell in love with Hoi An the only way I know how to fall in love: Hard and quick.

Hoi An during the day is a charming ancient town, filled with little shops, restaurants, and sprawling markets. Hoi An at night is transformed by the hundreds (thousands?) of colored lanterns lighting up its streets. It is a city ablaze with light and color, and it drew me in. I was in love. Who needs a boyfriend when I had charming Hoi An? .

We made two trips to Hoi An, so we got to see Hoi An at night twice – which is really the best part. If you only have time for a couple of hours in Hoi An, make sure it’s after the sun has set.

Let me warn you: There will be a shit ton of pictures of lanterns, but they were so incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t stop snapping. There is something ineffable about the colorful light piercing the darkness of the night that speaks to me. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs: “Where there’s shadow there is light, love is in the battle cry, even in the darkest night, there is shadow and there is light.”

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A little tripod action here. That blurry person in the red shirt is Lisa.

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It wouldn’t be Vietnam if there weren’t vendors hawking lanterns and other items. Idiot that I am, it took me a while to realize that the Vietnamese women had an agenda every time they told me how beautiful my hair was. I truly thought I had the most beautiful hair South Asia had ever seen. These women were much more successful with Lisa, who bought two lanterns, two tailored-made skirts, and one dress. Apparently, Hoi An is known for its silk and tailoring as much as it’s known for its lanterns.

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Lisa holding one of her tailored-made purchases

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Lisa picks out her second lantern

At night, you can also buy floating paper candles for one dollar. For 150,00 dong ($6.65 USD), we climbed into a rickety boat while a woman ferried us down the Thu Bon River. After a pleasant ride, we set our candles on the water along with hundreds of others. According to Vietnamese lore, this is supposed to be bring us good luck. I’m still waiting for that to kick in.

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Our intrepid rower. The funniest/scariest moment came when she led us underneath a small bridge and gestured for us to lay down, lest we lose our heads. Lisa and I flattened ourselves as we floated just inches away from the underbelly of the bridge. Cue a mix of hysterical and nervous laughter.

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Our one dollar paper candles. Where is our good luck?!?

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An array of candles for sale

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During the day, we walked around to the different stores, took pictures of locals, and relaxed in a coffee shop for a bit. It gets rather hot during the day, so taking it slowly and relaxing is not a bad idea.

The ancient town is a pedestrian only area (bike are allowed), making it the perfect place for strolling, people watching, and picture taking. The town is made up of charming streets and decrepit alleyways perfect for exploring.

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Our first stop of the day was this lantern shop where Lisa bought her first lantern.

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Ancient Hoi An sits on the Thu Bon River. You can stroll along the river, watching fishermen at work, or catch a ferry to one of the nearby islands (like we did on our bike ride the day before).

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A local in his fishing boat

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The so-called ferry

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An example of the beautiful lanterns seen around town

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An ancient temple

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Boats parked on the Thu Bon River

There are also many markets throughout the day selling everything from fruits and vegetables, to shoes, to clothing, to trinkets. Honestly, I was more interested in taking pictures of people than buying anything.

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One of my favorite pictures. If I worked in a market in Vietnam, I’m fairly certain this would be me.

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A vendor transporting his merchandise

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Something to consider: The food market smelled something awful. I could not move on fast enough.

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One of my favorite things was photographing the Vietnamese people, from the very young to the very old. Surprisingly, the locals were amenable to my constant snapping. Parents didn’t mind at all when I snapped pictures of their children, and the children loved seeing themselves on the screen.

I also tried something new on this trip. I brought my 50mm f/1.8 lens which is ideal for portrait photography. It’s super light and only about $100 if you’re looking to try you’re hand at people photography. The annoying bit is constantly changing lenses as I walked about town, but I did notice a difference. The low aperture allowed me to shoot in lower-light situations and narrow the depth of field.

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This kid was amazing. He came up with this pose on his own. What a cutie.

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A classic Vietnamese scene.

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In short, Hoi An was amazing. Do. Not. Skip. Hoi An.

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Vietnam #8: Two-Wheeling In Vietnam

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit
Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam

Sometimes, I have some crazy ideas. But every once in a while, I come up with a good one, and this was one of those times. I suggested we stay an extra day in Danang and book a bike tour of the countryside. At the risk of tooting my own horn, it was one of my better ideas.

