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Vietnam - Katie

Thao and Katie (me) This past year ('07) I had the pleasure of being selected to be part of the Take a Friend Home experience. My friend, Thao, and I traveled to Vietnam, the home country of Thao, for two weeks. The weeks flew by as if we were only there together for two days! This school year Thao will come to my home in St. Louis, Missouri for two weeks. I hope we have as memorable a time in St. Louis as we did in Vietnam.

Thao ridding on a motorbike with her mom The journey began in Ho Chi Mihn City, formally Saigon. We landed at the airport and immediately found Thao's parents. On the way to her house I noticed that motorbikes were everywhere. I expressed that I wanted to ride one, and sure enough, later that day, I was granted my wish. Shortly after visiting and meeting Thao's family, her youngest aunt dropped by and we all went for a ride on motorbikes. We went around down town Ho Chi Mihn City, passing several of the sites including the Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, and the Reunification Palace.

One of the best and most interesting and eye opening sites we visited a Left-overs from the Vietnam War short distance away from Ho Chi Mihn City was the Cu Chi tunnels. We were able to travel through advanced tunnel systems used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. It was like a city underground. The tunnels spanned several miles and included hospitals, living quarters, meeting areas, and a market place among many other rooms. Scattered around the site were multiple clever booby-traps and air tunnels. This will be a place I will not soon forget. It installed in me great respect for the Vietnamese people. These tunnels were so well hidden that an American army camp was situated over some of it!

With the Chief After a few days spent in Ho Chi Mihn city, Thao, her mom, and I went on a five day tour of Da Lat and Nha Trang. I am thankful I was able to go on this expedition because it allowed me to see more of my friend's country, which is quite remarkable. The highlight on this trip was the stop where we were introduced to a native tribe and shared in various rituals. We were shown dances of various types done to traditional song and instrument. As the night continued we were invited to join in and dance with them. In about the middle of the evening we were offered a kind of meat and wine. The experience was one to remember.

Thao, her grandfather and me On the Mekong River sippin' our coconut milk We spent about a day in Ho Chi Mihn City and were off to visit Thao's grandpa who lives on very near the Mekong Delta. Although we were only there for two days we fit a lot into those days. On the first night, Thao's mom took me on a tour of Da Lat as Thao followed on a bike. The second day we went on a multiple hour tour of the Mekong River. We made several stops at many different islands. My favorite island had a tea store and candy shop. At the tea store we were each given a cup of tea with added honey and such. At the candy shop they were making coconut toffees. It was a very interesting process.

The final days in Vietnam were relaxing. It was nice because it gave me time to reflect on the experience. The two weeks spent in Vietnam were unforgettable and eye opening. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have taken part in such an extraordinary program.

Katie and Thao

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