Santa Barbara students in Vietnam
We departed LAX as scheduled and spent the next 14 hours trying to get some sleep. All of us were spread throughout the main cabin, but there were quite a few seats unsold, so most of us got the chance to spread out and occupy multiple seats. Definitely made the sleeping a bit easier. Just ask Naomi, who got 3 full seats to herself! I, on the other hand, only managed about 5 or so hours, which caught up with me later, I might add. After a 2 hour layover in a rainy Taipei, we launched once again into the air for 3 more hours on Vietnam Airlines. We encountered quite a bit of turbulence, but other than that, this flight was great too.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City to mid 70's and probably 80 percent or so humidity. Quite different than what we are used to. Rejoining with Nick Ut and meeting Mr. Hau (our tour guide), we loaded onto a tour bus and drove into the city with Mr. Hau narrating the whole time about sites we passed. The click, click, click, of camera shutter fires as the students were actively engaged in photographing anything they could was just music to my ears.
After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we gained our first experience crossing the street in front of hundreds of motor-bikes and taxis. Quite contrary to what you would think to do in the states, here, you have to just head out in the stream of traffic and walk slowly and deliberately. The motor bikes seamlessly move around you. I have been told that as long as you don't speed up, or slow down, everything works like clockwork. Even after cross the busy streets dozens of times yesterday, this process still doesn't feel quite natural.
Lunch was spent a couple blocks away from our hotel and after an hour or so, or rooms were all ready and we gave the students some time to get themselves cleaned up and showered. All of us, including myself, Susan, and Nicola were longing to wash away the long hours of travel built up on our bodies.
Mr. Hau then lead us on a tour of the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame church (which was built by the French and modeled after Notre Dame in Paris), and the post office. All were great sights to see and learn about. Mr. Hau narrated our little tour through the Reunification Palace and explained its history. We saw the front gates, where the famous photograph of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through it is displayed inside. We also saw the very same tank on display outside the Palace.
Our group split up at this point and half went to see the Opera House, whiles the others went to experience Ben Thanh Market for the first time. The best way to describe the market is "utter chaos." Vendors selling food stuffs, clothing, tickets, movies, jewelry, coffee, and everything else you can imagine are packed so closely together that almost everywhere, you were forced to walk single-file. A vendor on one side of a path just had to reach out and could touch the vendor across from them. This is the place where nearly everything is over-priced and you need to work on your negotiating skills to get your wanted item for a good price.
To culminate our very busy first day, we visits a traditional Vietnamese restaurant where food was brought to us in courses. By the time we were brought our 6th or 7th course, I was stuffed to the gills. I was very happy to experience such a traditional Vietnamese experience. I tried everything and walked away very satisfied. Talking with a few of the students afterwards, it seems that they were as well. Cecily and Gabi both seemed very happy with their Vegetarian meals and Christian dove right into every dish without even an explanation of what it was.
That culminates our first day in Vietnam. Stay tuned for more info of our adventures and experiences. The rest of the blogs will be written by our students and I will be sure to provide you some photographs as well.
Take care everyone!