This day began with a visit to the Cat Lai Terminal, a shipping port located about an hour outside of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s not just any port, however, but one of the largest and most important in the country. This was my first time learning about the shipping industry, so I was fascinated to learn how such a monumental harbor could function.
I learned that in international shipping, there are basically three classes of ships: mother vessels, feeder vessels, and then smaller vessels like barges. The mother vessels are the largest, transporting cargo between continents; feeder vessels are a bit smaller, and only carry freight within a certain region; barges are the smallest and transport materials in an even more concentrated area than the feeder vessels. At Cat Lai Terminal, they deal with both feeder vessels and barges. This makes it a unique and special port within Vietnam. This means that it is in such a convenient location within Southeast Asia that it is able to send feeder ships to various countries throughout the region, but it is also located near the tributaries of the Mekong River Delta, so that it can send smaller barges to the remote communities all along the delta. No other port in Vietnam has is located in such a place that it can take on both of these responsibilities to the level that the Cat Lai Terminal does. This combination makes it vital to the Vietnamese economy, both domestic and international.
Another interesting aspect of the terminal was how they manage to keep track of the thousands of freight containers they have on site, especially when so many have to pass through customs because they have come from another country. Beginning with the customs process, we learned that the first step in this process is to pass all the freight containers through an enormous X-ray machine. Then, the path can take one of two directions. If the customs officers see something suspicious on the scan, they will then conduct a full 100% search of the container to make sure nothing is being transported that is not supposed to be. However, if nothing suspicious is seen, then, depending on the company, the container will undergo either a 5% or 10% search. Once it passes these tests, the freight is ready to be shipped off. All in all, just seeing the massive cranes and the seemingly endless rows of freight carts was so impressive, and I’m glad we made the trip.
Next, after a quick stop at the hotel and some Pizza Hut, we headed off to the Reunification Palace, or as the Vietnamese people prefer, the Independence Palace. This beautiful building is exactly as the two names imply, a symbol of reunification and independence. This building served as the headquarters of the South Vietnamese government, until it fell in 1975 at the hands of the North Vietnamese army. Thus, it was here that the country was once again unified after so many years of vicious divide, and also here that the country finally became independent from the foreign invaders that had plagued it for so long. Although the North Vietnamese army could have destroyed this longtime symbol of South Vietnamese power, they decided to instead preserve it, so that it could forever stand as a show of unity between north and south.