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

Day 7 photos

Harvesting rice
Rubber tree
Supper outside in HCMC
Tyler in a Cu Chi tunnel

Day 6

Today we started our day in Siem Reap, Cambodia and are ending it in Saigon, Vietnam!  We boarded our plane for the lengthy 45 minute flight to Saigon this morning at 10 am.  Upon arrival we were greeted by a lovely 31 degrees Celsius.  Once getting into the airport we needed to apply for a re-entry visa which took a little time, however it went faster than we all expected!  Saigon has a population of 8 million people making it busier than Northern Vietnam.  We were all very pleased to arrive at another amazing hotel, Harmony Hotel.  The major highlight of this hotel is the fact that the entire wall between the bathroom and the bedroom is made of glass.  None of us had ever experienced this before, so it was quite entertaining.  After arrival at the hotel we had a nice break before embarking on our adventure to the Ben Thanh Market.  In Vietnam the streets are very busy, so crossing is tricky.  Mopeds, cars, and buses line the streets from building to building so when crossing you must move at a slow enough pace so that they may maneuver around you.  We encountered this while following Thai to the market during rush hour traffic.  The Ben Thanh Market is the main market in the vicinity with over 10,000 visitors a day.  The goods sold here range from seafood to shoes.  It gave us yet another chance to try out our bartering skills.  After the market visit, we went to dinner at a local restaurant where we enjoyed yet another Vietnamese feast.  Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for our journeys tomorrow.​ 

Erin Christenson and Lea Puckett

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day 5

The warmer weather we were looking forward to arrived today. The temperature is above 90 degrees with high humidity. The weather did not stop us today as we had the opportunity to visit Ankor Wat and Angkor Thom, Buddist and Hindu temples that are the largest religious monuments in the world. These ancient temples were built in the 10th and 11th century. Angkor Wat housed one million people while Angkor Thom housed 20,000 people. It was difficult to wrap our mind around the population of Brookings living in this area. It was amazing to think of a bustling population 1000 years ago.  The temples in Angkor Thom are being restored because they were taken over by the jungle.  The temples in Angkor Wat were not taken over by the jungle because a population of monks took care of it, but have undergone some restoration.  The original temple color is red and when the sun would set the stone would have a golden look; in Thom some of the stone is still red.  In both of the temples the carvings were of the everyday life of the Khmer people; some of the other carvings were of wars.  The temples have four faces on the towers.  The stones of the carvings are made of sandstone. 

The Cambodian people have never forgotten that the temples existed, but it was the French who discovered the temples.  The French recorded the history of the temples.  On the carvings the scripture is written in a different language from the oral story telling tradition.  Justine loved all of it, "to best describe what we saw today, see attached pictures."  Rachel enjoyed the noises of the birds, monkeys, the trees, heat, and the music of the local people. 

We were privileged to visit a location where people from all around the world visit.  Tonight we are going to enjoy a traditional Cambodian dance show.   

Rachel Achen and Justine Meis​


Day 5 photos

Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat
Riding elephants
Lea and Lindsey
Many monkeys

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day 4

 We started our day at 8:45 this morning -  we got to sleep in! Our first stop was at the United States Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam. We talked to Michael Ward (please forgive him, he's a Packers fan from Wisconsin) and Mark Dries, who work for the USDA. We talked mostly about imports and exports between the United States and Vietnam. They complete very important work- build relationships, improve economic well-being of Vietnam, United States, Cambodia, and Laos. They work to resolve many issues for both countries. This year, 2015, marks the 20 year anniversary of Renormalization of U.S and Vietnam after the war, which started in 1995.  

 After visiting the Embassy, we visited one of the local Markets in Hanoi. This market had products such as pork, chicken, duck, dog, frogs, assorted fish, with assorted "offals" (intestines, feet, head), rice, all fresh and cooked on sight. Vietnamese people do not prefer frozen food, therefore they attend the market once a day to purchase needed foods.  

We walked the French Quarter and streets in Hanoi after dinner at the Five Spice Restaurant. The streets of Hanoi are indescribable; they are constantly full of people, motor bikes, and small scale shops (mom and pop shops). Each street has a theme; one street is food, the next is paper goods, hardware, steel, and so on. 

Towards late afternoon, we packed up and headed towards the airport. We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia at approximately 8:30 PM. Everyone is excited for the adventures to come. Now, we relax at the Tara Angkor Hotel to set out for another day tomorrow.

