Ho Chi Minh City – War Remnants Museum

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War Remnant Museum

The War Remnants Museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City. Last Sunday I went with a friend to check it out.

I heard that the museum gave a rather one sided perspective of the war. The government also has a reputation for being less than truthful. I’d talked with vietnamese people who, after finishing school, had later discovered many things taught to them in school were simply not correct. So I was interested to see the sort of story this museum would tell.

This is what you see right as you walk into the museum grounds.

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US Tank.
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US Helicopter.
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US plane.
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Another US helicopter.
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US Jet.

When entering the building it is not very obvious where to start.

Throughout the museum you see displays of US military stuff including Mortar launcher, bazookas, rifles, uniforms, etc..

We eventually found a poster with a recommended order in which to view the exhibits, starting with The Historic Truths room.

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The Historic Truths room. You can see some of the US military equipment inside.

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This is the first thing you see in the Historic Truths room. This is an excerpt from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence in 1945. It reads:

Vietnam has the right to enjoy freedom and independence and has really become a free and independent country. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their liberty and independence.

According to the museum, this is roughly how the war started:

In 1945, Vietnam declares its independence from French Colonialism. The US doesn’t like this so they try to subvert the new Government by helping other vietnamese organizations cause trouble. This goes on until 1954 when the Geneva Accords recognized Vietnam as an independent country. The French pull out but the US doubles down eventually starting a military conflict with the new Vietnamese government which escalated into the Vietnam War.

Now, I am not that familiar with the US’s version of events but what I think is important is that right off the bat, you get this picture of the meddlesome and aggressive US trying to subvert the freedom of the Vietnamese people. (I am inclined to think that there is some truth to this actually.)

So the story continues in the next room which is filled with photos of the war. Many of the images were collected from journalists who were killed in action. Which I think is really cool. Here are some of those photos. Sorry for the poor photo of a framed picture quality.

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American soldiers walking through a field.
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American soldier in the mud.
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I just thought this picture was cool.
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American GIs walking through a river in the rain.
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Like something you would see in a movie except real.

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There was also a whole section dedicated to Agent Orange. For those who dont know, Agent Orange was a chemical that the US used for deforestation. It was mean to make it harder for the Vietnamese to hide in the jungle by basically destroying all the plants. It caused a lot of health problems and genetic mutations to people who were exposed to it. Pretty messed up stuff.

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Whats left of a jungle forest after being destroyed by agent orange.
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Conjoined twins. Mutations from exposure to agent orange.

Then on the next floor there was another exhibit with lots of pictures and displays of weapons and things.

Now here is one of the strongest anti-American messages in the whole museum.

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Excerpt from the US Declaration of Independence. Right next to artillery shells and photos of the horrors of war.

When I saw and read this, it gave me chills. It just all sunk in. The entire message of this place. A light turned on in my head. I looked around and realized I had not seen a single image of a vietnamese soldier, nor a vietnamese weapon, vehicle, or anything that reminded people that there was another side to all this.

The Americans were the ones with weapons and soldiers. The photos, the quotes, the hypocrisy of statements about life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, next to the horrible images and artifacts of war. Wow.

There are some things that I took from this experience.

First off, the story that this place tells is as interesting as the careful way that it tells it. I cant think of any other place like this that is so strongly one sided in its message.

Second, in America, its easy to become flippant in the way we talk about war. America, for all its greatness, has directly caused a lot of suffering, and the death of many innocent people. War and the violence that America feels so justified in preparing for and funding ruins lives. And in spite of how one sided this museum’s message was, I don’t think it was wrong to say that America caused a lot of suffering and did some terrible things in the Vietnam War. Its important to remember that the effects of war and violence often goes far beyond its intended targets.

Overall, the War Remnant Museum was a very interesting experience, and it’s inspired me to research on the other side of the story. I recommend it to anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh city.

New Camera

I bought a new camera today. And I am going to try to make cool videos.

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I love watching videos on the internet. I’ve always loved the idea of video as a form of self expression, but I have always been very intimidated by the idea of trying it myself. There just seems to be such a large learning curve.

