The GoGlobal Blog

Month: November 2012

From Tourists to Truffles: A Trip to Pisa and San Miniato

From Tourists to Truffles: A Trip to Pisa and San Miniato

It’s funny how diverse Italy can be. One minute you’re standing in front of the Colosseum and by simply turning a few streets you can end up in a tiny little restaurant where the food is authentic and no one speaks English. And that’s how all of Italy is. One second you find yourself in the middle of a tourist trap and the next second you’re in the heart of Italian culture. It was because of this that my trip to Pisa and San Miniato, a tiny town about 30 minutes away from Pisa, was so exciting.

Pisa was beautiful. We shamelessly took a million pictures in front of the tower to get just the right one before climbing up to the top. The view over the city was breathtaking and terrifying (thank God for the huge fence around the top!) After climbing back down and seeing the Duomo (it’s starting to seem like EVERY town in Italy has a Duomo!) we headed back to the train station to make our way to San Miniato.

Let me explain why we were heading to San Miniato. In Italy, towns hold these festivals called Sagras, which are seasonally based around the food of the town of region that they’re hosted in. I had been dying to go to one since arriving in Italy, being the foodie that I am. So when we decided to go to Pisa we thought going to a sagra nearby would be a fun way to get out of our comfort zone and see a more authentic side of Italy. A quick Google search later and we had our destination: The San Miniato Truffle (tartufo in Italian) Sagra.

The San Miniato Sagra is centered mostly around the white truffle, which is grown in the region. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia definition:  The “white truffle” or “Alba madonna” (Tuber magnatum)can also be found in Italy in Molise and in the hills around San Miniato, in Tuscany. Growing symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech and fruiting in autumn, they can reach 12 cm diameter and 500 g, though are usually much smaller. The flesh is pale cream or brown with white marbling. Italian white truffles are very highly esteemed and are the most valuable on the market.

So, needless to say, we were very excited to try these amazing truffles. When we arrived in San Miniato we were surprised with what we found. We left the train station and walked into a deserted town. After hopping into a tabacchi and asking about the sagra (in broken Italian) he told us to get on a bus and the driver would take us there. Understand, we’re not even sure if we translated what he said correctly. For all we know he could have told us, “Take this bus to the middle of Tuscany and go work on a pig farm for a week.” But, in the spirit of adventure, we hopped on the bus and trusted that we would end up someplace interesting.

The bus took us up the side of a mountain into the old part of town. The streets were packed. Everyone from the town was there and the roads were lined with people chatting in Italian, children running around, and men walking by with huge wheels of cheese (you can’t make this stuff up). The fact that an hour before we had been in one of the most well known cities in Italy and suddenly were in the middle of this tiny town where no one spoke any English was the coolest thing ever. It challenged us to use everything we had been learning in Italian 101 and fully immerse ourselves into the culture and feel of the town.

Through the town there were huge tents set up with vendors inside selling truffle infused EVERYTHING. Truffle infused meat, truffle infused olive oil, cheese, spread, and even wine! All the vendors were giving out samples and we were able to sample our way through the town. Soooooo delicious! Every stand was donned with boar heads, wheels of cheese, huge blocks of chocolate, and literally barrels of wine. By the end of the night we were stuffed with amazing food and a feeling of closeness and authenticity that you can’t get in a big city. I would have to say that San Miniato was one of my favorite trips this semester, and I am DEFINITELY putting it on my list for possible locations for my future villa in Tuscany!

Top Ten Ways to Bargain in Firenze’s Leather Market

Top Ten Ways to Bargain in Firenze’s Leather Market

I have a confession. I’m a sucker for leather. Real, fake, black, brown, even the sight of white patent leather go-go boots gets my heart racing. From the smell to the feel I can’t get enough of it. Of course, on my college budget, most of my leather is actually pleather and is bought at H&M. But when someone suggested going to Florence (Firenze in Italian) for a day trip to see the David, Duomo, and the leather markets I knew it was time to make an investment. And thus my search for black, real, florentine leather boots began. So now, as a Go Global exclusive, I will reveal my top secret ways to bargain in Firenze’s Leather Market.

Before entering the market discuss a game plan with your travel companions. What are each of you looking for, how much are you willing to spend, etc. Shopping through the leather market takes a full team effort. Make sure to also establish each other’s roles in the bargaining scenario (discussed later in this post).

Walking through the Leather Market. That's me in the trenchcoat!

