Kim Selinske is a sophomore at CSU majoring in History with minors in Political Science and English. She will be spending Spring 2014 on a ship sailing to vibrant destinations such as Japan, China, Burma, India, South Africa, Morocco, and England. Keep an eye out to see where she is headed next! Her blog can originally be found at http://seafaringstudent.tumblr.com/.
[Originally posted March 1, 2014]
We pulled into Ho Chi Minh City at noon on Valentine’s Day, and my
America in the World class immediately debarked the ship and headed on
our field lab. Our professor, Bob Brigham, worked on the normalization
efforts between Vietnam and the US after the Vietnam War, so he is very
invested in Vietnam. We went to 3 museums in the city: Ho Chi Minh City
Museum/the Museum of Revolution, the Reunification Palace, and the War
Remnants Museum. We were supposed to look at what kind of image the
ruling party in Vietnam is putting forward, but each museum was
interesting on it’s own. We were also accompanied by Ambassader Thuy,
one of Bob’s longtime friends, who is the Vietnamese ambassador to Panama.
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum had 2 main exhibits that looked at how Ho
Chi Minh City has grown, and then 2 that tracked the city’s history
through the French invasion and the Anti-US Resistance. This museum was
small and kind of strange. It didn’t seem like it really worked
together, but it was beautiful. We also saw a couple taking their
wedding photos in the main entrance of the museum, which is apparently
the tradition in Ho Chi Minh City.
Next, we went to the Reunification Palace. This building was the “White
House” of the government in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, until
two tanks from the opposition crashed through the gates and took the
power. This building was absolutely gorgeous. It was fascinating to see
how lavish each room was, when the common person was barely surviving
just outside the gates during the war. It was very interesting to see
all of the maps of the territory of South Vietnam and where they were
bombing. All of us were a bit confused to see that the South Vietnamese
government was bombing their own territory, but it was a great lesson on
how backwards the war was.
Last, we went to the War Remnants Museum, which was by far the most
valuable thing I did in Vietnam. You walk into the museum, only to be
greeted by an entire floor of Peace Posters. Instead of harboring
bitterness towards America, the museum focuses first on peace being the
goal. I thought it was very similar to Hiroshima in how they handled the
crisis. The top level had two large exhibits that focused on the War of
Aggression and on Agent Orange. Both exhibits were absolutely
horrifying, but I learned so much. They also had a chunk of one of the
old forts and some of the old tiger cages that they crammed prisoners
into. I actually started feeling sick to my stomach wandering through
here, though I couldn’t tell if it was from all of the horrific
pictures, or if it was from the sudden heat and humidity, since we had
just come from the frozen tundra of China.
After the War Remnants Museum, we went to Nam Phan, a upscale Vietnamese
Restaurant. Bob knows the owner, because the owner was the first person
with a license to sell silk in Vietnam after the war. Now, he owns
Khaisilk, the nicest and most expensive silk store in Vietnam. According
to Bob, this guy now owns “half of Vietnam,” including multiple other
restaurants, hotels, and stores. Anyway, Nam Phan had some of the most
delicious Vietnamese food! We had these amazing baked ribs with garlic
flakes on them, and I probably could have eaten just those for the rest
of the week in Vietnam. I also got to sit next to Ambassador Thuy, who
was more interesting than I could say. He talked a lot about Vietnam’s
education system, and then he would lean over and show me pictures of
his family, and then he would sing a song or two. He was adorable and it
was a bit hard to believe he was an ambassador sometimes.
The second day in Vietnam we went and got measured for tailored dresses.
Then we wandered towards the market, stopping in at this cute little
bookstore with canvas posters and tons of Disney and Miyazaki products.
We wandered into the Ban Thanh Marketplace, which is an indoor
marketplace with aisles that barely fit one person. This is also the
place where I bought the “gypsy pants,” or the loose cotton pants. I
swore I would never buy them because frankly, I thought they looked
ridiculous. But after one day of walking around Vietnam in jeans, I
caved and bought a…. few pairs of the loose pants. After the
marketplace we found a Korean & French cafe with some amazing pastries
at amazing prices! Yay for inflation? Less than $3 for a full meal at a
fancy bakery is a nice change of pace from the expense of Hong Kong.
