Ho Chi Minh City (Apr 2-5): Another Night Bus, the War Remnants Museum, and Some Alone Time

The 13-hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh went by pretty fast, and I think I actually ended up falling asleep for a bit. I was given 30 minutes to feel sad before we already stopped for a 30-minute bathroom/food break. I figured I should probably eat since I had only eaten a sandwich at 4pm, so I went to the restaurant and ordered a pho for 48000 dong ($2.83AUD). I’ve been picky about my pho, and this one wasn’t that great because there was a really low noodle-to-broth ratio (and they weren’t even the good type of noodles). I finished eating and got back into my top bunk, put on my seatbelt (if I didn’t, I probably would have rolled out of the bed at least 100 times – the driving is crazy!), and wrote some friends before trying to sleep. The entire trip actually ended up taking just under 12 hours, and I arrived just after 6 in the morning. As usual, before I even got off the bus, there were a whole bunch of people standing in the entrance, asking if I needed a taxi. I said no and went to find somewhere to sit down and try to wake up. I looked up how much it would cost to take a Grab to my hostel and found out that it would cost about 80000 dong for a car, which was quite pricey! I then looked at how much it would cost to take a Grab BIKE, and it said 39000 dong ($2.30AUD), more than half the price. I tried to decide whether I could take a Grab with my huge backpack, and my day bag in one hand and a bag of food in the other. At this point, money was more important for me (with the 2 million dong that I paid the day before!), so I decided I’d take a bike. Conveniently, two guys came up to me and asked if I needed a bike and I said yes. I showed them where I needed to go and they replied, “100000 dong.” Seriously?! That was more than taking a Grab car! I was so angry, showed them my phone and said, “39000 dong. I will take this one instead.” And they just replied with an, “Oh.” I requested my Grab bike and went on an extremely long ride – I didn’t realise that it would take over 20 minutes. It was difficult because every time we stopped at a red light and started back up again, the weight of my backpack would pull me backwards, so I only hoped that I wouldn’t fall off along with it! I got to my hostel right after 6:30 and the door was open so I walked in. This time, I was staying at Long Hostel and paid 131000 dong ($7.72) per night to stay in a 4-bed mixed dorm (which ended up being only girls during my entire stay). There was a man who woke up on the couch, saw me, then turned around and went back to bed. I decided to let myself in and sit in the outdoor area until everyone woke up. It was then that I saw my first rat scurry from one side of the door to the other on the patio, and it was massive! I had forgotten about being warned about the rats in Ho Chi Minh, and I don’t think I ever got used to seeing them running around on the streets during my three nights there. At about 7, everyone started waking up because it was time for breakfast, so I moved into the common area inside. All I wanted was to shower and maybe get something to eat. I went to the counter and explained that I still needed to check in, but asked if I could get breakfast (which I was fully willing to pay for), but they gave me one free of charge! Again, I ordered banana pancakes (which I did for the three days I was there), and they were the best ones that I’ve had! While I was eating, another girl came and sat beside me, and I found out that she was Canadian, but living in Melbourne and teaching with the same agency as me! So weird! She was leaving within the next half hour, but we exchanged information because we’d both be getting back to Melbourne at the same time (at the start of term 2) and hopefully we’d be able to meet up. After eating, I asked if it would be possible for me to use the shower (since check in wouldn’t be until 2pm). They let me use the bathroom, and it was so nice to have a shower after spending so long on the bus! I was still so exhausted, so I researched different things that I could do that day and then at about 11:30, I decided to head out. I went to Bun Cha 145, which is one of the more popular bun cha (noodle bowl) places, but to be honest, I didn’t love it. The reason for this is that depending on the region of Vietnam, some bun cha places serve everything mixed together in a bowl (as they would at any Vietnamese restaurant in Saskatoon) and other bun cha places serve everything separately.

