SB Friends and Fam,
We are currently relaxing in our air conditioned hotel room at the Palace Hotel in Saigon, with the colored lights of billboards and honking city traffic creeping in from the busy streets below. We have spent the past 30 hours traveling, sightseeing, and getting acquainted with Ho Chi Minh City on our first LONG day of the trip.
From the time we met at SBMS, we zipped down to LAX with no traffic, met Nick Ut at the ticket counterfor AirChina, and went through security so smoothly that we had a full three hours to kill once inside the international terminal. The flight was long but most of us were able to get some sleep watch a couple movies, and even make some friends. We arrived in Taipei, Taiwan around 6am and had a quick layover in the very sleek and modern airport, which was also our first glimpse of Asia. After a revitalizing snack and stroll through the airport we departed for Vietnam and arrived in Saigon around 10:45 am. A game of Uno kept us occupied while our passports were being cleared through customs, and soon enough we were in the bus on the way to our hotel with our delightful guide and new friend, Chanh.
After settling into our rooms, Chanh brought us to lunch at a delicious Pho Noodle restaurant right around the corner. We discussed life in Saigon under communist rule and the effects of censorship. Annie complemented Chanh on his English and when we asked where he learned to speak so well, he replied, "from watching Animal Planet!" He excitedly told us that as of three years ago they now have access to cable channels on TV, however all media and even internet are still strictly regulated. Chanh described the modern era under communist rule as "freedom in a cage."
The rest of the afternoon we walked around the city (trying not to get run over!), checked out several main historic sights, then enjoyed a sunset beverage on the rooftop deck at the famous Rex hotel (the first government owned 5-star hotel!) The last activity of the day was dinner in a western-style restaurant on a busy side street, then back to the hotel where exhaustion has sunk in as we reflect on the past day(s) of travel.
Here is another perspective from our first leg of the trip, written by Jennie:
When we first hopped off the plane i was hit by a humid and hot wall which was very uncomfortable in my choice of long, black plane clothes but once i got past the fact that sweat was already dripping down my back i noticed how pretty and different it is here than in Santa Barbara. Its not so much the plants and trees and such but more the way people are and the way they live. The streets are filled with scooters and vespas which makes crossing the streets scarier then i had ever expected. I learned quickly that pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, the scooter drivers do. The streets and way of transportation are not the only thing that struck me to be so much more different then Santa Barbara but the people and their businesses. when looking around the streets every square inch is being crammed with ways to make a living even the sidewalks have little booths making walking more strenuous. I have only been here for less then a day but i feel as if i have already changed within. Seeing the world can open you up to new ideas and thoughts as well as show you real issues and how not everything in life is as laid back and all fun and games as my home town of Santa Barbara