Monday, March 16, 2015

Travel summary

​Xin chao! After eleven incredible days in Vietnam and Cambodia, and a few traveling mishaps, we are finally headed back to the United States. Needless to say, we've had some great experiences. From boating on Ha Long Bay to touring the Angkor Wat and Thom temples, we've had some adventures that will stick in our memories. We even tried some exotic foods (like rat, dog, and crickets) that we never would have otherwise.

Over the past two weeks we have learned more than we ever could have in a classroom. In particular, the farm tours that we were able to go on were very enlightening. It's amazing to compare the U.S. and Vietnamese agricultural production systems and realize how much the Vietnamese people are able to accomplish despite their lack of technology.

Not only was this an educational experience, but we also had the chance to immerse ourselves in Vietnamese culture. This included tours of their markets and perfecting our bartering skills with the shopkeepers. We experienced a wide variety of delicious local foods and were able to view the beautiful sights of Hanoi and Saigon through walking tours. Somehow we survived dodging the crazy drivers and became experts at crossing the streets!

This trip has been a great combination of agriculture and cultural visits. We've had an incredible experience this spring break and have become a close group as we navigated our way across the world and back. It's sad to leave, but we're happy to be coming home!

Selena Yakabe and Stephanie Perkins

Homeward bound

We had a minor hiccup on our way back to the USA from Viet Nam.  Our flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong (first leg of the return trip) was cancelled.  We won't be able to catch a flight home until tomorrow morning Viet Nam time.  We are all scheduled to arrive into Sioux Falls on March 17th in the evening. 
Dr. Michael Gonda

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Day 9

Today several of us had the opportunity to attend a church service in the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.  The individuals who did not go to church went to the War Remnants Museum.  The museum had a lot of artifacts from the war.  In front of the museum are several huge planes and tanks.  You don't realize how big they are until you're standing next to them.  The inside is filled with information about the war including various guns and Agent Orange. 

After church and the museum we stopped at the Saigon Central Post Office.  It took approximately five years (1886- 1891) for the large sunshine yellow building to be completed.  Inside the post office were individual booths people used to make phone calls.  Interestingly you can still call people around the world!  Thank goodness we have cell phones! 

After the post office we went for another wonderful meal.  This time we ate at the Co Ngu Restaurant.  We enjoyed spring rolls, beef with green pepper sauce, bread, fried chicken with lemon grass and chili, mixed vegetables, fried fish fillets with tomato sauce, steamed rice and fresh fruits.  Everyone is getting really good with their chopsticks!

Next we visited the Reunification Palace, formerly known as the Independence Palace.  This isn't actually the original palace; the first one was built by the French in 1868 for the governor of Indochina.  In the 1960s, when Vietnam existed as two countries, this served as the home of the South Vietnam president.  The palace has lots of rooms open for the public to see.  Everything is still decorated like it was in the 60s.  One room had pea green carpet!  Can you believe they even had a cinema room?!  We didn't get a chance to see the upstairs party room or the helicopter landing pad, but everything we did see was very ornately decorated. 

Tonight is our last night in the country.  We hope to venture to the market one more time to pick up any last minute souvenirs and get a few hours of shut eye before our 3 am flight home.

Kaleigh Kerns and David Cook 

UPDATE:  Since this blog post was written, our flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong was cancelled.  We are working on rescheduling our flights and will get back to you with more information shortly.  Everyone is fine; although we're anxious to get home, we're still in very good spirits. 



Day 9 photos

Bob and John

Justine, David and Tyler

Outside Notre Dame Cathedral

Reunification Palace

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Day 8

What a beautiful, sunny day on the Mekong River! We started out at 8:00 am down the bumpy roads of Saigon towards the Mekong River Delta where we took a boat to one of the river's four major islands. Apparently they have farms out there! They grow cocoa, pineapple, jack fruit, coconut, bananas, water apples, and a bunch of other fruit. They even have 13 different varieties of orchids.
Once on the first island, we were treated to local music, a variety of fruits, and tea. They also have honey bees on the island, which are supposed to be friendly but actually ended up stinging our tour guide on the eye! Ouch! Though maybe not so friendly, the honey bees did produce some pretty great honey. The tea prepared for us contained honey, pollen from the honey bee flowers, kumquat, and green tea. The tea was served with peanut and banana chips that were also pretty delicious. It was here that we also had the opportunity to hold a snake (and many of us did). After we left the island we took tuk-tuks through the coconut trees and eventually stopped for lunch where you'll never guess what we ate.
Today was a very special occasion (today Lindsey turned 22), so to celebrate we ate rat...oh, and some birthday cake, too. Apparently this is the first time in thirteen years of doing tours that Thai (our tour guide) has convinced his group to try eating this "treat". Thai says he likes rat better than chicken...that's debatable. However, when in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do. You have to live a little and be an adventurous eater every now and then!
After lunch we went on paddle boats to our main boat and drank fresh coconut milk straight from the coconut. The boat guide cracked the coconuts open for us so we could eat the coconut "meat" as well, yum! We quickly stopped off at a floating fish farm and then found our way back to land. That was the majority of our day, and now, we are headed back to Saigon where we are free for the night! I know a lot of us are craving some pizza, or just American food in general, and some of us may even go to the night market to work on our bartering skills. Here's to another great day in Vietnam!

Amos and Selena

Day 8 photos

Amos and Rachel

Cally and Justine


Coconut farming

Lindsey's birthday cake
Mekong River
Relaxing on the river cruise
Riding a tuk-tuk
Row, row, row your boat
Stephanie playing music

Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 7

We began the day by traveling out of Ho Chi Minh City. Our first stop was a rice field at harvest time. Some students and faculty had the opportunity to cut the rice with a tool similar to a small scythe. The lady in the field had a big smile on her face as we attempted the work she does.  

Our next stop was a rubber tree planation. The average size of a farm is about one hectare. The tree is stripped of its bark and tapped like a maple tree for its sap. Farmers are converting land to rubber trees because they can make up to 7 times the profit compared to rice due to high input costs for rice.  

After the rubber tree plantation we ate lunch outside next to a stream watching ducks and a plant called water hyacinth float by. We enjoyed the meal as well as throwing rice chips to the ducks.  

Shortly after lunch we visited a family dairy that milked 12 cows. They owned one milk machine and milked in a stanchion barn. The cows ate rice stalks, feed meal, and a rice by-product similar to corn distillers grain. Unlike most families, this one does not own enough grazing pasture to let them outside so they stay in the stanchion barn tied up by a rope.  

Now, onto the most interesting place of the day, the Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels were used by the Vietnamese against the American troops to avoid the frequent bombings. These tunnels were created up to 10 meters below in as many as three levels. The Vietnamese would live underground for days at a time to avoid detection by American troops. Later on in the tour some students were allowed to shoot some of the battle rifles as well as crawl through a 100 meter section of the tunnel. The tunnels were probably about 4 feet tall by 2 feet wide so they were a tight squeeze to say the least.  

To end the day we travelled back into the city to eat supper at another outdoor restaurant. Tonight we plan to explore the night market and other attractions of the city.  

Tyler Krcil and Justine Meis