Go in with a budget in mind and stick to it like your life depends on it. Only want to spend 50 euro on a purse? Refuse to let yourself go above that.

Bring cash in smaller bills (5s and 10s). A lot of the vendors take credit cards but as soon as you flash that card they assume that the sky’s the limit. Also, if you already have cash on you you won’t be as tempted to hit the ATM to splurge on that fabulous leather coat you just need. Trust me, you don’t need it.

Don’t settle. There must be hundreds of these tents selling every kind of purse, coat, and etc that you could want. Scan the market thoroughly and make sure you are getting exactly what you want.

Once you have your eye set on an item act generally disinterested in it. Look it over, put it down, ask your friend about it, don’t be too sure. But DO hang around the stand so that the vendor can see that you might want something. Once he comes over the game begins.

If you know any Italian, speak it. Even though most of the vendors barely speak Italian themselves it will show them that you aren’t just a stereotypical silly American that they can scam.

While maintaining a look of disinterest ask him how much it is (“Quanto costa?” in Italian). He’ll say his highest price. Act outraged. Then, mentally, figure out the 3/4ths cost of what he said (for example, if he said 100 euro figure 75 euro). if that 3/4ths price is above your budget then walk away, as this number will most likely be close to what you actually pay for the item. If it’s too much walk away immediately and don’t look back (no matter how many times he yells “bella, bella, come back” at you). If that is still in your price range then the the game continues.

Insist that the item is not worth that much. Examine it CLOSELY (even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s all for show) and offer him half the price (depending on the item). He will act just as outraged as you were in the beginning and will tell you about the quality of the leather, how this would sell for millions in the store, etc. Don’t blink an eye.

As soon as he mentions the quality of the leather hold the item out to him and say “Hold a flame to it.” Real leather will not burn while fake leather will. If he does not immediately whip out a lighter to show you and instead begins to stall offer him a lighter to do the job (make the investment to have one on you). If he continues to stall walk away, the leather is fake.

If he lights it, it doesn’t burn, and still maintains that delicious leather smell then you may continue. Now you’re in quite deep into the exchange. He wants your money and your heart has probably fallen in love with the item. At this point begin to look slightly more interested in the item.

This is one of the most crucial steps in the process. Throughout the proceeding steps have your friend that’s with you (be it your husband, girl friends, or sassy gay friend) look completely disinterested and bored in your purchase. Have them be a little huffy, complaining that they’re hot/cold/tired/hungry and just want to leave. At this point turn to that friend and ask them what they think. They should glance at it and say something just insulting enough (It’s fine/looks kinda cheap/don’t you already own something exactly like that). Agree with them while looking lovingly at the item. At this point turn to the vendor and offer a price slightly higher than your originally 50% price (using our 100 euro example this would be the time to offer them 60 euro). They will most likely refuse.

At the point say something about how much you like it but can’t afford it. Now, BEGIN TO WALK AWAY. If he’s willing to offer you the 3/4ths price the vendor will call you back. If he’s not he won’t. Chances are though that he will begin to shout something like “Oh bella come back bella 85 euro, bella, 85!” Return to the vendor.

At this point begin to flirt with him a little. In the end, being nice will get you a lower price than being a jerk.

Tell him a slightly higher price (think 65 – always go up or down in increments of 5). Then start to tell him all the reasons you shouldn’t but it. Tell him that’s all the money you have (if you say this then make sure you have small enough bills to convince him that this is true), that you need to buy dinner tonight, etc. I found that by simply telling the vendors that I was a college student they would lower the price, because they knew that I actually had a budget to stick to. Say anything (WITHOUT SOUNDING DESPERATE) to get him to lower the price.

At this point prices will be shouted out faster and he will drop is smaller increments (85 to 82 to 81, for example). Don’t let this intimidate you. If your budget is 75 euro then let your final offer be 70 euro. Let the vendor be the one to say the final price (in this case 75). Sign, look over the item, think pensively (at this point he might even lower the price more if he can tell he’s almost at a sale!) After a bit of this look at him and say “I’ll take it.”

All these tips worked for me! I was even able to bargain better than my tips, getting a pair of 130 euro boots down to 70! Definitely my favorite Italian purchase yet!