 

Recently I have been getting the urge to try (not the first time this has happened), but with any form of art or self expression, When you first start out, the medium can fight against you. It can be a barrier between you and what you are trying to create. This can be very discouraging, which is why I’ve never given making videos a solid try. Like everybody, I don’t want to suck at something. I don’t want to make sucky things.

But I don’t want to be someone who lets that stop me. Jake the Dog from the Adventure Time TV show actually has some good words on this topic:

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So I bought a camera, which is really the easy part. For the hard part, I’m going to make myself post at least 1 video per week. It will probably replace most of the content of this blog. I’ll be experimenting with vlogging (video blogging). Maybe I’ll try travel tips, or even story telling. I expect anything I will be quite sucky for a while. But I’m going to try to make the best sucky videos I can until they are sort of good.

Here’s my first one:

Ho Chi Minh Thoughts and Observations

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Nguyen Hue Walking Street in District 1.

You may notice that the site URL has changed. I have decided to make this more of a general blog with more topics than just my travel experiences. A place where I can post my thoughts and general observations. I hope no body has a problem with that.

Anyways, I have been here in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly 1 month. Its been crazy, but I’ve been having a good time. Let me see if I can paint a picture of what it is like to live here.

First of all, the culture is very different. Especially coming from Chiang Mai, Thailand where everybody is very polite. Almost too polite sometimes. Contrast that with Ho Chi Minh. I don’t think it is right to say that the people are rude. I thing the cultural standards for politeness, public behavior, and manners are just calibrated differently. Not all of it is impolite, more like unapologetic.

For instance, people will just flat out stare at me. I’m talking un-ashamed, head turning, non-blinking, stare when I am walking down the street. I think some of this might just be my appearance. With my size, my light skin, long hair and beard, I certainly stand out. But I think it is more than that. I think it happens to other foreigners too.

People drive on the sidewalk all the time. Its gets particularly hazardous during rush hour where the sidewalks have more moving motorbikes than people. You just sort of have to dodge them as you go on your way.

People also just set up businesses on the sidewalk. You have the usual corner businesses like street food vendors, fruit carts, etc… But then you will also have whole scooter mechanic shops on the corner. The sidewalk tiles spotted with years of motor oil stains. A cart full of tools, tires, and dirty rags leaning against a nearby wall. Forcing pedestrians to walk through or around the work area/parking lot of fixed and broken motorbikes.

Then there is the traffic. And to illustrate, I am going to tell a little story. It was late at night, like midnight, and I hadn’t eaten all day. So I went out to get some food. My options where limited since most places shut down at like 10:30pm, even on the weekends. Anyways, there was still some traffic this time of night, and I needed to cross a particular street. It was a rather busy street, so I waited until the light stopped the through traffic and stepped out onto the road just as 3 scooters came zipping around the corner making a right turn into my path. So I stepped back onto the curb to let them by. Then I stepped out again, and another 4 came zipping by again. This happened like 5-6 times. I then noticed an old Vietnamese couple sitting like 10 feet away. They were chuckling at me. (Rightly so. Lol.) The man gets up and walks over to me just as the light turns green letting through traffic go. A river of scooters, cars, and trucks came flowing endlessly past. He even tries to get me to hold his hand. Wow. Did I seem that helpless? lol. I didn’t let him hold my hand. So he just steps out into the flow motions for me to follow. He just sticks out his hand and slowly walks us through the rushing traffic. And the torrent miraculously flows around us. We make it to the other side, and, feeling foolish, I awkwardly say “Thank you…. uh… Cam on.” (Cam on = Thank you in Vietnamese) He just smiles and just walks back into the flow without any hesitation or second thought.

Anyways, I think this experience is a sort of metaphor for the culture here. In many other cultures you take a lot of care to anticipate other people’s thoughts or feelings, to give the right of way so to speak. But there is something pragmatic about how they do things here. How everybody just goes where they need to go and they all agree to try to just flow around one another as they get there.

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Example of Ho Chi Minh Traffic.

Since then, I have been much more adventurous crossing the street and have felt less like a fish out of water. I’m starting to connect with the flow and rhythm of this place. It’s fast paced and impatient. It’s crowded and loud. It’s diverse and practical. It’s different and interesting, and that is what traveling is all about.