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This was one of those restaurants that served everything separately, but I didn’t see why it was so popular – I definitely enjoyed the bun cha that I had in Hanoi a lot more. After having lunch, I decided to walk to Hard Rock Cafe to get my travel drumsticks (which I get from every Hard Rock I go to) so it was about a 50-minute walk in the worst heat. On my way there, I passed the cathedral and a McDonald’s, so I decided that I’d go back in order to get some ice cream. I got my drumsticks and walked over to McDonald’s. I had my keyboard with me and was determined to start catching up on my blogs, since I had fallen so far behind. To be honest, I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone because a) I was extremely tired from my night bus, b) I had been with people constantly since Hanoi (with the exception of one day in Phong Nha), so I was really looking forward to being alone, and c) I was still sad about leaving Nick so I wasn’t really interested in meeting any new people. I sat in McDonald’s and got most of my blog written, but then as I was editing, this man (probably in his 70s) came in. McDonald’s wasn’t really that full, but he asked if he could sit beside me so I said sure. He was from Hungary and was in Ho Chi Minh for business, and when he found out that I was a biology teacher, he got so excited. “How do you feel about biology?” (Never been asked that before – you would assume that if I taught it, I would enjoy it…). He then told me that he was excited that I was a biology teacher because he likes to talk about radiation, and no one ever understands what he’s talking about. However, I DID know about radiation. I knew about the harmful effects when using different devices, such as holding a laptop on your lap, and even how much radiation that you’re exposed to when flying. Many people don’t realise it because it’s not something that you can see, but it’s very much there and it’s not good for you. He asked me what I thought about 3G networks being moved to 4G networks, and he said how 5G networks might be introduced soon but thousands of scientists have tried to convince whoever is in charge that this wouldn’t be in their best interest. However, money is obviously more important than safety, so no one listens. I told him that I’ve just kept my phone on 3G (up until about a month ago, when my friend asked why I wasn’t using 4G). Anyway, this man ended up talking to me about radiation for at least an hour and half! Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting, but then he didn’t stop! He sells some products that are meant to attract the surrounding radiation from any devices in the room (and therefore keep it from you), so you can place them on your cell phone, laptop, in the car, in the plane, in classrooms, etc. He kept saying that he didn’t want to waste my time, but then went on and on, and even said that if it was something that I was really interested in, they were looking for an Australian representative to start selling the products there. After a long talk, I said that I needed to get back to my hostel (to be fair, I was actually about to leave right before he sat down because I wanted to get checked in) but then he told me to wait so that he could show me a document that he worked on. It was 27 pages long! I read the first page, told him it was interesting, and handed the phone back. He said that there was more and if I’d like, he could email me the document and asked for my business card. When I said that I didn’t have a business card, he asked why. I thought it was normal for me not to have a business card, but maybe I need to get some made now! Anyway, I walked back to the hostel, checked in, and met the other three girls from my hostel – one from Australia, one from Germany, and one from the Netherlands. We all decided to go for dinner together and walked to a type of food court, which offered many different types of cuisines. I decided to get shrimp Banh cuon from a place called Nanna’s, and it was really tasty!

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After dinner, I relaxed back at the hostel because I was losing energy fast, especially with my extreme lack of sleep the night before.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and decided I’d try (again!) to have a quiet day alone. I had an early breakfast at the hostel and then FaceTimed my parents for a couple of hours. By the time we finished talking, it was nearly 1pm so I went to a restaurant called The Hungry Pig, which has an assortment of sandwiches and paninis made with bacon. I ordered the Bacon Bagel, which was a cinnamon bagel with cream cheese, bacon, arugula (or rocket), and cranberry sauce.

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It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time! Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten proper bacon in awhile, or that my stomach just wanted some Western food, but it was so delicious. It was a bit more expensive at 115000 dong ($6.79), but totally worth it. After lunch, I decided to go to the War Remnants Museum, which goes through the effects of the Vietnam War. However, all of the information was put in a weird order, so I actually felt lost during the first part of the museum. This ended up sparking a conversation (within ten minutes of me being there) with a guy from Israel (Itamar), who asked if I knew what was going on. We went through the next few sections of the museum together, which included all of the war pictures taken by many photographers who were killed in action. The next area was the effect of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a herbicide chemical that was used by the US military, and has had major consequences on the health of many individuals. About four million people were exposed to Agent Orange, and three million have suffered illnesses because of it. Agent Orange seems to affect the genetics of individuals, which in turn affects second, third, and fourth generations of these people. Some effects include mental disabilities, extra fingers and toes, loss of limbs, short stature, etc. This area of the museum included pictures of people who were affected by Agent Orange, or even pictures of foetuses in jars. It was a very difficult area to walk through, and I found myself looking away and speeding through faster. We stopped at a gift shop, which included artwork made by kids affected by Agent Orange, and the gift shop workers were all individuals who were affected as well. Itamar said that he wasn’t too keen on going through the rest of the museum (we were about two thirds through and it had been two hours), and I agreed. The museum was just very heavy, so it was difficult to get through the entire thing.