I highly recommend Path Bikers. We booked a private bike tour for two for $50 USD a person. Our driver and guide, Quon, picked us up at 8 a.m., provided bikes, helmets, and waters for us, and guided us through small, backcountry roads we never would have been able to see on our own.

Quon’s English was surprisingly great. We bonded over TV (iZombie – yes!), while he taught us about the various local industries. He also was incredibly patient when we stopped for pictures every ten minutes. Just kidding. It was more like every five minutes.

The trip began on a dirt track that took us off the main road. I was in love already.

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On my bike, like a pro

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Lisa on her bike

Our first stop was a local fishing village.

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After the men catch the fish, the locals lay them out to dry in the sun. Then, the women prepare the fish for sale.

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We stopped by a local herb field, amazed by the amount of work that goes into maintaining and growing the fields. Seriously. Next time I’m too lazy to walk from the couch to the fridge, I need to remember this lady.

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Lisa tried her hand at watering the fields. There is a lot to be said for modern-day plumbing.

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Sometimes, we enjoyed the solitude of the open country road.

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Occasionally, we shared the road with motorbikes and other modes of transportation. I felt like a true local – except that I shrieked a little too often…

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We saw plenty of rice fields, though we were technically in the off-season.

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After a while, Quon led us out of the countryside and into the ancient town of Hoi An.

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After dodging a few too many motorbikes, we disembarked at the river and boarded a ferry – and I use the word “ferry” very loosely.

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A short ten minutes later, our “ferry” deposited us on a small island known for its boat building industry. Quon explained that every boat must have eyes in order to navigate. Not joking.

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Once the boats are finished, the fishermen take them out.

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We tried our hand (and feet) at walking on a “monkey bridge,” the bridges local fishermen use to access their ships.

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We made a quick stop at a home where a mother and daughter were weaving something.

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And as we headed back to our ferry, we got to watch some water buffalo rolling around in the mud, because, why not? What else does a water buffalo have to do?

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Biking with a guide is a great way to see the Hoi An countryside and get a little exercise. Our bike trip was one of our favorite days in Vietnam. Two thumbs up!

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Lisa and I with our excellent guide, Quon

 

 

 

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Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit

We chose the coastal city of Danang as our base for exploring central Vietnam. I used my Chase points and my free annual night to book three nights at the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort.

I don’t think I’ve seen Lisa happier in my life. She loved waking up to the sound of the waves and strolling along the beach every morning. Seriously, ecstatic does not begin to describe it. As an added bonus, we were only a 25 minute ride from the ancient city of Hoi An, and we enjoyed a complimentary shuttle thanks to my Hyatt gold status.

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Lisa relaxing on our patio. She quickly deemed this couch “my chair.”

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Dipping my toes in the water and – what else? – taking pictures

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Lisa. In. Heaven.

The resort is beautifully decorated with light and airy touches. There are multiple pools on the premises, a fitness center (we even squeezed in a yoga class), a spa, restaurants, a water slide, and a climbing wall.

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And now the views. Be prepared to have your breath taken away.

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**2015-11-30 07.32.48-cropped As a final touch, we came back to our hotel room Monday night and found this extra waiting for us in honor of Lisa’s birthday. Happy birthday Lisa! What a great way to celebrate the birth of you!

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The Hyatt is about a 15 minute ride to central Danang. Despite overwhelming exhaustion, we grabbed a cab into town Sunday night to watch the big local attraction: Danang’s fire-breathing, water-spurting Dragon Bridge.

Danang map

Construction on the bridge started in 2009, and it opened to traffic in 2013. It quickly became something of an artistic and engineering marvel – a 2,185 feet long beauty with thousands of LED lights that come to life at night. Every weekend night at nine p.m., the dragon actually breathes fire and spurts water for half an hour in ten-minute increments. The weekly event is a hit with tourists, but even locals gather with their tiny plastic chairs and street food to enjoy the spectacle.

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Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?

The ominous title of this blog post notwithstanding, my first overseas trip to the doctor turned out to be a productive and even enjoyable experience.