My New Place in Ho Chi Minh City

It took me about 5 days to get a place here but I finally found one.I found this place through a Facebook housing group, nd I think will work out quite well. Its about %30-40 more expensive than my place in Chiang Mai but I expected that to be the case. I know you can find cheaper places here but also I wanted something I felt a little more comfortable in.

So anyways, here are the pics:

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Bed and closet and stuff.
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Big windows and a desk. :)
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Weird bathroom. Yes, that shower situation is as strange and awkward as it looks.
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My building is the orangish one with the blue gate under the tree. And yes, that is a dirty empty lot in front of it. lol.

So here in Ho Chi Minh City, at least in District 1 where I am, there are lots of big blocks. All of the shops and important buildings will be on the outside of the block accessible by the street, and then there will often be an alley or few that go into the middle of the block. This is where you tend to see apartment buildings. And down one such alley you will find my building.

One thing that is a little interesting is that you will notice how narrow all the buildings are. This is actually pretty common here. Many buildings are tall and narrow yet are connected to the buildings on either side, so it makes them look like one big building with vertical stripes of different colors and styles and a jagged roof line. Which I found cool.

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The outer gate.
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Inner gate/door with a fingerprint scanner to get in.
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First floor.

As you can see the first floor area right inside the doors is basically a scooter parking area. From what I have seen this is pretty common. Since theft is a thing here you don’t leave your scooter out on the street at night unattended so people sometimes go to very creative lengths to bring their scooters indoors.

Anyways, thats the new place. Ho Chi Minh City is a totally different world compared to Chiang Mai. I’m working on a post about my first impressions and experiences in the city so stay tuned for that.

New Year Thoughts in a New Place

I cant even remember where I was for new years eve 2014. Granted, I don’t have a very good memory for that stuff, but I do know that in my wildest dreams I never would have imagined that I would be sitting in a cheap windowless hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam one year later.

I hear a lot from friends and family about how, upon learning of my new lifestyle, many people express a wish that they could do what I am currently doing. Its hard to know what to say when I hear that.

Part of me wants to say that anyone can do this. It just takes some time and determination. But obviously that just isn’t true. Although I know digital nomads/digital expats that travel with their wives and children, or who have a mortgage back home, it is simply not an option for many many folks.

Part of me wants to express how it wasn’t all luck and good fortune that got me here. It took a huge leap of faith into the unknown to leave my comfortable safe life. Quitting my well paying job, selling all my stuff, and boarding a one way flight to the other side of the world was the hardest thing I have ever done. And, although nearly every digital nomad will tell you that the lifestyle is totally worth it, digital nomadism is not without its sacrifices.

But most of me wants to say that not one bit of the awesomeness of my situation is lost on me. I often sit back in sort of awe at where I am, and find myself totally and utterly grateful that circumstances have allowed me to do what I am doing.

And in the spirit of new years, goal setting, and dream reaching there is one other thought that has often occupied my mind lately, and that is the power of trying.

Many people know how much I admire Elon Musk. He started Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors. I’ve watched hours of interviews with Elon and one thing that strikes me is his attitude towards failure.

In an interview for 60 minutes he was asked how he knew Tesla Motors would be successful. He responded “I didn’t really think that Tesla would be successful, I thought we would most likely fail.” And as you know, Tesla Motors is doing very well and is single handedly changing the Automobile industry forever.

I’ve also heard him, on a different occasion, express the idea that just because the probable outcome is failure, it doesn’t always mean you shouldn’t do something.

Before he started SpaceX, nearly everyone he knew told him he shouldn’t do it. He risked everything he had to try. SpaceX had 3 failed rocket launches before one finally succeeded.

The way Elon Musk seems unintimidated by the idea of failure has always been inspiring to me. He is not scared of trying. And when he tries, he tries hard. And that has served him very well and allowed him to change the world in many amazing ways.

Many of us have things we dream of trying, whether that is starting a business, traveling the world, building an app, acting on broadway, or writing for a TV show. Sometimes those things are best kept on the shelf. For people like myself who have a shorter list of commitments and attachments than most, I cant help but think that the only difference between those who act on broadway, write for TV shows, travel the world, or work for themselves, and those who merely dream of doing so might be just a few good, hard, determined, tries. And sometimes, even if the probable outcome is failure, that isn’t a good reason not to try.

