Day six, my new favorite day. I have a feeling I’ll be saying this everyday for the next week until the last day. Today, we had a break from our academics and had a purely cultural experience. We started the day at 5:55 AM. At home, everyone was barely starting their evenings when here, twenty college students dragged themselves onto the bus, eating a breakfast of bread, bananas, turkey pieces, and a bag of warm milk. If not for the three-hour bus ride nap, we all would’ve been absolutely dead.
On our way to Vung Tau, the roads were littered with what I initially imagined Vietnam to be like. At the beginning, flying into Ho Chi Minh was rather a surprise for me, revealing an actual city with, although not quite as organized, a neat shop system, preserved nature parks, and relatively American accommodations. What I expected was very much what I saw in Honduras: buildings intermixed with shacks and shambles people called homes. Although I haven’t seen this as much in Ho Chi Minh, the road trip today revealed a much more different Vietnam than what I’ve experienced thus far.
The country side and small towns resembled these more shack-like, impoverished places. It seemed like there was absolutely no control to what people built and did to the land. Opened-aired buildings made out of metal sheets and sticks were the primary housing type. It showed the extreme difference in the developing parts of Vietnam and those that are still ignored by government regulation and assistance. The towns were small and simple, still having shops and markets, but wouldn’t be comfortable for the average, AC-loving American. I had what I consider my first real cultural experience of the trip today. Squatty potties in Asia are a real thing. I got to try my first one at a small-town market and let me say, I was pro. I guess years of camping and being forced to learn to do my business in the woods came in handy today.
Then, almost immediately entering the town of Vung Tau the shacks disappeared, and tourist exhibits began. The town of Vung Tau is fit for tourists in its own unique Vietnam-kind-of-way. Having the sites, hotels, nice shops, and clean streets, it also kept the organic feel that Ho Chi Minh and other areas we’ve been to have managed to uphold. This authentic truly cultural feel that each place was made beautifully by the minds of Vietnam’s own people is what made me fall in love with this country. Even the shacks on the way there held that sense of beauty that I have never experienced in America with our regulatory habits of building, creating, and expressing.
The first place we stopped at was a temple of Jesus Christ looking over the city of Vung Tau, similar to the one in Brazil but better because I got to go inside of Jesus and see one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. Also, fanny packs are a must and everyone should have them when traveling because they are the best thing in the world. Just thought I’d throw my travel trip out for the day.
After exploring the area around the temple and taking a shower in my own sweat, we headed back to the bus and had the typical tourist experience, going to the most expensive hotel in Vung Tau for lunch and a beach day. Officially, I get to say I swam in the South China Sea, which is as exciting for me as saying I traveled to the other side of the world. The water was the warmest ocean water I’ve ever swam in, but also extremely littered in trash, something exemplifying the environmental issues Vietnam is facing still. Nevertheless, the water was clear so I can’t really explain. We spent the rest of the days as true American tourists, in a very Americanized hotel swimming in the fancy pools, sitting on the comfortable beach chairs, and eating American cuisine. It was a beautiful afternoon, but I was definitely ready to get back to the culture of Vietnam.
Day six was great. It was a fantastic, much needed break while still getting to see more of this beautiful country.