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He suggested that we go for coffee, but I didn’t realise that he was a coffee snob and needed a GOOD coffee, meaning I ended up paying about three times more than I normally would for a regular coffee. I went for a affogato, which is an espresso with ice cream, and it was actually quite good!

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After sitting in the coffee shop, he asked if I wanted to go for a walk so we went to a park and sat on a bench, and he sat way too close for comfort and put his arm around me. Crap, why do I always get myself in these situations? He asked me a question and then in the middle of me answering, he leaned in for a kiss. I pushed him away and said I wasn’t in the right mindset, and he asked if he could give me his number in case I changed my mind later. Weird guy… Anyway, I walked back towards the hostel because it was starting to get dark and got back about an hour later. I decided to go for dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant, and I got a pork Gyro wrap, which again was amazing!

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It’s weird that most of the Vietnamese food that I’ve had has been subpar, but all of the Western food that I’ve had has been so good! Maybe the food poisoning had an effect on me…

On Thursday, I was on a mission to find a Christmas tree ornament since it was my last day in Vietnam and I seemed to have forgotten to find one. I requested a Grab to take me to An Dong Market, but it seemed to only be a bunch of clothes and souvenirs that you see at every stall. I requested another Grab Bike to take me to Ben Thanh Market. There was a food market as well, so I got a noodle dish and then explored the market. However, it was full of people who would constantly approach me to come look into their stalls. This is a surefire way to get me to leave a store immediately, as I hate being followed while I’m trying to shop. I didn’t stay in the market for long because it was too overwhelming, so I Google-searched places to find Christmas ornaments. Surprisingly, there was a shop that was a ten-minute walk away so I started walking towards it and on my way, I passed an art shop. Art shops are the one thing that I’ll slow down for on the sidewalk – I know what style I like so I always walk as slow as I possibly can in front of the entrance to see if there’s anything that catches my eye. Usually, I just keep walking but this time, I found myself entering the store. There was a piece of art that I really liked and I was even able to watch the artist paint a similar piece in the back.

 

I decided that I’d come back later if I was still thinking about the painting (and I was, so I went back and bought it – I figured I could carry around a painting for three weeks). Afterwards, I went to buy my Christmas ornament. I was going to walk around for a bit, but it suddenly started to rain so I ran into the nearest shopping mall and was pleased to see that they had my favourite cafe, Paul.

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I decided to treat myself to a chocolat viennois, and spent the entire time FaceTiming Sonia in New Zealand. It was so nice to have a normal conversation with someone who knew me – I had almost forgotten what it felt like, it had been so long! When we finished talking, the rain had stopped so I walked around for a bit.

I then went back to the hostel to get my Vietnamese dong exchanged into US dollars, went back to the art store to get my art, and then went back to the hostel to drop it off. That night, I ate at The Hungry Pig again, and this time I ordered the Little Miss Piggy panini AND a Bloody Mary. While it WASN’T a Caesar, it still hit the spot after not having one in so long!

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AND I FaceTimed with my friend Crystal and her kids during my dinner, which was nice to see some smiling faces! I think I was really just needing some familiarity at this point, and was noticing the effects of being alone. I went back to the hostel and called it an early night cause I had to get up at 6:30 the next morning to go to Cambodia. To be honest, Ho Chi Minh was my least favourite place in Vietnam, and many people I’ve met have felt the same. The other cities had a lot more culture and life to them, so this ended up being just a place to stop over on the way to Cambodia. Love always

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