Summer Vacation - Part 1

Before moving to Australia was ever on our radar, we had booked a summer vacation to Vietnam and Laos.  We first experienced Southeast Asia on our honeymoon nearly 3 years earlier, when we visited the beautiful and cheap countries of Thailand and Cambodia.  Based on these memories, we decided to expand our knowledge of the area by visiting these two countries.  After enlisting the help and recommendations of some friends that had previously visited the area, we mapped out our tour.

After endless tips and being somewhat overwhelmed by all that these countries had to offer, we Anna started to plan.  We knew that 2.5 weeks would not be enough time to see all that these countries had to offer and ended up breaking up our trip into three parts: Southern Vietnam, Northern Vietnam, and Laos.

With our house packed up and personal items already shipped to Sydney, we left for Vietnam.  It was a nice reward after getting through the craziness of moving halfway around the world.  We landed in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to start the trip.  Visiting SE Asia is always eye opening, and Ho Chi Minh delivered.  The humidity hits you immediately after you step off the plane.  Next, the crowds have their impact as you realize just how many people can fit into a small area and that no space is wasted.  For perspective, HCMC has about 9,450 people per square kilometer while SF and Oakland combine for about 2,350 = a population that's nearly 4x as dense as what we're used to! The streets are never empty and the din of the traffic takes some adjustment.
Moped mob that's a normal part of the morning traffic
From the colonial style homes to the delicacies of the bakeries, the French influence is easily seen in HCMC.
Fresh Croissant - A wonderful treat and a steal at $0.10 each

Unfortunately, you can also see some of the infamous military influence from the French as well.
The Guillotine - An artifact invented and used by the French in Vietnam
Speaking of military influence, no trip to HCMC would be complete without seeing and recounting first hand the ugliness and long lasting impacts of war.  Vietnam has weathered many battles across its land and there are a ton of other resources on the web where you can rehash those dark times.  During our trip we decided to visit the War Remnants Museum and see some of the artifacts and pictures from various fighting periods in Vietnam's history.

Air Raid - One of the fighter jets used by the Viet Cong
In addition to this museum, we also visited the much less somber Reunification Palace. This palace served as the Southern President's home and workplace during the Vietnam War and it was also the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.  A Northern Vietnamese tank crashed through the palace's gates, serving as the catalyst for the reunification of Northern and Southern Vietnam.  That tank is still on site and the palace was really interesting to walk around.  The palace has been preserved since that fateful day and touring it really allows you to experience the tacky wonderful decor of the 70's.
The Reunification Palace
The Palace's Board Room
Anna in the Tea Room
The President's Rooftop Escape

Our visit to HCMC happened to fall during the 4th of July, which shockingly isn't a big deal there.  We still felt the need to celebrate and while I suggested running down the street in stars and stripes chanting "USA! USA! USA!", we figured that wouldn't be received well.  Instead, we opted for hot dogs and a visit to the local water park.  The park was like an American waterpark, but with way fewer lifeguards/safety measures.  Kids were running everywhere and "rickety" would be the best adjective to describe the slides.  With an entry fee equivalent to $4.30, I guess you get what you pay for.  Despite the questionable conditions, we braved every slide and had a blast (minus the whiplash from one of the slides).

You would think "overworked" would be a reason to go to a pool

The Twister Space Bowl could also be called "Whiplash"

Anna braving the Twister Space Bowl

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.

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