Being a digital nomad has been a most rewarding journey. Its amazing to think about how close I came to never giving it a try. Its also fueled my determination to try hard at some other things, and to make 2016 a year of tries instead of a year of dreams.

Thailand Things – Chiang Mai

This is just a combination of small random things I noticed and learned from my time in Thailand. This is from my perspective as someone who has lived in the United States my whole life and with very little exposure to South East Asian cultures.

Songthaews

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These are like red taxi trucks. They are one of the cheapest ways to get around. You just flag them down, tell them where you are going and then climb in back.

Usually you will want to negotiate price before you get in. Usually between 20-40 baht ($1ish) or maybe a little more depending on how far you have to go, or depending on the time of day.

Sometimes they will try to rip you off for being a foreigner but that hasn’t happened to me more than once or twice and as long as you know what price is fair and negotiate the price up front then you are good. I have even had a driver give me money back because it was a short ride and I gave him too much. So most of the drivers are cool.

Sometimes they will turn you down if they are not heading your way or something but if you hit them up on non-peak hours then many of them will be empty and will take you just about anywhere for the right price.

Tuk Tuk

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You will also see these tuk tuks everywhere. They are usually around 5 times the cost of a Songthaew.

Straws

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I feel like the thai people have a higher than average love for straws. Like if you buy a bottle of something to drink, often it will come come with straw. Like, you buy a coke and they throw a straw in the bag. They also give you straws at like all the restaurants no matter how short the cup is. I’d heard that part of the reason may be that they view the lip of bottles to be dirty which would make sense. But I just thought the sudden increase of straws in my life was mildly interesting.

Cable Management

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There just big clumps of cable lines everywhere. Not necessarily bad or anything, just interesting. Not sure if these are all power cables or if they are also data cables or something but they are everywhere.

I’d heard that this actually makes it quite easy to upgrade their infrastructure. Which makes sense. When you need to run new fiber optic cable in the States you have to dig up stuff and its a whole ordeal. To run a new fiber line in Thailand, you just tack it up to the telephone poles and you are good to go.

7/11

There are 7/11s everywhere. This turns out to be very useful. They are basically like 7/11s in the states but smaller. You can do everything at 7/11. You can pay bills, you can even pay cash for stuff that you purchase online. Its crazy. Plus they have drinks, snacks, personal hygiene products, etc…

Here is also where you can get a tourist sim card. Remember to bring your passport. It takes a few minutes to set up, they have to take a picture of your passport and submit things through a smart phone app but then you will be connected to 3G. I think there are other providers you can get as a tourist, maybe even a 4G network, but the TrueMove network you get at 7/11 is good for a 3G network. I have found it very adequate for navigating me around town and accessing twitter and facebook and stuff.

Dogs

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There are stray dogs around. And they like to lay around in the most inconvenient places.

Construction

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A Chiang Mai apartment building being renovated.

At least at the time of this writing there is a lot of construction going on around Nimman road. Most of it, as far as I can tell, it is mostly apartment/hotel building renovations.

There are a few of these places that have already finished being renovated. They are really cool. They are well designed and trendy, but are also quite expensive. Like 3-4 times what I am currently paying for my cheap apartment.

Power Outlets

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The wall outlet in my apartment in Chiang Mai.

So most of the power outlets look something like this.

** However I have seen some outlets that DO NOT have the 3rd grounding hole (only two holes) so you may need a little converter to reduce the 3 prong connectors to two.

Khao Soi

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If there is a dish that Chiang Mai is known for it is Khao Soi. This is a northern thai dish. You typically wont find it in any thai restaurants abroad or in the southern parts of Thailand. It is egg noodles with a sweet, curry-like coconut based broth. Then they top it with crispy noodles and usually add some sort of meat like chicken or beef.

Napkins

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So the napkin situation is different. Usually, if there are any napkins at all, it is like 2 ply toilet paper like what you see in the picture above or like one ply stacks of napkins. Its interesting.

Water Machines

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Its important to stay hydrated in Thailand.

