Wow, what a journey it has been. From saying goodbye to my parents at the airport to sitting here at this little coffee shop in the heart of Saigon, it has been a wild ride to where I’m currently at today. A whole week has gone by and I can already say it’s been some of the most fun, wild, and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. There’s so much to share that I’ve probably left out a bunch, but let’s start from way back then.
‘Splorin Location One: Dubai!
Now I know it’s not customary to yell during a blog post, but if any place deserves exclamatory shout-out, it’s Dubai. Six of us twelve Duke Engagers, 1/2 if you’re a fraction reducer, had an overnight layover in Dubai. There were plenty of enticing attractions near our hotel (not really), but we opted to go into the city and explore a bit. The area we went to was the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. They were both pretty significant as the Dubai Mall was the world’s largest mall by square footage and the Burj Khalifa was the cousin of Wiz Khalifa. I guess I can also throw in that the Burj is also the world’s tallest building. It was quite a spectacle, these two places were. It just shows how much wealth was contained within this city of gold. An example of wealth that I found quite entertaining was the use of a Lamborghini to market Nike cleats…. It’s utterly unnecessary, but we’re in Dubai so I guess anything goes. Oh, I forgot to mention, the world’s largest indoor fish tank is here too. I can’t really call it just a “fish” tank as it contained rays and sharks. Go figure. We ended our night with a cute little waterfront stroll along the Dubai Fountain (I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up googling this and find out it was the world’s largest fountain either). Definitely a cool place I’d like to check out when I’m a little older and have a bit more money in my pockets.
‘Splorin Location Two: Saigon (it’s what the cool kids call it)
We arrived in Saigon Wednesday night. The first thing I realized was how MASSIVE this city was. Looking out the window flying in, it seemed like a solid 15 minutes where we were over the city lights. A CET member (CET is the partner organization DukeEngage pairs us for this particular program) met us at the airport and we took a shuttle to our guesthouse, our place of stay during our time in Saigon. Some of us crashed early, but being the adventurous spirit I am, I went with some people to just walk around and explore the area. We find a road with beautifully illuminated arches and of course, we decide to follow it for a bit. We stumble upon the US Consulate and other cool little shops and street vendors and eventually settle ourselves in a little beer garden. I order a water, and they bring me out a Budweiser. A small victory! Drinking is 18 here, so please don’t get too mad if you’re reading this Mom. This place was pretty dope! It had a lot of chill vibes and the first puke contingency sink I’ve ever seen. It was hilarious. View picture below. The next morning, we all go out and grab breakfast together. The biggest challenge of the trip thus far dawned upon us: crossing the street. If you’ve ever seen that one commercial where they’re like, “There’s no rules!!!”. Yeah, that’s Saigon traffic right there. The streets are packed with cars, trucks, busses, and motorbikes and one must be extremely vigilant and alert when crossing. A quote from Jared, “It’s like being a rock in the river, but instead of water moving around the rock (us), it’s motor vehicles.” Eventually, we found a little stand that sells Bánh mì, which translates to bread. However, they cut open the bread and make a sandwich out of it by filling it with eggs, meat, vegetables, and some unknown yet yummy condiment. It was delicious and also very cheap! It was less than $1 if you convert to USD (1 USD = 22,260 VND. Yes I am currently swimming in the Dongs after cashing in my $100 stipend). We then are taken on a walking tour of central Saigon by our tour guide, An, who was also a Vietnamese roommate a couple semesters back for a different CET program in Vietnam. Also joining us are some Vietnamese buddies from the University down the street, and they were fascinating and interesting to talk to. We conversed about many things, ranging from daily school life differences to the NBA finals. We spent a lot of time hanging with these buddies. Some activities included going on a scavenger hunt around the city doing crazy things like taking a picture with a bride and groom, bowling, and dinner. Over dinner, we taught them American slang such as “Shots Fired”, “savage”, “World Star!”, and the whole bro/brah/bruh/breh/bree/brew scheme of things. They thoroughly enjoyed it and promised to incorporate it into their daily vernacular. My personal favorite though: karaoke. Karaoke was LIT! Instead of going to Shooters or something on a Saturday night or something I’d definitely be down for a little vocal cord exercise. It’s been a very rewarding experience hanging out with these buddies (I’ll be talking about it in another blog post).
As a group, we were able to do some fun things as well, such as eating phở (noodles) and go up to the top of the the Bitexco Financial Tower. At the top, you could really see how massive Saigon was. You could peer out from any of the windows and still only see the city for miles and miles. Did I mention there were 24 districts?
My time in Saigon has exceeded any expectation I would have ever had. It’s as beautiful of an urban jungle as I’ve ever seen. I’m very grateful for the experience that I’ve had so far here in Vietnam, and I look forward to the next week we spend here as well. This time, we’re immersing ourselves much more into the history and culture of Vietnam and taking Vietnamese speaking classes. Check out some of the pictures and I’ll keep y’all updated as this adventure continues!