And just like that, it was the last month of my Remote Year journey ('that' in this case refers to eleven months of traveling the world). So many emotions. So many fears. Real life? 😱
Throughout the trip, people referred to things (or people) that they had to take advantage of before the end of the trip as "Vietnamable". Well Vietnam knew we were coming because the first day there, I found this sign.
We actually arrived in Ho Chi Mihn City during the Vietnamese new year known as Tết (the ^ is silent). And this meant the city was absolutely deserted. This is normally an insanely populated city bursting at the seams with motobikes (lets all take a moment to picture something bursting at the seams with motorbikes), but during Tết, many a person leaves the city and so it was actually pretty calm.
|So tranquil during Tết
And I'm not sure if it was the holiday or that they just discovered miracle grow, but there was an insane number of flowers in the city.
|The streets are alive with the sound of flowers
|We love flowers, yes we do
|The flowers are as tall as that building (yes they have tall buildings in Vietnam)
Speaking of motorbikes (were we speaking of motorbikes? I thought we were speaking about flowers), they're existence really stood out in Vietnam. Obviously they are very popular all over Asia, but they are like Popular (capital P) in Vietnam. I think Ho Chi Minh had the craziest driving of all the countries we visited (but still does not compare to India). You would hit six way intersections where everyone was going through at the same time basically just weaving through each other.
|Matt! Stop taking photos at night!
If you are trying to cross the street and you wait for the motorbikes to pass, you will literally wait forever (no, really, we still have someone from the trip trying to get to the airport because they are waiting to cross the street). At the same time, however, you can close your eyes and walk across the street and never get hit (my lawyer tells me I'm not liable if you try this and die). Everyone is so used to just weaving around people and things.
And now a video of motorbikes:
But the best part about motorbikes is the UberMoto. It is much faster (and cheaper) to take Uber with a motorbike rather than a Car. You can get anywhere in the city for under a dollar. Plus, it's always exciting.
I dont understand why motorbikes aren't more popular in the US. They take up much less space, are cheaper and can get around much quicker in traffic. I'm taking a stand right now. We're bringing motorbikes to the US.
But enough about motorbikes. Ho Chi Minh city is more than motorbikes....it also had other things and stuff and such as well.
|The famed Lunch Lady (as seen on Anthony Bourdain....so I'm told)
|A statue of Ho Chi Minh in a pink shirt
Vietnam has more than just cities too, they have also have sand dunes?
|We call him the mother fucking badass
And whatever you call this...
|Name that landscape
And of course coastline
|Fishing boats of sorts
Now, as you may or may not have heard, the US fought a war in Vietnam. Why? I hear its complicated. Being raised in a leftist, socialist leaning family, I had obviously heard a certain version of this war and held certain beliefs. And obviously living in the US, I am pitched a certain narrative. So I was excited to see what I would find on the other side.
|Way to get right to heart of things Matt....just go ahead and wear a communist tanktop in front of the Veitnam war museum in Ho Chi Minh City
The Vietnam war museum was actually right down the street from the apartment building we were staying at, so I visited a couple times just to take it all in. While I obviously don't prescribe heavily to the US government's version of the story, the amount of blatant propaganda throughout the museum bordered on laughable at times. Every single opportunity was taken to insert a defamatory word before the US was discussed.
But the museum also shows the unspeakable acts committed by the US during the war. There is an entire section devoted to the deformities caused to future generation by agent orange. Intense stuff.
|That's not nice
I also got the chance to visit the Cu Chi tunnels right outside of the city. They are an immense underground network of tunnels used by the Vietcong throughout the war and the staging point for the Tet offensive.
|Intense Cu Chi tunneling
It was quite a bizarre experience as we had fun popping out of hidden tunnels and posing with tanks...but also realizing that this was a place where incomprehensible acts were committed.
|See, war can be fun
|Remote Year Tank
Our tour guide only made things more awkward as he was a very flamboyant story teller always smiling and laughing through his descriptions and explanations. At one point, he was telling us about the booby-traps that the Vietcong installed around the tunnel. He laughed about how they were very smart about killing Americans because when you stepped in one spot you would fall into a pit of spikes. And he couldn't contain his excitement telling us about the trap nick named the baby killer where a spike swings up between the Americans' legs. But when you stop for a second....that really happened to people.
|Pit of spikes....hilarious
The tour also had a Vietnam propaganda video from the war telling the stories of the people of the Cu Chi tunnels and the number of Americans that they killed. There was one little girl in particular whose parents were killed by the Americans and so she trained and became "number one American killer".
