“Just a few more meters” I told myself as the tunnels seem to grow smaller and tighter with each turn. I have never felt claustrophobic before in my life, but I definitely did not enjoy crawling through those tiny tunnels. This experience really made me reflect on how life must have been for the soldiers who had stayed down in those tunnels for years.

The Cu Chi tunnels are located just under two hours from Ho Chi Minh, and are a system of tunnels that the Viet Cong used as their base to hide out and communicate during the war between Vietnam and the United States.   Not only was the network of tunnels intricate, with designs such as fake ant hills placed above tunnels to disguise air holes, but there were also many traps set up among the area.

There were a variety of different types of traps, many constructed out of bamboo with poison on the sharp ends of the bamboo sticks. Our guide told us in great detail about how if the soldier did not die from the impact of the fall, they would die slowly over the course of a few days as the poison seeped into their bodies.

Overall, however, the extremely humble way that the guide spoke about the war would not even alert one to the fact that the Vietnamese had been triumphant over the United States, if they did not know that before. He spoke highly of many of the US presidents and war veterans throughout his tour of the tunnels. Life was extremely difficult in the tunnels, with food and water being scare and infections easily developed due to the constant moistness in the tunnels after a rainfall. The soldiers were often forced to stay underground for days at a time, but would come up to go to the bathroom when possible as there were no bathrooms built in the tunnels. The creativity of the Viet Cong soldiers was impressive, and I am very glad I made the day trip out to see this remarkable piece of history.

Tourism of Nha Trang

By Miku Sato, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Have you heard of the name of the city, Nha Trang? Nha Trang is one of the most important tourist hubs of Vietnam and well known for its beautiful beaches with fine and clean sand and the clear ocean water. I went to Nha Trang with Semester at Sea’s impact program. It took an hour to get there from Ho Chi Minh City by plane.

Outside the airport, I immediately found that Nha Trang is in the middle of development because many new hotels and buildings were being constructed. As a part of the Semester at Sea program, I visited Nha Trang University to interact with local students. Most of the students I met there study tourism or English because Nha Trang largely relies on tourism industry. Some students study fishery because in the suburban areas around the city, the shipbuilding industry has developed and contributed significantly to the local economy. Fishery and services are also important to the city. I also had a chance to go to a beach with local students and the beach was near the university. Since our SAS program was an impact program, we cleaned litters on the beach to preserve the nature. However, the beach was very clean and I could not find litters very much. When I went to Waikiki beach in Hawaii, I could easily find litters anywhere on the beach. So I put up a question to the local students: Why is the beach so clean? They answered that they have a time to clean the litters up on the beach as a part of the class, and local people in Nha Trang know that they rely on the tourism industry, so they are conscious of the cleanness of the beach.

I had never heard of Nha Trang before I visited there. However, I thought Nha Trang should be more known by many people because Nha Trang is ready for welcoming more tourists. Why don’t you be one of the tourists? I am pretty sure that you will like that place!




Something Similar, but Not Identical


By Leslie Acta, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, how I loved you so. The second I felt the warm, humid air when stepping off the ship and on to the gangway I was pretty much gone for this country. As a Floridian living in Arizona, I was not a fan of freezing my butt off in China and Japan. Vietnam reminded me of the Caribbean, more specifically where my dad grew up in the Dominican Republic. And while the sensation of this completely foreign country feeling familiar to me stayed in the back of my mind the entire duration of my stay the actual experience differed near drastically.

 A couple of my friends and I spent the day with a local guide where she brought us to a location on the Mekong Delta where we spent the day trying local fruits and drinks, listening to the local villagers sing, and being able to peruse a market of locally made good. Granted, we were aware that this is where they bring in all their tourists but it is interesting to see a sneak peek into their traditional way of life.