Final days in Vietnam

Final days in Vietnam

This weekend I was in a different world, perhaps one you could have seen on the Discovery Channel.  Our last project in Environmental Science was a presentation on the “Cloudy Forest,” commonly know as the Ta Kou Nature Reserve, located in Binh Thuan province about 120km outside of Ho Chi Minh.  Our ‘team,’ made up of 4 girls, one professor, and two quirky park rangers, spent two days and two nights hiking, laughing, searching for langurs and night animals, as well as identifying the park’s dense biodiversity of flora and other fauna.

To many people in the surrounding provinces, Ta Kou is nothing more than a tourist destination.  In 2003 the Binh Thuan tourism company installed a cable car that has since carried 200,000 people annually up the mountain to view the longest laying Buddha in Southeast Asia.  In reality, the park is much more.  It is a gem of biodiversity that has been greatly affected by the overexploitation of its forest resources.  Many trees have been unsustainably logged or tapped for their valuable resin, plants have been rapidly rooted for their medicinal purposes, and animals have been poached for food and medicinal purposes as well.  Despite its small area of 11,000 hectares, the park is home to over 450 animal species (94 being birds) and over 1,000 vascular plant species.  Many species in the park are still undiscovered. Lack of education surrounding the park as well as funding for preservation put the park at great risk.  Many plants and animals are currently endangered.

Although there are many environmental concerns to think about at Ta Kou, I still felt a high being a top the mountain.  On the first full day, our team woke up at 6 am to climb boulders and sit beneath a fig tree, viewing langurs through binoculars from afar. We were lucky enough to catch a few feeding, playing, and jumping from tree to tree.  We also hiked two peaks and shared great meals together.  The land below was covered with dragon fruit farms.  At night the fields were lit with light bulbs to increase plant growth.  The twinkling lights were captivating, and I could have sat outside for hours. I could not have imagined a better weekend in Vietnam.  I saw many things I never pictured would be viewed in my lifetime.  My favorite find was triangular spider with a yellow back!

With only two weeks left in Vietnam, I cannot help but feel sentimental.  Every other day I look at old photos and realize how much fun I have had.  I only hope I was able to convey some of the excitement of my travels through this blog.  I realize now that Vietnam was a good choice for my study abroad experience.  Here you have everything from political controversy to environmental debates to globalization to traditional Vietnamese customs to rich landscapes.   I know now that I would do it all again if I could.

This may very well be my last post from the guesthouse in Ho Chi Minh City.  I will spend my last week visiting Oanh’s hometown, celebrating my 21st birthday, writing final papers, buying last minute Christmas gifts, and saying my farewells to many new friends (and I probably will eat all of my favorite dishes and baked goods too).  Then on December 10th I will travel to Bangkok with Kate and Ariana.  We will spend five days in Thailand.   Expect a long post with copious photos from that trip!  I can hardly wait to eat curry for five days, my favorite!

**Due to slow internet connection I couldn’t upload photos from the Mountain–> check them out on the Flikr stream in the bottom right corner of the page)

Xin Chao for now,


North and Central Part 3

North and Central Part 3

After our time in Hoi An we flew to Hanoi to finish up our trip. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country’s second largest city. It is also an incredibly beautiful, hectic and overwhelming city. We live in Saigon, which is chaotic by any standards, but Hanoi makes Saigon look tame. The city is built around the old quarter, which has maintained  the original street layout and architecture of Old Hanoi. The streets are so narrow and every inch is filled with shops and residences. The streets are filled with motorbikes, which is nothing new to us coming from Saigon. However, we determined that it seems so much more chaotic because there is so much less space in the streets!

We visited some significant sites in Hanoi. We saw Ho Chi Minh’s body, a shocking sight for sure. I wasn’t aware that we would be viewing the actual body, I thought we were simply visited his mausoleum. We also visited the Temple of Literature, which was built in 1070 and held Vietnam’s first university. It is dedicated to Confucius and it was interesting to see all the university students that still flock there to take photos during graduation and walk through the symbolic gate of virtue.

After leaving the chaos of Hanoi, we headed east to Ha Long bay. Ha Long bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes, over 1,969 in all. We spent four hours cruising around these beautiful and massive cliffs, stopping to visit the largest cave in Vietnam. The entire trip was wonderful, I learned so much and it was amazing to see for myself the historical sites we had been discussing all semester. I’m glad to be back in Saigon!