 Tyler Krcil and Lindsey Eliason



Day 4 photos

Wet market

Wet market

US Embassy staff
Erin, Alyssa and Selena

Monday, March 9, 2015

Day 3

"Today was another exciting day in Vietnam! We started off with a boat tour of Ha Long Bay. Upon arrival at the dock, we made our way down the slippery, steep steps that lead straight down into the water. It has been muggy and rainy due to winter, so they were extra slippery, but the crew was kind enough to help us into the boat.
During our cruise we were able to go up to the second level of the boat which was open with lounge chairs to sit on. From here, though, it is hard to describe the beauty and peacefulness of Ha Long Bay! Our boat went past some of the 1,969 islands that make up one of the seven wonders of the new world. Formed from limestone and covered in vines and other green foliage, these islands are uninhabited except by birds and small monkeys. Our pictures and words will not do it justice!
From our luxury cruiser, "The Junk 27", we transferred into smaller paddle boats that brought us through cave-like tunnels in the rock formations. The fog added a mystic aspect to the experience along with the singing of our guide.
Afterwards we got back onto The Junk 27 and headed to a floating fish farm. The floating fish farm was created out of rickety, old wooden boards that had been patched many times and looked as if they wouldn't be able to hold our weight, but we didn't fall through! The fish they raised consisted of horse shoe crabs, conga fish, shrimp, crab, squid, and various other seafood.
From there we headed out toward the Pacific Ocean to view the "Kissing Chicken" rock formation. It looked like a fish on one side and kissing chickens on the other. There were many other tourist boats in the area attempting to view the formation and, in trying to view the formation at the same time, we bumped into each other, startling all of us!
Afterwards we went down to the main floor to eat lunch, which consisted of the freshest seafood you will ever get! This tour was definitely the highlight of our day and will be hard to beat.
After leaving the bay, we went to Viet Pearl where we were educated on how pearl farms work as well as how to tell the difference between real and fake pearls (if you were curious, fake pearls will be damaged and burned easily while the damage to real pearls can be easily rubbed away by your finger).
After our one day in Ha Long, we began our bus ride back to Hanoi making only one more farm visit along the way. The vegetable farm was right off the side of the road and grew various vegetables and herbs, including: cilantro, lemongrass, coliander, lettuce, and mint. David even got to attempt watering the fields with a two-watering can system (which he wasn't very successful at).
The rest of the day was a peaceful bus ride through the Vietnam countryside. It was a unique experience that we got to visit a world-wide attraction but also got to view the parts of the Vietnam that are not usually overwhelmed with tourists. We're looking forward to immersing ourselves further into the unique culture of Vietnam tomorrow!​"

Day 3 photos

Graduate students Stephanie and Kaleigh

Herb garden
David watering

Hanoi, day 2

Happy Women's Day!  March 8th is a special holiday in Vietnam which honors wives and mothers.  We saw evidence of this last night when viewing the large amount of flowers for sale in streetside booths on our drive from the airport.  This is the one day of the year when Vietnamese men do the housework and mind the children (at least that's what our concierge told us). 

Everyone seems to be in good spirits today following our first full night of sleep after spending nearly 48 hours in airports and on airplanes.  Although we stayed in downtown Hanoi, a city of 7.5 million roosters could be heard crowing as we got ready for the day.  We boarded the bus and began the day with a trip to a farm that grows peach trees...but not for peaches.  The trees are groomed for flower production and are used by Vietnamese families during the new year celebration.  This is probably similar to the American tradition of Christmas trees although the peach trees are put in pots and rented out for $500-$700 per month.  Farmers can make approximately 20-30 times as much money per hectare growing peach trees versus the traditional crop of rice. 

After we left that farm we traveled to a vegetable farm and were able to see a wide variety of vegetables being grown as well as talk with the local farmer who lived there. He grew several different things  many of us had heard of including cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and kohlrabi but then we were able to see new things such as 'beetlegoot' which is like a large zucchini. Our tour guide, Thai, then brought us to his home village of Ben Trong where we saw some of the farming operation owned by his family.  We were able to get a taste of the daily life of a Vietnamese farmer by trying our hand at plowing behind a water buffalo or transplanting rice into a flooded patty. Dr Thaler tried plowing but instead ended up chasing a spooked water buffalo barefoot through a rice patty. 

Muddy but excited, Thai took us to his parents home where they had a large meal waiting for us which consisted of so many dishes it was hard to keep track of what we were eating. It consisted of different types of salad, vegetables, chicken, pork, beef, and spring rolls.  

After lunch, Thai brought us to his uncle's duck and hog farming operation.  It was interesting to see how animal production techniques differ from those used in our country.  Thai's uncle also owns a miniature combine on tracks that he uses to custom harvest rice for neighboring farmers. 

On the  walk back through the village, we saw several shops that manufacture paper deities, animals, and other trinkets which the Vietnamese people buy and burn, believing that these goods will be transferred to their deceased ancestors in the afterlife. 