One day into our Vietnam trip, I experienced severe blockage in my ears to the point where I could barely hear Lisa. Lisa argued this was to my benefit because I couldn’t hear the overwhelming HCMC traffic, but I was inclined to disagree.

A day later, a not-so-lovely rash broke out on my legs, and proceeded to spread to my arms, my neck, and the rest of my body. After an unsuccessful trip to the local pharmacy, I asked the hotel concierge how to find an English-speaking doctor. Concierge referred me to the Family Medical Practice – barely a five minute walk from our hotel.

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A beautiful picture of my hive infested leg. Awesome.

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Apparently, my arms were feeling left out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. As we sat in the waiting room, it became clear that the Family Medical Practice is geared toward expats with a steady stream of English-speaking and other foreign doctors, though we saw several locals there as well. My doctor turned out to be an American Israeli woman who was extremely kind and helpful.

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According to its website, Family Medical Practice is “the first foreign-operated, multi-disciplinary medical provider in Vietnam, opened in Hanoi in 1994 and owns and operates five modern clinics based in Hanoi, Danang and HCMC. FMP is the only Private Medical Provider in Vietnam with such national coverage.”

I am lucky that my ailments were not dangerous or life threatening in the slightest – just a nuisance. But even this nuisance turned out to be an eye-opening (and mildly comical) experience.

Travel has taught me many things about the world and myself – and one of those lessons is that human beings are adaptable. Sure, I missed my doctor and the local CVS where I don’t have to engage in a game of charades to find the medication I’m looking for. But even half-way across the globe, I was able to get the treatment I needed. I am also awed by the doctors who leave the comfort of their home countries to work in hospitals and clinics across Vietnam.

The moral of this story is that shit happens – especially when you’re on vacation 8,900 miles from home. And more often than not, there is a solution if you’re willing to ask a bunch of questions, roll with the punches, and laugh a little.

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Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC

Is a day trip to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City worth it? The short answer: Probably not.

The standard day tour takes you two hours south of HCMC, shuffles you around to a bunch of tourist traps, and then, takes you another two hours back to the city. We booked our private tour through the Intercontinental Hotel, and the itinerary mirrors pretty much every other tour company out there. From what I read, a day trip is simply not enough time to get to the most interesting and off-the-beaten-track parts of the Mekong Delta.

That said, we didn’t have a bad time. In fact, we had a good time. We laughed at the silly tourist gimmicks, took funny pictures (at least we found them funny), played with the local children, and got to see a sliver of the Mekong Delta’s famous waterways.

After a pleasant two drive in an air-conditioned van, we rode a boat to a small local establishment that produces its own honey, tea, and other food items. They offered us samples and tried to convince us to buy. That is the model for nearly every stop along the tour.

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I’m not sure why we thought this was a good idea. We both freaked out completely.

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The bees, the bees, there comes the bees! (Bonus points if anyone gets that archaic reference.)

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Afterwards, an old-fashioned coach picked us up (remember what I said about it being touristy?) and transported us down the road to another small establishment, where we sampled local fruit and listened to a musical performance.

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Neither the fruit nor the music were memorable enough to report back. My favorite part was playing with the local children. They loved posing for photographs, and I loved taking them.

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The little girl gave me the flower I’m holding in the picture below. According to our tour guide, the flower symbolizes her love for me. Guess what guys? I’M LOVABLE.

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Some weird-looking local fruit.

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I could have played with the kids forever, but it was time for the official highlight of the Mekong Delta tour – a short boat ride down the Delta’s narrow waterways. Mekong Delta means “nine dragon river” in Vietnamese, a reference to the southern Vietnamese region where the Mekong River empties into the sea through many small streams.

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I could not get over how strong these women are. They row boatfuls of people all day without so much as a whimper. They make my meager five pushups a day look even more meager.

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So is a day trip to the Mekong Delta worth it?

Yes, we enjoyed ourselves, but I did not feel like the tour was worth the $100 hefty price tag. You can decrease that price significantly by joining a group tour, but you’ll be getting the same touristy show with less comfort. If you have time to spare in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not a bad way to burn the hours. But I would happily have exchanged our day in the Mekong Delta for other towns in Vietnam that I fell madly in love with. Plus, there was the small matter of the hives that broke out all over my body that night… but that is a story for another day.

