Our first full day in Asia Carly and I woke up late and lazed into the day. Down the street from our hostel at Cong Caphe, I discovered the south east Asian trend of dark bitter coffee with loads of sweetened condensed milk (which I would grow to have a love hate relationship with). Our otherwise lovely hostel lacked wifi so over breakfasts of Bahn Mi and began to plan our time in Vietnam. Coming into the trip we had a plan for which days would be spent in which cities and a rough list of things we wanted to see in each place, but that was about it.
We had chosen Ho Chi Minh (HCM) as our starting place, since Carly had lived there for a summer in college so it seemed like a good place to get our bearings. We had budgeted four days in HCM and we decided to spend half of that time in Mui Ne, a small beach town about four hours from HCM. Before beginning hard core tourism our postprandial tasks were finding bus tickets to Mui Ne, and to Cambodia. We found relatively reliable companies and went in search of their offices.
Bus tickets cannot be purchased online in Vietnam. Therefore all the tourist and bus offices have been concentrated to Pham Ngu Lao. The buildings are conveniently unmarked and if you ask anyone for directions to a specific establishment, they try to bring into their business and explain why their price/trip is better. We found (or thought we found) the Mui Ne Bus company relatively quickly. We reserved seats for the bus the next morning and returning the day after. We were told we would redeem our receipts for the tickets in the morning. Next we went in search of Mekong Bus Company for our tickets to Cambodia. The office however was no where to be seen. We spent about thirty five minutes wandering up and down a four block stretch of street leading a group of loitering elderly men to become concerned for our wellbeing. Finally a woman took pity upon us and guided us to the offices (which we had walked by dozens of times) and we finally got our tickets.
With our business complete we headed to the Vietnam War Museum. The museum is huge and incredibly detailed. It was especially striking since the war is a portion of our countries history that has been relegated to memorialization and nothing else. There is no American Museum for the Vietnam War. The exhibits (were of course) biased, but also incredibly well thought out and informative. I was particularly taken by the exhibits on Agent Orange and the abuses of journalists during the war. The exhibit on journalism was co-sponsored by a small town in Kansas and detailed how the war was one of the first major instances where journalists were killed and abused by both sides. Photographs had been donated by dozens of war journalists from around the world and in closing the exhibit encouraged the just and lawful treatment of non-combatants in all war zones.
The mix of the museum population was also quite interesting. By my guesses the largest populations in attendance were Aussies, French, Americans, and other Vietnamese. The entire time we were there the museum was overflowing and everyone was incredibly respectful of the space.
Our somber afternoon was revitalized by a trip to Notre Dame church (not the original, but also built by the French) and the post office which is considered a major tourist attraction. By this time we were in serious need of food, so we stopped at “Tous la Jours” a French bakery and had apple turnovers and red bean doughnuts. We were back in our hotel by 6:30 muttering promises that we would go out again for dinner, but by 8:30 we were both sound asleep.