As we continued walking through the village we stumbled upon a women's day celebration in the village community center building. They were happy to see us and the mayor thanked us for coming as we celebrated and danced to celebrate the national holiday. Soon after that we boarded the bus and traveled to Halong Bay.

It was a crazy and incredible, but long day and we are excited to see what tomorrow brings. 

In the words of the mayor: "Good luck,good health, and happy family!" from the Mithrin Hotel, Halong Bay, Vietnam!

Hanoi photos

Vegetable garden
 The market
Plowing rice patties with water buffalo
Rice patties
Duck production farm

Hanoi, day 1

We have arrived!! After an early morning flight from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City, most of the morning was spent in the airport waiting for our final flight to Hanoi.  Upon arrival in Hanoi, we were greeted by our guide, Thai.  From the airport, we headed to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.  Unfortunately,  this monument to one of Vietnam's national heros is closed in the afternoon, so we were only able to view the outside.  From there, we continued to the One Pillar Pagoda.  This pagoda was built by an early Vietnamese king for the Goddess of Mercy in thanks for the birth of his only son.  We finished out the day with a delicious meal at a local Vietnamese restaurant and are now getting some much-needed rest! ​ 

Stephanie Perkins and Alyssa Davis


One Pillar Pagoda

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Lichi fruit

Friday, March 6, 2015

Tokyo airport

Waiting three more hrs in Tokyo Airport before flying to Ho Chi Minh City and then to Hanoi.

In Tokyo

Hello everyone! 

We just wanted to drop you a quick line about how our travel has fared so far.  We made it to Tokyo safely!  Unfortunately, we missed our flight to Hanoi.  Our new itinerary involves a transfer to another airport in Tokyo, a flight to Ho Chi Minh City, and then a flight to Hanoi!  We won't make it to Hanoi until 3 PM local time.  That's 2 AM Central Daylight Time. 

Although we are disappointed at having our flight delayed, we are taking advantage of the time to see more of Tokyo.  Everyone is in good spirits and the people in Tokyo have been very nice and friendly!  We are all doing well and having a good time (even though we are all tired)! 

Hopefully the next time you read our blog we'll be in Vietnam!!
Michael Gonda

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Signing cards at O'Hare and in two hours off to Tokyo and Hanoi!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


SDSU Vietnam/Cambodia Ag Study Tour

(3/5/15 to 3/16/15)

Subject to Minor Changes

March 5         Thursday 

5:30 am Depart from North Animal Science parking lot  

March 6         Friday 

Arrive in Hanoi 10:25 pm
            Silk Queen Hotel

100 Hang Gai Str, Hoan Kiem Dist.

Hanoi, Vietnam

(+84 4) 3826 9898

March 7         Saturday 

Wholesale market & vegetable fields

Farm visit (ducks, fish, pigs)

Farm visit (fish, chicken)

Cultural visit with family 

Silk Queen Hotel 

March 8         Sunday 

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum

One Pliiar pagoda

Drive to Halong Bay on Pacific Ocean 

Mithrin Hotel

Hoang Quoc Viet Road, Bai Chay, Ha Long City,
Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
Tel: (84-33) 3848090

March 9         Monday 

4-hr cruise in Hlang Bay with Vietnamese food

Floating village

Vegetable farm

Silk Queen in Hanoi 

March 10       Tuesday 

Visit US Embassy & visit with Ag Consulate

Visit local food & vegetable market

A walking tour of Hanoi Old Quarter

6:00 pm fly to Siem Reap

7:40 pm arrive in Siem Reap

Go to hotel 

Tara Angkor Hotel

Vithei Charles de Gaulle, (Road to Angkor Wat)

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tel:   +855 (0)63 966 661

March 11       Wednesday 

Tour Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom

Buffet dinner with traditional Cambodian dance show 

Tara Angkor Hotel 

March 12       Thursday        

10:10 am fly to Ho Chi Minh City

11:30 am arrive in Ho Chi Minh City

Go to hotel

Visit Ben Thanh Market 

            Harmony Saigon Hotel

            32A-34 Bui Thi Xuan st, Dist.1,

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tel: (84-08) 39254 666/888

March 13       Friday 

Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Opera House

Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum

Chinatown, Binh Tay Market, Thein Hau pagoda 

Harmony Saigon Hotel 

March 14       Saturday 

Travel into the country

Boat trip on Mekong River

Tour floating fish farm on Mekong River

Visit coconut farms and orchid farms 

Harmony Saigon Hotel 

March 15       Sunday 

Travel into the country

Visit rubber plantation

Tour Cu Chi Tunnels 

Kim Do Hotel (Royal Hotel Saigon) 

March 16       Monday 

3:15 am leave hotel for airport

5:35 am  fly out of Ho Chi Minh City

8:43 pm arrive in Sioux Falls

10:00 pm  arrive in Brookings, North Animal Science parking lot