Photos at:

North and Central Part 2

North and Central Part 2

Our next stop on the trip was Hoi An. This quickly became my favorite city in Vietnam. Hoi An is an ancient town and a former trading port during the 15th-19th C. It is filled with beautiful, ancient buildings and the town is an official UNESCO World Heritage site.  The town itself is beautiful, the old quarter is built along a river and the streets are lined with beautiful shops (mainly tailors and restaurants). It is a shopper’s paradise; there are over 300 tailors in Hoi An, specializing in making custom clothes in less than 24 hours. My original plan was to have one jacket made; this immediately spiraled into a jacket, two pairs of shorts, a beautiful custom-made dress and a pair of shoes. It’s hard to say no!

After the first day of non-stop shopping, we shifted our focus again to the academic side of things. Following a walking tour of Hoi An, including a visit to the oldest house in Hoi An, we head to My Son ruins. Mỹ Sơn is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa. We also took a cooking class and learned to make the traditional Northern Vietnamese foods that we all loved. Although I wasn’t particularly helpful, it was a ton of fun!

Our last day in Hoi An was spent wandering around the city, swimming in our hotel’s pool (such treat!) and picking up our tailored clothing. The highlight of our time in Hoi An was certainly the time spent at the My Son ruins. Although it did not have the splendor or size of Angkor Wat, it was still incredibly impressive and beautiful.

Photos at:

North and Central Part 1

North and Central Part 1

When I was trying to choose where I wanted to study abroad, one of the big influences for choosing Vietnam was the trip we were taking to the Central and Northern regions. I had been waiting all semester for this, and not just because it was a 9-day break from classes!

We started our trip before the sun came up on Thursday morning. The upshot to this was that I had the chance to see Saigon before the city really came alive. It is so beautiful in the morning! Calm and quiet with eerily empty streets, I was reminded why I love this city. We had a long day ahead of us, 8 hours on the train to our first stop: Nha Trang! This was our second visit as a group to Nha Trang, we had visited our first weekend in Vietnam, which in reality was only 3 months ago, but truly feelings like a lifetime. A beautiful beach town on the central Vietnam coast, Nha Trang is definitely my favorite place to relax in Vietnam. Beautiful beaches and cabanas on the beach (that can be rented for $1!!), it certainly didn’t feel like school.

After our two beautiful and relaxing days on the beach, we boarded the train once again, this time for the longest continuous leg of our journey: a 12-hour train ride to Hue.

I have to say, our train ride may have been my favorite part of the entire trip. It was cramped and ridiculous and the “soft-sleepers” were anything but soft, but it still managed to be enjoyable. Even when a screaming Vietnamese woman moved her five cages of birds into our tiny train compartment! It is always an adventure in Vietnam! We rode through the countryside and through the mountains, often with an ocean view. I am always shocked at how peaceful the landscape of the countryside is, contrasted with the chaos of the cities.

Our activities in Hue were very history-dense, much more academic than Nha Trang! Thanks to my Vietnamese History class that I’ve been taking this semester, I found our visits to the Imperial Citadel and Thu Duc and Khai Dinh’s tombs to actually be quite fascinating. Emperor Thu Duc’s tomb was fascinating and morbid. Thousands of Vietnamese soldiers were forced to build his tomb and then decapitated so that no one would know the true location of Thu Duc’s body (to prevent anyone from digging up the body)! We also saw the beautiful Thien Mu Pagoda and afterward returned to Hue by boat down the Perfume river!

Hue was beautiful and holds an immense amount of historical significance for the country of Vietnam. It was the imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty and after learning extensively about the Nguyen Dynasty all semester, I’m glad I got to see it for myself!

Pictures at:

Paris and Orvieto

Paris and Orvieto

Paris has been my favorite weekend trip thus far- I can’t even put to words how much I enjoyed it! We woke up the first morning bright and early to walk to Notre Dame Cathedral- only 5 minutes from our hotel! We walked up the 400+ steps to the top and saw some amazing views of Parisian landscape. We then passed by the Louvre, and walked to the Champs Elysees. One of the highlights of my trip was Lauduree- the world famous Macaron store on Champs Elysees. I’ve been dreaming about visiting Lauduree for years, and never thought I would be able to go there myself! We finished the day by walking to the Arc de Triomphe and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Even though it was a bit rainy, what better city is there to be rained on than Paris?

On our second morning, we visited Le Sacre-Coeur and Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately, tickets to see a show at Moulin Rouge cost upwards of 100 euros! We later walked to a small town center with lots of artists painting cityscapes. They were gorgeous pieces of art, but expensive! We stopped by a crepe stand for a nutella and banana crepe (amazing) and headed back to our hotel before going out for a nice dinner.