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Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a fascinating city. It is a hodge podge of new and old, decrepit and shiny. It is fast-paced and buzzing with the sound of motorbikes going every which way. I have never seen traffic like in HCMC. Traffic rules? Nope. There doesn’t appear to be any, except honk your horn and do what you want. Wait, is that a red light? None of the drivers seem to notice – or care. Crossing the street is like navigating a minefield – keep your eyes wide open and pray.

Before we settled on Vietnam, I read a bunch of negative reviews of the country from unfriendly locals  to annoying scams to overly aggressive vendors. I was so rattled by these reviews, we almost changed our plans. I’m glad we didn’t.

I enjoyed HCMC with its raw energy, cheap prices, and more than its fair share of history. Did some people try to scam us? Sure. But even when we fell for it, the prices were so cheap, it was still way cheaper than anything we would pay in the U.S. or Europe!

Yes, the vendors were aggressive, but no different from their counterparts in similarly poor countries in South East Asia and South America. If anything, the vendors (at least in South Vietnam) were pleasantly aggressive – always telling me how beautiful I was before making their hard sell. And we found most locals perfectly friendly and helpful.

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The insanity that is HCMC traffic. When the streets get too crowded, the motorbikes simply take to the sidewalks!

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Fascinating tidbit: The Vietnamese wear masks because they don’t want to get tanned. They view pale skin as a sign of beauty. I guess I have that going for me.

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Lisa made a friend. Turns out it cost us 150,000 VND when our new friend insisted we buy an extremely overpriced coconut.

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Apparently, sidewalks are not meant for people to walk on. They are meant for parking motorbikes. Silly me!

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No matter the age, two wheels are the preferred mode of transportation in Vietnam.

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A man sitting outside the War Remnants Museum

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A beautiful flower outside the War Remnants Museum

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Vietnam is covered in these amazing trees with roots that seem to go on forever. This one was on the grounds of the Reunification Palace.

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This is a standard scene in HCMC – vendors sitting on plastic stools cooking, selling, hawking, etc.

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Lunch break. Many shops and museums are closed during lunch hours while everyone goes on break.

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Nap time! I could get used to this life.

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The towering Vincom Center houses a massive shopping center filled with American brands, a supermarket, and a food court.

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The Vietnamese carry everything on their bikes – including these fishing nets.

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A family that rides together, stays together. It is completely normal to see two or three – sometimes even four – people on one motorbike, including brand new babies.

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Four people, one bike!

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HCMC’s opera house (called the Municipal Theatre of HCMC) was built in 1897 by a French architect. It is a classic example of French colonial influence on Saigon.

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Saigon’s Central Post Office was also a product of French colonialism, built between 1886-1891. Today, it is a major tourist attraction.

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Ho Chi Minh City Council caps off one end of Nguyen Hue – a wide, charming boulevard that stretches all the way to the Saigon River.

Fire drills are a fascinating HCMC phenomenon. Sure, we’ve all participated in the occasional fire drill. But in HCMC, they take their fire drills very seriously. They actually combat simulated fires, complete with hoses, water, and all the works. As we were walking down charming Nguyen Hue, we stumbled upon this very real looking fire – except there was no fire. It was just a drill.

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We made our way to the Bitexco Financial Tower, HCMC’s soaring, lotus-shaped skyscraper. At 861 feet, it is the tallest building in HCMC and third tallest in Vietnam. The observation decks offers 360 degree views of HCMC.

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Afterwards, we walked along the Saigon river.

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Our final HCMC stop was the Ben Thanh Market, a sweltering, crowded away of stalls selling everything and anything you can possible want or not want. The covered stalls allow for little circulation, and I felt like fainting after walking around in HCMC’s 90-plus degree weather all day. But if you can handle the heat – and the smells – it is an interesting place for people watching and cheap (worthless?) souvenirs.

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Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

We spent our first day in Ho Chi Minh City steeped in propaganda. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way – this is how the Vietnamese refer to their museums and historical displays. They are extremely proud of their propaganda efforts, which strikes me as both ingenius and hysterical. Can you imagine if American politicos (like myself) referred to political campaign ads as propaganda?

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We started at the War Remnants Museum – a museum dedicated to showcasing American atrocities in Vietnam through photographs, weaponry, and other displays.