You can buy big like 1500 ml (about 1/3 gallon) bottles of water for about 14 baht (about 40 cents) but you can refil that same bottle for 1 baht (about 3 cents). So you may want to save a few bottles and just start refilling them instead of buying new ones.

You can, of course buy even bigger bottles and refil them. But I just used the 1500 ml ones since I thought they were easier to deal with once I got them home. Plus I could take one with me if I needed to.

Just keep your eye out for a machine like the one in the picture above you just put in a 1 baht coin and press the green button and water will come out of the spout.

If you are having trouble finding a water machine, you can try asking around. They are not that uncommon, chances are there it always one within a couple blocks of where you are staying.

Also, the tap water is not safe to drink. Some people report being fine brushing their teeth with tap water but I usually just keep a bottle of water in the bathroom for my toothbrush.

Night Markets

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There is a night market on both Saturday and Sunday.  Usually from like 6:30 to like 9:00ish, I think. The Sunday and Saturday markets happen in different places. They basically just block off an entire street and they set up booths on either side.

Expect it to be crazy crowded, everyone goes to these things so think traffic for both cars and bodies. In bottle necked areas it is shoulder to shoulder penguin shuffle kind of movement.

They sell everything you can think of here. Food, juices, smoothies, knick knacks, souvenirs, soaps, bags, clothes, shoes, sandals, lanterns, wallets, belts, scarfs, basically anything.

You can also get a foot massage when your feet and legs get tired from all the walking/penguin shuffling. There are foot massage areas spread evenly up and down the market.

There are also street performers that camp right in the middle of the crowded road. The crowd just moves around them which is kind of interesting.

Also expect to pay more for transportation to and from because the drivers lose time dealing with the traffic and crowds.

Thai Massage

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There are many massage places around. They range in price from 150 baht (about $4.20) to 300 baht (about $8.40). They often offer many types of massage but the most common are going to be a thai massage or a foot massage.

You are going to get the best prices from a shop that only does massages rather than a spa.

7/11 Stamps

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When you buy things from 7/11 they give you these stamps. You can trade these in for discounts towards your next purchase.

Big Size

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Usually if you think a normal sized portion wont satisfy your hunger, you can ask them for a big size. Usually is it only like 10 baht or so more to get a little extra food.

Laundry Service

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There are laundry shops all around. They will clean and fold your laundry for you. Usually for around 30 baht per kilo. If you want them ironed it will be a little more.

The Government

So Thailand is not a place where the people can talk freely about the government. In fact, everyone will tell you to be very careful when talking about the King. There are regular stories of people getting sent to prison for small stuff like posting a photoshopped picture of the king on Facebook.

But you will notice pictures and billboards of the king all over the place and if you see a movie there will be a part where you are asked to stand for the national anthem to show respect for the king.

Although the king and princess seem to be loved by much of the people, the prince is not. And the king is rumored to be quite ill. And the country is run by the military at the moment. Though I’ve heard that the northern part of the country is not affected much by any of that.

Good Bye Chiang Mai

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So my Thailand visa ended on Dec 30th so my time in Thailand came to an end. I thought a lot about staying. I like Chiang Mai so much it’s hard to imagine finding any place I like more. However, my journey is just beginning, and there is just too much to see.

I can’t even describe how amazing my time there was. I met so many amazing people, and made many friendships that I think will last for a long long time. My perspective and world view has changed forever. I saw and experienced many great new things. But the thing I liked the most is something beyond any experience or person.

Being a digital nomad gives one a travel perspective that I think is quite unique. When you have the chance to develop a routine in a new place, you get to simply BE there. This sense of BEING transcends any sight you see or thing you do. You feel it when you drive a scooter on the sidewalk because you saw some Thai guy do it. You feel it when you walk home at night and the streets are all empty and quiet. You feel it when you go to the cheap corner Thai food place so regularly that you just have to nod to the lady there and she brings you your usual. You feel it when you realize how sad you are to leave because Chiang Mai has started to feel like home.

As great as it is to see the cool temples, visit Pai, and do all the other touristy things, I think that had I not done any of it, I would still look at my time in Chiang Mai as a total success. And as the first stop in what I hope will be a long fulfilling journey, Chiang Mai will always have a special place in my heart.