On the last morning of our short trip, I decided it would be fun to explore a less touristy part of Paris. Le Marais is a historic district and Jewish neighborhood full of adorable boutiques and unique pastry shops. It was a delightful experience, but too short, as we had to catch our flight back to Rome in the afternoon.

I missed Paris the second we got on our plane, and wish I could have spent more than a couple days there! The architecture is incredible- every street looked like it could be photographed and framed. Just the experience of seeing the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees up close, and truly believing that I was in Paris, of all places, was magnificent.

This past weekend I decided Thursday night to venture with a friend on Friday to the town of Orvieto, which is about an hour and a half train ride outside of Rome. The town is basically up a small mountain, and you have to take a ride similar to a ski lift up to the top! Orvieto is renowned for its wine and the only gothic cathedral in all of Italy. It was well worth the three euros to view the inside of the duomo- the main part of the building is horizontally striped! Every inch of the interior had exquisite murals on it. My friend and I also went into a small shop to sample some Orvietan wine and cheese.  The town was full of gorgeous signs of fall- something I miss dearly from home. Beautiful multicolored leaves were drifting down the quaint streets- and I caught my first fall leaf (a huge tradition in my family)!

I travel to Madrid and Barcelona in two days, and I cannot wait to finally speak a language I feel comfortable with!

Until next time…

Photo Journal: Cochin-China through Annam to Tonkin

Photo Journal: Cochin-China through Annam to Tonkin

A photo journal from our trip to the North of Vietnam

In Hoi An
In Hoi An
Exploring Hoi An
Vietnamese Tamarind Beef Salad
In Hoi An
Selling shoes at the night market- Hue

One of four entrances to the Imperial City- Hue

The grandmother's house- Hue
Imperial City- Hue

My Son Hindu Temple- near Hoi An
My Son
At My Son

At Khai Dinh Tomb- Hue
Tomb for Khai Dinh
Khai Dinh
Tu Duc's Tomb
The the location of Tu Duc's body is unknown
Tu Duc's Tomb
Central Highland Print Making
Water Puppets in Hanoi
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay Panoramic

Cochin-China through Annam to Tonkin: seeing it all.

Cochin-China through Annam to Tonkin: seeing it all.

Note: My sincerest apologies for my blogging sabbatical, it was all with good reasoning.  Pictures will be included in the photo journal.  See Below.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

This quote is indeed true, until you reach that old familiar pillow and realize how exhausting traveling actually is, and you fall into a deep slumber.  These are my feelings exactly.  Over the past 10 days our eccentric group of eight took a journey from the South, through Central, to Northern Vietnam (blog title hint).  Our stops included a return to Nha Trang, Huế, Hội An, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay.  The travel was beautiful, each city held its own distinguished features. But I am in a state of sensory and mental overload.  A state that will probably take a few more days to fully digest because this trip represented the count down.  The 1 more month abroad marker has passed and I can only hope that I have, or by December 15th, will have done and seen as much as I can.

In total we spent about 19 hours on the train, 11 hours on a bus, and about 3 1/2 hours on a plane.  The traveling was mostly done by land, during the day (unfortunately starting each trip at 5 am) so that we would be able to see the entirety of the Vietnamese landscape.  I spent the time staring outside of the window, not bored, but captivated and entertained by the tropical plants, volcanic mountains, vast coastlines, wildlife, and rural communities.  I read two books, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, or I was rocked and lulled to sleep by the train and my newly updated travel playlists.

Our return to Nha Trang was more than welcoming.  I won’t go into much because of a previous blog.  But I will say that 2 days on the beach (especially as I heard stories of snow and low temperatures in Chicago) and eating the best mint ice cream in the world was fine by me.  We left the beach and headed to Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam.  We spent one day learning about the feudal dynasty from the 17th to 19th centuries in the South and visiting the tombs of the late Kings, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. It was a great exploration of the different architectural and material styles of the French at Khai Dinh and the traditional Vietnamese at Tu Duc.