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The first floor is dedicated to American and worldwide opposition to the war. The walls are filled with pictures of anti-war protests and solidarity posters from around the globe.
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The second floor showcases photographs taken by photographers – many American – that were killed in Vietnam.

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Not exactly subtle…

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The AP’s Henry Huet took this photo of a soldier with the U.S. 9th Infantry Division submerged in water as he crosses a stream in the Mekong Delta. Huet was killed in 1971 when his helicopter was shot down by the North Vietnamese, killing all aboard.

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This photo by Robert J. Ellison appeared on the front page of Newsweek on March 18, 1968, a few weeks after Ellison was killed in Vietnam.

The remainder of the displays on the second and third floors detail the war’s civilian casualties. These photos are gruesome, and I had to look away on more than one occasion. There were many pictures of victims of agent orange – the chemical defoliants used by the U.S. military in an aerial defoliation program called Operation Ranch Hand. The goal was to destroy the rural countryside used by the Viet Cong as a base for their guerrilla warfare. The pictures showed children born with serious deformities, civilians suffering from cancer and other fatal ailments, and stillborn babies preserved in jars.

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This famous photograph shows Vietnamese children running for help down Route 1 after suffering from an aerial napalm attack. The AP’s Nick Ut received the Pulitzer prize for this photograph in 1973.

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After the War Remnants Museum, we headed to the Reunification Palace, or the Independence Palace as it is called now. The palace housed the president of South Vietnam during the war until April 30, 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks rolled through the front lawn in the infamous Fall of Saigon.

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A replica of the North Vietnamese tanks that ended the war:

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State banquet hall

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Cabinet room

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The view from an open window in the palace

As someone who works in politics and loves history, I enjoyed the museums – though “enjoyed” feels like the wrong word. I came prepared for a one-sided display of the Vietnam War, or as it is called here, the U.S. Aggressive War in Vietnam. Nothing I saw changed my views on this tumultuous period in American history, but it is fascinating to see history through the eyes of the other. There is no question about it: War is brutal and complicated – even the wars we deem necessary. Civilians die, and atrocities are committed. And hindsight raises a lot of tough questions.

People have very strong feelings about the Vietnam War and the era in general. I have no intention of getting into a political discussion here, only to highlight the value of looking at history from many angles. To me, the 1960s is a fascinating period, filled with tragedy, change (good and bad), and upheaval. Seeing a piece of this era up close in a country I read about in text books and never imagined I would actually visit is a gift. It is the reason why I travel.

Even more amazing is to see the juxtaposition between these historical photographs and the modern, bustling Vietnam of 2015. As we walked around Ho Chi Minh City, I saw almost no signs of the country’s wartorn history – save the government propaganda displays. In reality, HCMC is expanding and bursting with energy. The museum reminded us that there are still civilians suffering from the residue of war. But the vast majority of Vietnam has its eyes set firmly on the future – not the past.

 

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Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam

I am in love with the InterContinental Asiana in HCMC. Like head-over-heels, I-want-to-marry-this-hotel in love. Has anyone ever said that about an InterContinental hotel before? I don’t know, but I will explain.

The InterContinental Asiana has two buildings. The first is your standard InterContinental hotel. The second is the InterContinental Asiana Residences – which are apartment style hotel rooms. You get all the benefits of staying in a hotel, but you also get an apartment. Why anyone would book the regular hotel over the residences boggles the mind (the prices were the same when we booked).

Our apartment is 700 square feet – huge by hotel standards, and even large by New York City apartment standards. That includes a large bedroom, a lovely bathroom, a living room, a dining room, a small kitchen area, a terrace, and a washing machine. Yes, a WASHING MACHINE. In HCMC’s sweltering, unrelenting humidity, the washing machine has changed my life.

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Living room, dining room, and kitchen

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Living room

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Dining room and living room

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Bathtub

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Bedroom (before we figured out how to turn on the lights)

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WASHING MACHINE!!!