 After that we spent some time in a small gondola like boat going down one of the delta’s canals. Then we were brought to a large Buddhist temple and were amongst the locals as they paid their respects to their Gods. An experience like this is something traditional that other places, like the Dominican Republic, tend to shy away from. And like I said, I know this was a very tourist orientated experience, but it is something I could not experience anywhere else in the world, really. So, as I recognize that the way the Vietnamese people and the people Dominican Republic live similar day to day lives, from their use of public space to their preference of using mopeds and motor bikes instead of cars, the countries historical cultures are of course drastically different than anything I have experienced before.

I will be back again and hopefully soon than later. I have so much more to discover! Has there ever been visited a location far from home that you have felt familiar in of just felt similar to somewhere else you have visited? Let me know in the comments below!


The murky Mekong Delta

By Kevin Coltrain, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

The Mekong Delta in Vietnam was different that I had originally expected.  Overall, it was a metaphor for the overarching theme I have noticed in this voyage in general: expect the unexpected.

 I went to two different locations in the Mekong Delta, Cai Be and Ben Tre.  They had many similarities, including: high boat traffic, brownish water, trash filled, and overfished.  I think the Mekong Delta will no longer be as populated as it is today for a few different reasons.  First, the area seems to be completely overfished.  When in the Cai Be region, in the middle of narrower canals, there were massive fishing nets that spanned at least 10 feet across.  These nets seemed to be every 50 yards in the canal that we were entering, and lasted as far as I could see.  In the Ben Tre region of the Mekong Delta, we experienced multiple fishing nets and traps as well.  We saw one gentleman placing multiple traps from his boat, in strategic locations against the riverbanks.  Also, at both locations, there were multiple people fishing on the riverbanks and on boats.  Next, the water was extremely dirty.  There was trash everywhere and even saw a dead animal floating in the water.  This pollution will have negative affects on the fish, people, water, and wildlife around the river.  Lastly, I think the high amounts of people living on the water itself will start to have negative impacts on new people entering the area.  Especially since the people who are there currently are diminishing the beauty and life around the Mekong Delta.  It brings up a debate whether anything can currently be done to save this area! If so, what can be done and how would the community


A peaceful escape ...


By Alex Abraham, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Vietnam’s Halong Bay was a breathtaking experience and something I will never forget. We arrived at roughly 1 PM and when we got there it was not hot like Ho Chi Minh, but a bit cool, almost chilly. The temperature combined with the layer of fog, gave the bay a level of mystique that left me with a sense of wonder. After a delicious lunch, we embarked on a canoe trip that was the highlight of my Vietnam adventure. We were so close to some of the cliffs, we could almost touch them. Each cliff had its own unique textures and shapes that made them feel unique, like they each had their own history. Eventually we arrived at a small fishing village. It was impressive how seriously the artisans took their craft. One woman had been taking pearls from oysters for almost 50 years! After several people in our party purchased some pearls we headed back to the boat. The ride back was one of the most peaceful experiences of my Semester At Sea trip. The water was silent, the cliffs quiet and no one said a word. When we finally got out of the canoe, I felt like I had been woken up from a dreamy trance and an almost out of body experience. Halong Bay was a beautiful place and gave me a sensation that I hope to replicate again on this trip. I wonder which other experiences, if any, will give me a feeling like this?

Cambodian Genocide Museum

By student, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

While in Vietnam, I was fortunate enough to go on a Semester at Sea program that also visited Cambodia. I wanted to visit Cambodia for a few reasons. One being because of the rich history the country offered. Now this country’s history isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Its recent history is filled with genocide and sorrow. The Khmer Rouge was the cause of this genocide that lasted from 1975-1979. I read the book “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung which is a true story based in this time period. I remember that after I read this book I wanted to visit Cambodia to see if the memory of this horror is being taught.

I had my hesitations about how well these sorrowful events would be displayed. Since the government is labeled as a Constitutional Monarchy, I was unsure about how the regime would display such a dark part of their country’s past. I know that their government is held on a stricter scale compared to Americas so my curiosity was fulfilled when we pulled up to the Tuolsleng Genocide Museum and walked in.

