We loved Viet Nam when we were here in Spring 2007. We loved it again this time, but the experience was actually very different. First, this place has changed dramatically in three years. The economy of this country is on a rocket ship trajectory, up up up and fast fast fast. Funky fruit stands have been replaced by Louis Vuitton leather handbag stores; the low-level skyline now features a mega-skyscraper in the shape of an emerging baby Lotus flower; the rats nest of motorcycles and bicycles is now a rats nest of cars and motorcycles (and far fewer bicycles); and construction projects are everywhere! You get the picture -- we had to wrap our heads around the fact that this was still the same place, even though it was a totally different place. In addition to the awakening to growth in Asia, we loved this visit because we have a really cool local guide! Here's the story. We met a great student on the ship named Kyle back on our Spring 2007 voyage. Turns out, he was so transformed by the Semester at Sea experience he felt moved to go back to a place he had been on the voyage to, well, make a positive difference. So he headed to the Mekong Delta, volunteered to teach English, and 10 months later (now fluent in Vietnamese!) he relocated to Ho Chi Ming city. Now he still teaches English AND he sings professionally (in Vietnamese). He has become a local phenom! On the last night we were in port he was the guest judge on Viet Nam Idol! So, we connected on Facebook while at sea, made arrangements to meet in Viet Nam, and spent much of our time just hanging out with Kyle -- seeing the place through his eyes and with the help of his language skills. Hanging with a local means all sorts of things such as hysterical conversations with street vendors, truly authentic local food, access to places you would NEVER find on your own, and a glimpse of daily life Viet Nam that just wasn't available to us as a tourist in Spring 2007. To cap it off, just before we set sail, Kyle showed up at the gangway with Vietnamese scooter helmets for the whole family. Just one of many lasting visions we'll have of this amazing place.
Brand new tower, same old spicy shrimp
Street vendor waffles for breakfast, rooftop high-rise sushi for dinner
Roadside, drive-through cherry market. Three monkeys (Ryder, Kyle, Rocky) at the zoo
Buddhist and Boy both share their love of Birds. No common spoken language needed.
View from the "Reunification Palace" of the famous gates that were crushed by N. Vietnamese tanks. Note tanks to the left side of photo.
More fresh fruit (that you've probably never seen before) than you can imagine. Or fresh fish, or fresh fungi, or live whatever (what IS that thing?!) These folks take fresh food literally and because of their low fat and mostly vegie diet, even without health insurance or high tech treatments , they live long, healthy lives. Hmmm, maybe there is a lesson here.