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The view from our terrace

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The view from our terrace – you can catch a glimpse of Notre Dame Cathedral in the bottom left hand corner

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The restaurant located in the lobby of the residences

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The front desk

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The lobby

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The outdoor swimming pool

The hotel is centrally located on the border between District 1 and District 3 – the two main tourist areas. We are a 10-15 minute walk to the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum in one direction and a 10-15 minute walk to the Saigon River in the other direction. We are a stone’s throw away from at least two malls, and our building houses a small grocery store on the ground floor, which has proved abundantly useful.

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Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight To Vietnam

Well, we made it to Vietnam. And it only took us 22-plus hours! In case you didn’t already know, it’s a long ass flight from New York to Vietnam. There are no direct flights. We flew from New York City to Seoul (14 hours) and from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City (5.5 hours). Throw in a two-hour stopover, and that’s over 20 hours in transit.

Not that I’m complaining. I started out in the Korean Air Lounge in JFK. It’s nothing to write home about, but the seats were comfortable and the wifi worked well as I attempted to get some last-minute work done.

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Korean Air was a nice surprise – though it helped that no one was sitting next to me. The seats were spacious, with plenty of storage space and a large selection of movies. Seriously, I watched five movies throughout the trip.

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They even had USB ports!

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Fourteen hours later, I landed at Incheon Airport in Seoul.

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Once I went through security, I made my way to the Sky Hub lounge which I accessed with my Priority Pass membership (thanks Citi Prestige!). The lounge was great: Plenty of chairs, food, drinks, and great wifi. The only thing it needs is more outlets.

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Yes – that is a frozen yogurt machine!

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My flight from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City was, unfortunately, in economy. But I survived. Five and half hours later, Lisa and I landed in Vietnam and stepped out into HCMC’s stifling humidity.

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12 Nights of Vietnam Hotels for $92.50

I hope you’re not tired of listening to me gush about the  power of miles and points. WARNING: There is more gushing to come. We leave for Vietnam in one week (!!!!!), and we’ve been busy planning.

The short story is we booked 12 nights at pretty nice hotels for $92.50 a person. Here’s the breakdown:

Ho Chi Minh City: Five nights at Intercontinental Asiana Residences for 95,000 IHG points, one free night, and $40.

Da Nang: Three nights at the Hyatt Regency for 18,000 Hyatt points, one free night, and $75.

Hue: One night at the Eldora Hotel for $70.

Hanoi: Three nights at the Sheraton Hanoi for 10,000 SPG points.

The long story is, well, much longer.

As soon as Lisa and I booked our flights to Vietnam, I made a map and chart of all the possible hotel options. I did an audit of my hotel points and asked Lisa to do the same. I had spent many of my points in Scotland, so I need to figure out which points I needed to restock.

We started with Lisa. I had convinced her to get the IHG credit card for a bonus of 70,000 points. A couple of months later, Lisa was sitting on 75,000 IHG points. That was enough for three nights at the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon Residences in Ho Chi Minh City at 25,000 points a night. Ho Chi Minh has a number of nice hotels – from Hyatt, to SPG, to IHG, to Marriott – but the Asiana Residences offered apartment sized rooms with an actual living room and kitchen. That was a no-brainer. I just had to cobble together points for two additional nights. Luckily, the anniversary on my own IHG credit card reset on October 1, granting me another free annual night. Four nights down, one to go. Thanks to IHG’s 10 percent rebate on redemptions and my Chase points, I managed to accrue 20,000 points. That plus $40 gave us our fifth night.

Next up is the coastal city of Da Nang. This was a simple process of elimination. Da Nang has two points hotels: The swanky Intercontinental and the Hyatt Regency. We were fresh out of IHG points so I needed to cobble together three nights’ worth of Hyatt points. My Hyatt credit card give me a free annual night at a category 1 – 4 hotel. That’s one night. I transferred 12,000 Chase ultimate reward points and booked our second night. For our third night, I used 6,000 Hyatt points and $75. Three nights – done.

Our next stay is in the ancient city of Hue. There are no points hotels, but plenty of great, affordable options. You can book a motel for as low as $15, but we splurged on the four-star Eldora Hotel for $70.

Our last hotel stay is in Hanoi. We decided to stay in the ultra-bargain Sheraton (where my SPG credit card will get us access to the lounge!) for 3,000 – 3,500 points a night.

And that’s how we booked 12 nights of hotels for $185. Split between two people, that’s only $92.50 a person!

 

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