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Published: October 10th 2008
Finally, the Latin (or Roman) Alphabet! Well, something similar at least. Unlike us back at home, they have dots apostrophes accents slashes bottomless triangles flying above and swimming below their letters. For instance, there are something like eighteen different ways to write 'A' and 'O' using the different accent marks. Anyways, who is counting? I don't speak Vietnamese and this is the first country I have been to in nearly four months that does not use those swirly looking squiggle thingies (no offense to those respective countries and yes, I understand that no offense is usually used when you want to apologize in advance or after you say or write something offensive).
It all didn't matter. I was prematurely excited at the conclusion I naively jumped to that the people here would speak relatively good English. I figured that they had quite a history with the Western world (though not all positive) to go along with this similar alphabet, but wow, was I ever so off. The people here speak extremely little English. I am not sure why, but I quickly learned how to communicate with only using my hands. These pseudo-sign language conversations were pretty much limited to taking
Me & my AK-47
Me at the Cu Chi Tunnels. I really wanted to shoot a gun.
care of the basic necessities: food, sleep, and transportation. To be fair though, just like their neighbors to the west, they universally understood "beer."
After the circus of events that it took to get in this country, I found myself at the surprisingly busy port city of Rach Gia. In fact, most cities, towns, and villages seemed rather populated and busy. The population density (people per square mile or kilometer) in Vietnam is over ten times the number Laos boasts and surprisingly over eight times the density of the United States. It is the thirteenth most populated country in the world, but not even in the top fifty in terms of total land area. Back to Rach Gia...not much to see here and was used solely to get to the one spot I really wanted to see in this country, the island of Phu Quoc. There are actually numerous places I would like to visit in Vietnam, such as boating through Halong Bay and climbing Fansipan, but my time was sort of limited so I chose to stick to the south. Plus, staying at a not-so-often-traveled tropical island for a week plus sounded great to me.
day I was up enthusiastically early to board my boat. I was pretty amused when I learned their currency was called the Dong (and yes, still a millionaire by local standards), but laughed pretty loud and abruptly when the woman who sold me my boat ticket informed me that the name of the large vessel that would take me to my desired destination was called The Superdong. The Superdong was a good sized ship and all two hundred plus seats were filled. The reason I earlier mentioned that not many travel to this island is because the percentage of non-Vietnamese on the ship was no more than 3% and I learned that was typical. I was shocked. I have not really seen locals travel for pleasure at all in Asia. It was truly great to see, but when the Vietnamese get to the island, they head straight for one of the few mid-rise hotels near the dock for rooms with AC and TV and pay about five times as much as I did for my place.
Ahhh, my place. A quiet bungalow. Right on the beach. Far from civilization. Dirt road access only. One minute to the restaurant. Two
minutes to the shop. Three minutes to the bar. Perfection. White sands blue skies warm waters waves crashing palms blowing postcard sunsets. The sun::::was shining::::down on me::::::::
The only thing disrupting the view of the ocean from my hammock was the baby palm trees scattered in the sand. Poor me. Well, that and the resident dogs that enjoyed fornicating on my balcony.
After a couple of days of basking in the do-nothing lifestyle, about half of the foreigners on the island and I took a boat around the Ao Thoi Archipelago just south of the main island. All fifteen of us to take in snorkeling, boat jumping, fresh fish, and a mixture of sun and drizzle.
The drizzle on the boat ride was just an obvious precursor to the inevitable rains that I was trying to prevent through optimism. Didn't work. The next few days were filled with rain. I have been traveling in Asia through it's Wet Season with so little rain that I was beginning to think of it as just a myth. I was wrong. No need to worry though. There must be plenty to do on an island where the main attraction is
sun sun sun. Kind of wrong again, but it led to a great time.
Me + Swedish couple + British dude + Swiss chick. Sitting around at two in the afternoon. "So does anybody know any fun card games?" I started thinking. Fun card games? I know quite a few, but they almost all involve drinking and it is mid-day. Screw it. I am now happy to say that people in Sweden, England, and Switzerland could all be playing King's Cup right now and they have me to thank for that. Even though it seems that every person who has graduated high school in the U.S. in the past ten years knows this game, nobody at my table did and I was more than happy to teach them. Emptying the restaurant of its wine and a table full of beers later and we more or less finished our third game. I told them that we don't play with wine and usually jump to a different game after the first one ends, but they were loving it. Skål ! Proscht! Cheers! CHIA!
After passing the volleyball with some of the local kids, I said my goodbyes and jumped back
The Harbor in Phu Quoc
Leaving for the Ao Thoi Archipelago.
on the Superdong with the heart of the delta next in line. My plan was to go to My Tho, but after driving over what seemed to be a thousand small bridges I ended up at Can Tho. Another unexpectedly large city with two main attractions. The water market, which took all day and was informative and enjoyable and the large tin statue, which took two seconds and was pointless and unimpressive.
Final stop was Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC). More people reside in this city than proper Los Angeles and it hits you in the face upon arrival. Before I actually made it here, I thought this was their capital (it is actually Hanoi, which is in the north), but regardless, I was looking forward to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels was well worth it. These tunnels are in the district of Cu Chi (big surprise), which is about an hour northwest of Saigon. They were used by the Vietnamese troops to resist the attack of the Americans during the Vietnam War. Our tour guide was an American born Vietnamese man that served in the war
These extra-large "coconuts" sliced in half were used to get from one boat to another while out at sea.
for the U.S. and then went back to Vietnam after his service ended (while the war was still being fought) to help put back together his parent's native country. Before he could do any good, he was captured and imprisoned for several years because he was officially an American. It was extremely interesting hearing about some of the events that occurred during the war from my guide's perspective and the perspective of others who resided in the country we had been at war with. Even though I was the only American on this tour (there were about fifty of us), I received no hostility from anybody in Cu Chi and from nobody else in Vietnam, for that matter. After walking around for awhile, we were able to crawl through some of the tunnels (I was kind of claustrophobic in there since I am a little taller than your average 1960s Vietnamese soldier) and I got to shoot an AK-47.
Well, for the first time in awhile, I have a plane to catch. As I leave Vietnam, I realize that sometimes it is worth it to pay twice as much for a taxi instead of riding on the back of
a motorbike. About five minutes into our twenty minute jaunt across town, the driver pulled over. I was wondering what he was doing until I saw every other motorbike following suit. The black clouds were racing towards us and a minute hadn't elapsed before the rainstorm commenced. Luckily for me, I was prepared as I had on a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. As I walk through the airport soaking wet, I am happily heading off to Malaysia...
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