The museum was the converted school that the Khmer Rouge used to keep and torture their prisoners. You could walk through the barracks and see the pens where the prisoners were kept, what torture methods were used, and pictures of all of their victims. There were three buildings total in the museum with courtyards in the center to represent the few that survived and the ones that were lost. The government did not try to sugar coat this dark period of their history which was surprising and humbling to me.

I have always thought of Cambodia as this country with strict government rule who would only teach its citizens the remarkable things about the country. I applaud Cambodia and all of the other countries and cities that we are visiting/have visited on their ability to come to terms with the horrors that they have had and use that to educate the public so that maybe we will not repeat those mistakes.


The entrance sign to the Tuolsleng Genocide MuseumL.jpg


Ha Long Until I go Back to Vietnam?

By Adahli Trejo, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Upon arriving in Vietnam, the words Ha Long Bay were being tossed left and right around the ship. It seemed that everyone knew of this place and many planned on making the journey to the north of Vietnam in order to experience the beautiful Vietnamese scenery. I found it a little funny to me that so many people would be leaving the MV World Odyssey just to go aboard another ship. Nevertheless, I packed up my belongings and made the trip with three other friends. After three hours of flying and five hours of driving, we finally made it.

Our tour guide explained to us how Ha Long Bay was originally used by the colonizers purely for profit. Now, it is largely used for tourism purposes. The boat that we boarded was one of dozens that dotted the waters of the bay. From what I saw, all of the employees were local Vietnamese people managing the entire industry, which leads me to believe that they are benefiting largely from the employment opportunities.

As we sailed around the Bay, I noticed that there was an immense amount of waste being produced by the tug boats as well as the visiting tourists. The water was entirely polluted by oil and had an unnatural texture to it. There were also many pieces of plastic and other trash floating in the water. I don’t believe that this tourist attraction is environmentally sustainable.

There are far too many people and far too many boats in this small area for it to be maintained cleanly. I feel that although the scenery is very beautiful, the pollution will begin to deter people from visiting in the long run. I don’t believe that very many people will be inclined to visit a place that is cluttered with waste. I wonder how the Vietnamese will manage the accumulated waste and what measures they will take to sustainably maintain it?


Castaway in the Bay


By Christopher Goering, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

While in Vietnam, I visited Castaway Island, Ha Long Bay specifically in the Cat Ba National Park. Ha Long Bay is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and now I truly understand why.

What makes Ha Long Bay so special are the hundreds of karst limestone islands that rise straight out of the water like giant pins.  Ha Long Bay is best accessible by flying into Hanoi, then taking a bus ride about 2.5 hours to a 1 hour ferry ride to the biggest island, Cat Ba. Because of the extensive travel necessary to reach the bay and the necessity for a boat to experience the beauty, I suggest contracting with a tour company.

A group ofstudents and I enlisted a  company named  Vietnam Backpackers, for the Hostel’s Tour of the islands. I did not research whether VBH was owned by the Vietnamese or outside investors, but locals ran the hostel. VBH owns hostels all around the country and hosts some of the best tours. They cater specifically to the backpacking community in Vietnam, which is huge.

From my perspective the backpacker’s biggest expectations to travel cheaply and to experience the highlights of a destination in a comfortable manner without having to spend the money on unnecessary accommodations. I would advise that this tour was specifically geared for a younger crowd, as there were many adventurous sports and partying.  They guided us to their private island, Castaway, where there were beach bungalows, a small reception desk, tables, kitchen, and bathrooms. The island seemed to be sustainable and moderately self-sustaining. The buildings were crafted with wood or locally sourced brick, they utilized compost toilets and piles, had a solar farm, and ran generators only 4 hours a night. Although the island itself was sustainable, unfortunately, there was a lot of pollution in the bay due to locals dumping their trash into it.

This company, apart from the New Zealand and American based management teamemployed mostly Vietnamese people with 50% of them from around Ha Long Bay area. We stayed on the island one night.  The next day the guides took around Ha Long Bay by boat where they showed us most of the water and land formations such as caves and pass-throughs. Ha Long Bay is a truly beautiful area, a “can’t miss” even if you just have a short time in Vietnam.