I always described our start point of Vietnam as travelling straight in at the deep end and I suspect I was right! Life in Vietnam is so different to our western lives and as somebody who has barely left Europe it really was an eye opener. But I am proud of us for being brave enough to veer from the tourist trail. Some days we hardly saw another westerner and it felt quite special to be the only non-Vietnamese in a local restaurant.
The countryside is beautiful and the cities, whilst dirty and smelly are still intriguing places. And the people are very interesting too. Their way of doing things is completely different to ours and at first they were very hard to fathom. It is almost hard to believe that a nation of people that refuse to queue, use their car/motorbike horn 10 times per minute and disregard red lights (or worse) never get angry about anything. We never once saw a single Vietnamese person show any form of aggression or anger. If somebody drove Vietnamese style in England they would be attacked with a can of de-icer within 5 minutes of setting off!
Our trip to Ha Long Bay may never be bettered on this trip. It is by far and away the most stunning place I have ever been. And our tour group were all fantastic fun too.
In fact some of the people we have met on the tours have been great. Aussies are all friendly and great fun to chat too. And they all seem to have such well rounded kids too! On the last tour we chatted endlessly with a German chap and two French, one of whom was more sarcastic than me! Weirdly for somebody who has American family members I have found Americans hard to relate to. In fact I suspect the American government is secretly sending all of their disfunctional citizens to South East Asia.
The surreal experience that was Vinpearl Land was totally lacking in culture but I enjoyed every minute despite the heart in mouth cable car ride. I would seriously consider a holiday there actually and I would spend every day in the water park trying to drag Claire on every flume!
Swimming in the sea at Hoi An and Nha Trang was great fun. I have always loved swimming despite being a sub standard swimmer I was grinning like a fool as I battled the relentless breaking waves.
I also enjoyed the food greatly. They use rice where we would use wheat, which suits me no end! In particular our trips to the restaurants where only locals eat were fantastic. Though slightly daunting the food was always fantastic. Bun Bo Nam Bo in Hanoi (the place with no menu but one amazing dish) will live long in the memory.
I think we forgot to mention before but on our final night in Hanoi before we bedded down in a train with the Vietnamese answer to The Meldrews we went for a meal at a Restaurant called KOTO (Know One Teach One). The Australian owners set up a programme to get young kids and young adults off the streets and out of crime and prostitution by teaching them life skills and a trade in the restaurant. It was by far the most expensive meal we ate but just reading the literature and the testimonies from the people they helped was great.
I was also very moved by the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I have only ever received the Americanised point of view and it is fair to say that receiving the alternative view changes one’s opinion somewhat. To this day Vietnamese children are born with hideous physical defects because of the chemicals which were dropped on the land by the Americans in their attempt to starve their enemy into submission. There is always 2 sides to any disagreement and our time in Vietnam has taught me to that it is important to listen to both sides before forming an opinion.
I feel a little guilty that the only Vietnamese I learned was “khong da” which means “no ice”. So I have decided to teach myself some basic Spanish in preparation for South America. I have the memory of a fish but 3 months should be long enough for some of it to stick. I can already convey my need for the toilet with a perfect Spanish accent and zero hand gestures!
We did 4 organised tours whilst in Vietnam and though Ha Long Bay and the Cu Chi Tunnels were excellent, My Son and the Mekong Delta were not so good. Sadly this is because of an aspect of Vietnam that for me started to dull my opinion of the country slightly.
The Vietnamese have a very short-sighted approach to Tourism. There is a clear 2 tier pricing system and some Vietnamese will do whatever they can to ensure that the tourist pays as much as possible for their tour, entrance fee, taxi drinks etc. Our Mekong Delta tour compounded this for me. Clearly we and everybody else on the tour were lied to as to what the tour entailed, the quality of the accommodation and the daily activities. And the tour company clearly did so because they knew that every single person would be leaving the country as part of the tour and thus had no way of complaining in person.
The saddest by product of this is that one becomes suspicious of everybody and at times we refused help from what turned out to be kind well meaning Vietnamese people.
But the scamming never quite affected me enough to ruin the experience. It has been great and the memories will live long. And I will miss the coffee.