Sunday, November 2, 2014

Visitors and Travels

I had the privilege of spending my week with Spence. At 4:30am I jumped the dorm fence to walk to the main gate to catch a ride to the bus station. My ride to the station never came so I hailed a taxi and made it to the station just in time. I really dislike traveling within Vietnam, because I'm a target for getting ripped off. If a foreigner came to Vietnam for the first time with no knowledge of what things actually cos,t they would end up paying quadruple the price. I was approached at the station for a cheaper bus fair if only I followed a man around the corner to his bus. Knowingly I just went inside the station and got on my bus. I reached Saigon's main station and was again rushed by taxi drivers. There are two reputable taxi companies in the South. You have to be sure that their meter works and that the car is clearly marked with the correct labeling. Since I was by myself I made sure to get a small cab rather than the larger cab that was offered to me. I picked up Spence from the airport. His flight was running a bit late so I got a ca phe sua da (iced coffee) and waited with my Spence sign. He arrived energized and a lot harrier than I last saw him. It was great to finally be together. Typically, Spence and I spend a few weeks in between seeing each other because we live 6 hours apart. Two and a half months felt pretty long. To get to our first destination Spence and I had to take a cab to downtown to catch a ferry. The first cab offered us 900,000vnd (45usd) for a ride. We ended up taking a VinaSun cab for 150,000vnd (7.50usd). Like I said, major scam artists here. When we got to the ferry we learned that it had burned down last year. I had tried calling the company earlier in the week. Their phone lines and website were still in service, but I hadn't been able to contact anyone. Luckily for us there was a bus leaving for Vung Tau. The ride took a couple hours and once we arrived it was time for dinner. We had whole fried grouper, morning glory, and rice and a local spot. Vung Tau is the most pristine place I've traveled to thus far in Vietnam. We were welcomed by clear weather and a not so busy atmosphere. Our hotel was right on the beach and it was mostly filled with families visiting from Saigon. The first day we woke up early and decided to hit the religious spots first. We crossed a man made rock bridge that becomes hidden by the afternoon tide to a small pagoda on an island. we hung out there for a bit to enjoy the view and peacefulness of the pagoda. 

Our next location was a walk up about 200 steps to a large statue of Jesus. Funny to think of Jesus being on a Vietnamese island, but there are actually quite a bit of Catholics here. The statue is hallowed out so you can go inside the statue and take pictures on the arms.

We had a great lunch of steamed clams and crab fried rice. After a quick nap and round of card wars we went down to the beach to enjoy the last rays of sun. Spence got to see his first Vietnam sunset, which is something quite special to see. That night we decided to grab various sea food from vendors on the beach. We had some of the best grilled octopus I've ever had, some whole grilled shrimp, and more seafood fried rice. The food was cheaper than Saigon, so we were paying about 5 dollars each for every meal.

Early Monday morning we took a six hour bus ride to Can Tho. At night Spence and some of the people from my program went out for pho. That week Spence came to all of my classes, even the two and a half hour Vietnamese classes. He got the opportunity to try a lot of street food, see the floating market, visit my campus, visit a Khmer pagoda, visit a Chinese pagoda, see Can Tho Ancient House, and be there for me on my birthday. We started to day off with the floating market, pho for breakfast, a seminar on human trafficking, Vietnamese class, dinner of banh xeo, a party with cake, and dancing at the club.

Thursday afternoon we left for Saigon after class. During class we talked about Vietnamese government and the concept of freedom within the lines of the law. People can't really talk about government here and they definitely can't criticize it. I was happy to leave for Saigon afterward, because there are some terrific restaurants  and we went to my favorite one Thursday night. It’s a grill restaurant on a rooftop in district one. We had fried frog, grilled whole shrimp, grilled squid, veggies, and drinks, all for about twelve dollars each (which is quite expensive for Vietnam). On Friday we went sightseeing and went to the war remnants museum (my third time now). Halloween night Spence and I were Wilson and Tom Hanks from castaway (I was Wilson). The street we were staying on Bui Vien, was packed shoulder to shoulder and scooter to scooter. We went to clubs and play a round of pool with another person from my program.  On Saturday we had the whole day to explore Ben Thahn market and haggle with sales people so Spence could find some good gifts. We spent our last night going to a very good Japanese pizza place. I never have cheese, so this was quite a treat! It was sad saying goodbye to Spence on Sunday, but I was still so appreciative and happy for the time we got to spend together. Spence reminded me of how much I miss home.
Until next time,


  1. Kaitlan, I loved this post! It was a great narrative and I felt like I went to Vung Tau with you guys. I think that sometimes reflecting on the simple things here can bring the most clarity to this whole experience. I'm really glad we get to enjoy this time with one another and share our stories like this.