Then we wandered around the city, seeing the huge Post Office, some
weird parks, and another marketplace. We found boba (!!) and then a pho
place off the beaten path and it was wonderful! We made our way back to
the Rex Hotel where the shuttle picked us up to take us to the ship. OH!
That’s what I forgot to tell you!
Traffic in Vietnam is HORRIBLE. It’s absolutely crazy and almost
everyone rides motorbikes. No one really follows traffic lights, and
stop signs are entirely ignored. To make it across the street, you just
have to step off the curb (just not in front of one of the few
cars/buses) and walk straight. Hold your head high, don’t look at the
traffic, and keep an even pace! If you change pace, they WILL run into
you. You get a little adrenaline rush every time you cross the street
because you hear motorcycles zooming past, right behind you, and then
you see the ones barely missing you as they speed in front. It’s a fun
On the third day, I left bright and early for Cat Tien National Park.
This is one of the 6 biosphere reserves in the world, and it was a 3
day-2 night program. There were only 9 of us on the trip and it was
perfect. I roomed with one of my friends, Lia, and one of my other
friends Jason was right next door. We stayed in these “cabins” which
were concrete buildings with 4-6 rooms in each. Our beds came equipped
with pastel blue bug nets, though I still was bitten about 12 times over
the course of the trip (despite wearing bug spray the entire time). They
have a restaurant on-site at the main area of the National Park, which
is really convenient. They first day we took a boat down the river
(spotting birds along the way) to a small village of native Vietnamese
people, and then we took a truck ride back to the main station for the
National Park. This car ride was amazing—it felt like being on the
Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland! It was essentially a pick up truck
with two benches crammed in the bed of the truck. It went super fast and
we had a blast, though the car was too noisy, so it scared away the
animals we were supposed to be looking for. That night, we went out on a
Night Safari and saw a lot of deer, some boars, and a handful of other
small animals that are native to the region.
The next day we woke up very early and took a 10km hike up to Crocodile
Lake. The hike wasn’t a hard hike, it was just the heat and humidity
that got to us. The hike was worth it though, because both the forest
and the lake were beautiful! When you arrive at Crocodile Lake, you walk
across these bridges that don’t look like they could support one small
person, much less a bunch of hikers all at once, but it supported
everyone all the way to the little elevated rest house. When we arrived
though, the rangers were washing off a pig’s head in a metal basin. It
was really strange and we all just tried not to look. A group of us
ended up paying to go out into these rickety canoes onto the lake
(filled with crocodiles, mind you) and just take it all in. It was
absolutely gorgeous, and hey, we didn’t get eaten by crocodiles!
The next day, we packed up all of our things and took a small boat
across the river that outlines the national park, and visited the Dao
Tien Endangered Primate Species Center. It was absolutely amazing to see
how they rehabilitate gibbons and slow loris and doucs. It’s not a large
preserve for them, but it’s constantly growing. It was really
informative and probably my favorite part of the entire field program.
We left from there and drove the 4 hours back into Ho Chi Minh City.
Since we got back rather early, my new friend Brooke and I decided to be
history nerds and we went to the Rooftop bar on the roof of the Rex
Hotel to have a drink at 5 o’clock like the American reporters did
during the Vietnam War. The drinks were expensive, strong, but not very
good. It’s all about the experience though, and I can say I experienced
the “Five O’ Clock Follies,” which is something to tell as a history
The last day, I ended up picking up my dress and hanging out with some
of my friends. We found a supermarket at the bottom of an upscale
shopping mall (YAY) and then we found Blue Moon Spa. We did a fish
pedicure. It was horrible. OK, let me just say that I hate the idea of
fish touching me, so having a bunch of fish swarm my feet, not even
counting their flesh-eating tendencies, terrifies me. And then you add
in the fact that these fish want to eat my (dead) flesh and it’s just
weird. It took me and my friend 5-10 minutes to actually hold our feet
in the water. That was probably the weirdest experience I’ve had this
entire trip, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. From
there, we had to head back to the ship, but we crammed a lot into the 6
days we were in Vietnam! I can’t wait to go back and see places like Ha
Long Bay, Hanoi, and the Mekong Delta though!