Land of the Dragon

by Female Abroad

Whatever you are looking for, you will find it in the land of the Dragon (i.e. Cambodia & Vietnam) and during your hunt you are sure to be taken on an unforgettable journey. Now if you know nothing about the history of this area or why I keep calling it the “Land of the Dragon” let me fill you in a bit. In Vietnam’s history, all of the people are descended from Lạc Long Qun known as Dragon Lord and Immortal Fairy. As the story goes, they had 100 children, of which 50 lived with their mother in the mountains and the other 50 lived with him in the sea. It also helps when the area is slightly shaped like a Dragon as well. For example, if you start in Hanoi and then head north towards the sea to catch the tail of the descending dragon. Keeping with the story, Halong Bay and its 989 islands are said to have been created by a family of dragons to help protect the Vietnamese from the Chinese.

Found in the belly of the dragon, Ho Chi Minh, is a city that is full of vibrancy and is extremely hard to imagine as a small fishing village like it originally started off as. Stepping off the plane, the smell hits you; it is warm, welcoming, spicy, and a bit like hot garbage but as I spent time in both Cambodia and Vietnam I would quickly learn that these countries are a mixing pot that features highs with lows that some how work together. As I continued on and exited the airport the heat hit me. Even at 1am Vietnam is super warm but as I was exhausted I did not realize until 8am exactly how hot the mornings could get. It was also this morning that I quickly learned that unless you are looking to do something touristy, you really wouldn’t be able to tell there were any wars in either country.

The noise was the second sense that hit me. With 8 million people and almost half of them using motor bikes in the city, not only the traffic but the noise they make is something that I was not used to. In the morning you will find families taking their kids to school while precariously balanced on the back and front of the bike before the parents go to work or head back to the farms. You may also notice that farmers markets setup super early (some at 3am) and close up early or stay all day until they are sold out of their goods.

If you continue towards the Mekong Delta to the Nine River Dragon Delta, you will find the feet, arms, and claws of the dragon. As soon as you leave the city you will be surprised to find tranquil rice paddies and random little roads that snake off from the highway, into more paddies or forests. Here you will also see old carts pulled by horses, rice laid out on front lawns to dry, grave stones in the fields, and rubber trees with sap seeping into bowls. It is hard to imagine the Viet Cong running around the city but as you move away, it starts to become easier and easier to imagine.

Once at the Mekong it is quite surprising to know that it starts in Vietnam at the Delta and then continues through Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, to the Tibetan Plateau at one end then it ends in China at the South China Sea. Not missing a heartbeat, the locals in the area know how important the Mekong actually is so you will find people living on or by the river. Here they’ll fish, wash, and play. The floating markets feature hundreds of boats with everything you could image and even things you could not for sale. These are also who the local hotel and restaurants purchase their daily goods from by yelling their orders from the shore.

Heading back to the Vietnam / Cambodian boarder, you will find the back of the dragon. Cambodia deserves its own article but when describing the dragon, you just cannot skip over it.