It is quite scary to think about being a soldier forced to crawl through the tiniest of tunnels not knowing what traps or people lay ahead of you. Of course, its also quite scary to think of the Vietcong who actually lived in these tunnels which is even more insane.
|The tiniest of tunnels (or maybe Tom there is just a huge guy)
Finally, I visited the famed Hanoi Hilton, a prison given its nick name by American POWs (it was not actually a Hilton). John McCain was held here during the war and they still even have his flight suit.
|John McCain was here
Again, a bizarre experience in propaganda. The first half of the museum was dedicated to the French's use of the prison during the Vietnamese revolution. The descriptions spoke of the horrendous conditions and unspeakable torture that the French put the Vietnamese through. The second half of the museum was about the Vietnamese use of the prison for the Americans during the Vietnam war. The descriptions spoke of the wonderful conditions of the prison and how well its inhabitants were treated. There was even a video running of prisoners singing Christmas carols and decorating a Christmas tree....riiiiiight.
|Look how much fun war prison is in Vietnam
Enough about the war. Let's talk about.....Ha Long Bay.
|Ha Long Bay (I'm sure theres a pun to be made there)
Ha Long Bay features thousands of limestone karsts (I may have copied that word from Wikipedia) and isles in various shapes and sizes. I went on a 3 day cruise on a junk ship through the bay with a few people from my Remote Year group.
|The Dragon Pearl. She served us well.
The days were filled with kayaking, eating Thai food, pearl diving and beach life.
Overall a great trip full of beautiful places and people.
|Such beautiful people
|OK Matt, we get it. There were lots of karsts
Ha Long Bay is quite near to Hanoi so we were able to stop in for few a days.
|Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi
|Ho Chi Minh's old stomping grounds
|A river in Hanoi
|Real Vietnamese people in Hanoi
And along the way we found this special Vietnamese liquor with a giant cobra and scorpion inside.
And here's some other random pictures....
Since this is the last post of my actual Remote Year trip, I thought you could get to know the members of my group....with one picture per person from Vietnam (because I'm lazy and didn't want to look back through all my picture). You'll totally feel like you were on the trip with us.
|My Remote Year group
Jaja. Matt you are so funny.
|One of three Adams on the trip
|Natalie (from Luxenbourg or some other made up country)
|Heather and Darrin (got engaged on Machu Picchu)
|Danielle, Brecht and Kelly
|Sarah, Tall Jeff and Jess (the photography isn't bad...its just what they look like)
|Abe and Julianne
|Carolyn and Laura
|Anabelle and our fearless leader Travis
|Joao (impossible to pronounce his name)
|Liz and Diane
|Adam flipping off a drone
|Lauren (doing our scorpion dance)
|Andy and Paige
|Abe, Derryl and Jacek
|Laura and Arestia
|Miranda, Adam Mann, JP
|Signe and Mike Chino
|Anhton, Tom Tom and Lauren
|Mike, JB and Miranda
|Max, Brecht and Zoe
|Casey, Lindsay and Charles
|Krista (showing off the amazing year book she made for the group)
|Sam and Sam
|Carolyn and Kate
|Melissa, Leah, Miranda, Adam
|Patrick aka Patricia aka Patty Pat Pat
Wow. Don't you feel like you're one of us now? One of us! One of us!
Note: those were the people that finished the trip. About 20 dropped along the way...they couldn't hack it. And I really hope I didn't forget anyone 😬
|Goodbye camp fire
Then on the very last day, Travis and Sam set up a special day and night full of laughter and hugs and nostalgia and tears and it all ended in the most American way possible.....we all went to McDonalds at 3AM.
And then it was time to say goodbye.
What can I possibly say to sum up the year? Well, I will quote the great Matt Levin from his Facebook post from one year ago.
Over the last 365 days I touched 4 continents, visited 24 countries, ice climbed a glacier in Patagonia, chugged beer at Oktoberfest, hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, lost 7 pairs of sun glasses, took a 3 day cruise in ha long bay Vietnam, stayed in a $400/night hotel with an infinity pool on the 50th floor in Singapore, saw the shell of the city that is Doha Qatar, surfed in Lima, played polo on a horse in Buenos Aires, ran half marathons on two continents, killed a man (jk), learned to tango in Argentia, saw one of the world's top 3 most intense soccer rivalries in Belgrade, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace, hunted anacondas in the Amazon, road a gondola through Venice, saw Kuala Lumpur from the top of the Petronas towers, skinny dipped on Thanksgiving in the ocean in Bali, drove a scooter 5 hours from Changmai to Pai thailand, had a laptop and passport stolen, took pictures with 34 monkeys, rang in the new year at a full moon party (the real one) in Thailand, survived biking death road in Bolivia, saw the inside of the Segrada Familia which I now consider the most impressive place I've ever been, watched Andy Murray win a semi finals match from the hill at Wimbledon, learned how to pour a proper beer at both the Stella factory in Belgium and the Guiness factory in Dublin, hiked a rainbow...mountain, went to a music festival inside a castle in Belgrade, added a tattoo, yoga'ed for the first time in Bali, licked salt from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, went on a lot of Tinder dates, looked down on Grenada, Spain from the Alhambra, surfed in Bali, ate a guinea pig, ate a tarantula...leg, saw the sunrise at Angkor Wat, visited the Hanoi Hilton, drank wine on a vineyard in the south of France, purchased 10 tank tops and....did some work (I swear).
Overshadowing all of this was the unexpected level 3 fun adventures. And most importantly the 50+ people whom I experienced it all with and changed my life. Could not have been a better group of people!
|My Tramily 4eva