Hoi An, translated as the “peaceful meeting place” was our 3rd stop and the most enjoyable in my opinion.  It is “the place” to go in Vietnam for handmade goods from art to shoes to clothes at reasonable and cheaper prices by American standards.  It was the city in which the stars of Top Gear stopped to tailor custom suits, pamper themselves on the beach, and ride around in the sand.  I have to admit I did tailor a coat at a whopping $40.00 and it fits like a glove.  In the 18th century the city was a trading hub for Chinese and Japanese merchants and remained an excellent trading port thanks to its prime location on the river.  The “old town” is comprised of bold yellow French inspired shops, restaurants, and homes.  Many people were seen walking or cycling along its 4 block radius intersected by three main streets. UNESCO named the city a World Heritage site in 1999 because of its beautiful blend of foreign and local influence.  If members of our group weren’t walking around in town, we could be found at a Vietnamese cooking class, in the hotel swimming pool, or at the tailor’s.  I will miss the calm and beauty of Hoi An.

If we thought Ho Chi Minh was hectic, nothing could have prepared us for Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, located in the north.  Our hotel was located in the Old Quarter, comprised of narrow and winding streets, with a heavy traffic flow and essentially no sidewalk space. Our time in Hanoi was well planned and full of tourist activities.  We visited the Hoa Lo prison, or “Hanoi Hilton,” where John McCain was held during the war, the Confucian Temple of Literature,  a water puppet show (colorful, traditional, and beautiful), the Ethnography Museum of Vietnam’s minority groups, and lastly the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body is kept under tight security (rules are don’t stop, don’t lift your hands, and pull your paints up Pedro).  We ate a lot of delicious dishes in Hanoi.  My favorite dish was at a hole in the wall restaurant that served only one dish, fried fish in vegetables and dill with vermicelli noodles and fish sauce.  You cooked the food at the table and topped it with cilantro and peanuts.  While Hanoi was special in its own way and was worth visiting, I still remain partial to Ho Chi Minh City.

Last but not least our group traveled to Ha Long Bay.  Located in the South China Sea and comprised of about 1969 limestone islets. Ha Long translates as the “descending dragon” and know as a rock wonder of the world.  We spent 4 hours touring the bay.  It is one of the most beautiful destinations I have ever laid eyes on.  But despite the beauty, it has become a victim to several environmental concerns.  These include: the clearing of sea grass and mangroves, overfishing, pollution from boats and industrialization.  In October 2011, the World Monument Fund, included the bay on the 2012 World Monument Watch. Ha Long Bay was also named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and therefore new strategies for protection are under discussion.  I could try to explain the beauty of this site, but the pictures will speak for themselves.

August feels like a life time ago.  When I look at a calendar I realize not much time has passed but so much has happened. Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and risking cliche, I am thankful for this experience and those I have to share it with.  Our group is small, but just the right size.  We are an intellectual group, one that likes to explore and remain open minded (even if our sleeper car is full of birds and Kate loses a shoe).  I am thankful to visit my roommate’s hometown in two weekends and see where she grew up, that her family would open their home to me.

My 10 day “vacation” (or it felt like one) is over and it is back to the grit and grind of school.

Until next week,


Con Dao (or Where I Could Stay Forever)

Con Dao (or Where I Could Stay Forever)

Before I arrived in Vietnam, I vowed that I would make the most of my time here. For me, a big part of this meant traveling every opportunity I had. So when a free weekend came up, I decided to make the most of it and head to the Con Dao islands off of Vietnam. A short 30-minute flight away, the Con Dao islands are everything I could want in an island vacation– plenty of beaches, snorkeling, jungle hiking, beautiful ocean and most importantly, completely devoid of people. I mean, there are people who live on the island and there are now a handful of hotels, but it has yet to become a major tourist destination and for this reason, I loved it.

We were confused about the lack of tourists, especially the lack of Vietnamese tourists, given the proximity to Ho Chi Minh City and the low cost of flights. But this confusion was cleared up when I returned and my roommate immediately asked me, “How many ghosts did you see when you were there?” From 1861 to 1975, Con Dao was used as a prison by everyone from the French to the Vietnamese and finally the Americans. According to the prison museum we visited, over 20,000 prisoners died on Con Dao. The prison has been closed for over 30 years, but the vast majority of Vietnamese hold that a person’s soul lives on after death. A vacation to an island where thousands of souls may still linger is out of the question for the majority of Vietnamese.

The possibility that the island was haunted aside, we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful place to get away from the noise and chaos of Saigon. There were beautiful beaches with not another person on them. We saw monkeys leaping from tree to tree as we hiked through the jungle. I often ask myself, how did I get here and I can’t believe that I am lucky enough to see so much of the world while attending school.

Pictures here: