Monday, December 05, 2011

Backpacker: Experience in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

It’s my second time to travel alone in a country I’ve never been into. I chose Vietnam for its simplicity and historical richness. But purposely, I just wanted to explore new culture and test my faith in travelling by solitude. With my backpack, I travelled with just enough resources but believing in the limitless grace and abundance of God. I carried in my heart the hope and excitement of discovering the mystery of what they call the “unknown,” unlocking the secrets of uncertainty which somehow scares those who live in comfort zones, like I do.

I have zero knowledge of the place aside from the information I rushed surfing over the internet. With less than three hours of flying in the dark sky, our arrival was a total relief. I made it! I landed into a place so strange and promising I could hardly express my feeling. I went on the usual process of queuing my passport to the immigration section. No questions asked, no problem encountered, so far so good, I thought.

But the worst thing happened to me! I was about to fall in line at the airport’s money changer when I discovered something’s missing. I lost my wallet! I was hundred percent sure it was just on the pocket of my cargo pants, but I couldn’t find it. I felt numb, and began to panic. I have just arrived but I wanted to go back home! Lord, help me! I couldn’t remember how many times I prayed to the Lord for rescue. The feeling was indescribable. Everything was in my wallet. I felt so poor.

I proceeded to the lost and found section and asked for assistance. Language barrier came in but I tried to communicate in the best way I can to relay my concern. The lady staff was kind enough to assist me and told me to just wait while she’s coordinating with the airport’s security. While waiting, I remembered Dr. Son, a friend I met at EAGC in Hong Kong. We were in constant communication via email prior to my travel, and I decided to call him even at unholy hour. Dr. Son was accommodating enough to listen to me, but I could sense he didn’t know what to do as well. While talking to him, somebody from the airport security came in with my wallet in his hand! Praised God! They found it inside the aircraft. I literally uttered halleluiahs many times. I thanked Dr. Son for accepting my call and told him I’d love to see him the next day. I thanked the staff, the airport security. I found a friend in Ho Chi Minh City. God remains my confidence.

I exchanged my money for Vietnam Dong. I rode a taxi and went on to a decent hotel where I could rest. It was about 2am, one hour behind Philippine time. Rest mode!

I woke up early, excited to explore the city. I started my day communing with God. It was almost a thanksgiving prayer, with some petitions for safety and enjoyment. This time, I learned my lesson. I left some money at the hotel room, just expecting the worse, and roamed around the city with just my camera bag strapped in me. And I began my journey in full liberty and thrill.

(Dian ako sumakay :) )
Like a usual traveler, I went to war museums, the old seat of government, statues, restaurants, old temples, parks, market, shopping area and other outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City in one day. I haven’t really explored the entirety of Saigon, but I guess that’s enough for the meantime. I said to myself, I would go back soon to explore other parts of Vietnam, particularly the countryside where natural wonders are located. It would be happier if I have companyJ

Two thumbs up for the food in Vietnam! I’m not into using chopstick, but tried my best as their food were just irresistible. Aside from being delicious, I bet most native foods are good for the healthJ

It’s good thing I found delight in walking. Thanks for the map as well, it complemented my instinct to locate where I stayed. I also enjoyed the night walk, like what I always do in Baguio City, Philippines. Saigon at night was generally safe and peaceful, except for the thought of being bumped by the reigning motorcycles almost everywhereJ

Sleeping is another self delight. But it was a cold night for me, literally. I could hardly sleep, thinking the peculiarity of the adventure I got into. In my heart, I was convinced to believe that finding solace in solitude was possible. Although I also believed that there’s no greater comfort if accompanied by people closest to your heart. And God is my comforter after all. The words in Psalms 71: 20-21 affirmed this truth, “Though you made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”

The next day was intended for corporate worship. I decided to attend the service in Dr. Son’s church. He was very kind to fetch me at the hotel, and we travelled for more than 30 minutes thru a motorcycle.

I didn’t understand the service since there’s no translation. But Doctor Son tried his best to provide keywords for me to grasp what the pastor was teaching. The message was about being careful with SIN. Indeed, there is no foreign language that God cannot understand, and there’s no other gospel other than that of Christ (Gal. 1:8-9) which I couldn’t relate to.

 After the service, we ate together in a Vietamese restaurant. There I tried to taste their fried spring roll, their usual food. For my whole Vietnam tour, I survived eating noodles, noodles, and noodlesJ Aside from the food, I was also blessed to see Dr. Son’s wonderful family. I was inspired to witness their simple living. I just smiled when he asked me when I would get marriedJ. I just said I would let him know. I praised God for the time we’ve met. Thanks for the friendshipJ.

After which, I did my last itinerary! I went to Ben Thanh Market to buy some stuff for pasalubong. I went back to the busy and lively place of Pha Ga Num to buy a jacket, the only item I bought for myself. Everything else was reserved for family and friends back home. I tried my best to haggle for the best priceJ

My energy was consumed exhaustively by walking and walking and walking. I went back to the hotel for short sleep. But I found myself watching HBO instead. I even tuned in to my cell phone for background music but couldn’t help either. I was prompted to pray, give thanks to the Lord for everything that He has done. I praised God for the scariest moment I have ever experienced (lost and found wallet), and the simplest opportunity of being reunited with a friend I met almost two years ago. Somehow, I felt guilty for being insensitive to the calling of my Creator for intimate communion. But I still praised God because He showed me his love, grace and mercy afresh.  

In my prayer, I realized it is good to travel alone. Solitude brings focus, sense of purpose, and independence. But I also believe that I’d be happier if I travel with a company: family, friend, or a special someone. I cherished moments with myself and with God, and I am looking forward to lavishing moments with someone someday.

I wish I could have more time to stay and visit other places in Vietnam. I haven’t seen the half of it. And I desire to be back someday, and that time I’ll be more prepared and excited to bless others and be blessed as wellJ