If you ask me, which country I come from I will without hesitation say “I am Danish! Dronning Magrethe, Hans Christian Andersen & Tuborg!”, but a part of me doesn’t feel Danish. A part of me, which stems from my parents, will say “But my favorite dish is pho, my last name is Nguyen and I call my parents ‘me’ and ‘ba’.”
I am Danish, but I feel somewhat fortunate to be able to have a feeling of dual nationality besides my Danish, which I am proud of having as a part of my personality, which is the warm and colorful Vietnamese part.
I was therefore extremely excited when me and the gang booked our trip to Saigon, where I would be able to experience and once again say hello to my second home country with its rich history, tasty cuisine and guest free people. This trip was my first trip to Vietnam without the aid of my parents, which would really challenge my somewhat rusty Vietnamese.
We left Hong Kong on a Thursday and would return on the following Monday, which gave us limited time in Vietnam. Though one of the biggest perks of living in Hong Kong is that it is relatively centered in Asia, so if you like traveling in Asia then Hong Kong is a good fit for you. A two hour flight later and we arrive in Saigon.
The first day was all about walking the streets and taking in all the culture, that Saigon is flowing with. As a Dane when you come to Hong Kong, you feel everything is different, but after coming to Saigon Hong Kong and Denmark doesn’t seem that different from each other.
Saigon is a unique city that is oozing with life and where your senses are put to the test against the overload of sensory impulses that Saigon keeps shooting towards you. Every meter a new scent that encapsulates one of Vietnam’s greatest creations – its world famous kitchen, that includes the world renowned pho, the ever so popular summer roll or the Vietnamese national sauce nuoc mam. Every corner painted a new picture of the everyday struggle of the street vendor, the old men drinking their strong coffee or the kids playing a childish game on the pavement of one of the packed and trafficked streets.
Even though I have been to Vietnam before and I know how crazy the traffic is, I still get blown away by the chaos which is the myriad of scooters in the streets of Saigon. Nothing can really prepare you for that moment, when you have to cross the street. You put your safety in the hands of a million Vietnamese’s hands. But as our tour guide to the Cu Chi Tunnels said, “Be brave, keep walking and the traffic will flow around you”, and so it did like we were Moses crossing the Red Sea.
Me and the guys were looking forward to visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, that is a popular tourist site, which was once a fortress of small tunnels for the guerrilla and Viet Cong army of the communist Vietnamese. A special place which, as someone with a Southern Vietnamese heritage, creates some mixed feelings, as the communist was fighting against the Vietnam that my parents are still dreaming of to this day. The Cu Chi Tunnels is a complex tunnel structure used by the Viet Cong to move safely between Cambodia and Saigon in the times of war. It also served as a gateway for the Americans entrance to Cambodia, and were therefore a vital brick in the war.
We got to explore the tunnels, the way the communist soldiers lived and tried to shoot with M16 among other guns. All in all a good trip, that gave me some good insight and knowledge of Saigon and the war, which I haven’t been able to obtain before.
With my South Vietnamese parents the same mixed feelings goes towards the renowned war museum in the middle of Saigon, where the old American tanks, helicopters and weapons are displayed like a poacher displays his finest animal heads in his trophy collection. The museum itself is in its essence a collection of communist propaganda against the Americans in the war against Vietnam and uncle Ho, which is glorified to an extent one would only see in North Korea. The war museum stands as a great reminder that the winner writes the history, even though Vietnam to this day is becoming more and more Americanized and USA is one of the key factors of Vietnam’s financial growth.
A polarizing experience is truly the memories of the war, but on a merrier note, I got to experience Vietnam from a perspective I haven’t tried before, which was from up high. The Bitexco Financial tower that resembles the Avengers tower from the Marvel series sits on a throne close to the Saigon River and gives you the most amazing view of the city from the 51th floor in the helipad bar.
Especially in the night time, where the lights from the innumerable scooters flickers in all the small crevices of the city. At the same time because we were visiting Saigon in the rain season, there happened to be a lot of thunder, so the experience of listening to live jazz, while the thunder is roaring and lighting up the night sky was a special experience.
While this trip was one meant for learning more about my second nationality, I also learned the importance of having good company around you. Because I got to enjoy a nice prolonged weekend in good company with some amazing guys, where good talks, laughs and complete relaxation were the prized items on the menu.
This was the first of, for now, three travels at my time in Hong Kong.
The next destination is the capital of k-pop and has been regarded as one of the leaders in the tech industry. A city that is famous for taking the Western style and ingenuity and combining it with Asian work ethic and efficiency. That city is Seoul, which has always been one of the cities was has stood on top of my bucket list, and I will finally get the chance to explore it. Stay tuned in November for an update of this trip!