Ho Chi Minh City >> Hoi An >> Hue >> Hanoi >> Halong Bay
DAYUM, Vietnam was really good. I was excited to visit before we crossed the Cambodian border, then I had a bowl of pho from a street vendor who warmed my insides. Vietnam continued to warm my insides until we left 15 days later.We were granted 15 days entry to ‘Nam without a visa as a UK citizen. In fact being a UK citizen in ‘Nam was great, I don’t think our empire did anything embarrassing over the years to mean we should be sheepish or coy wandering the streets. This feeling follows on from our Indian escapade.. “Where are you from?” “England… Sorry”
Where did 15 days go?
(A) Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) (Saigon) ~ 4 days
(B) Hoi An ~ 4 days
(C) Hue ~ 2 days
(D) Hanoi ~ 1 days
(E) Halong Bay ~ 3 days
(F) Hanoi ~ 1 day (stayed near Noi Bai International airport)
The Vietnam War is a topic I find pretty difficult to think critically about, there is so much biased information out there. The museum is no exception, but it’s nigh on impossible to ponder on the politics when such horrific images are on display. One small thing I noticed, (US) documentaries would call North Vietnam “communists”, the museum referred to the North as “patriots”. There were other small differences but ignoring the history, it is incredibly sad, particularly the multi-generational impact dioxin exposure (Agent Orange) has had. Let’s all just get along! The place is worth a visit, as were the Cu Chi tunnels where most Westerners are too large to get into the original sized holes! On a lighter note, I had a huge amount of hyperinflated Dong. We got around 30,000 dong for each Pound, so we were Vietnamese millionaires. What a feeling to have so much Dong.
We were lazy and paid a tour company to take us to the Mekong Delta for what I envisaged as a quiet afternoon, gliding through narrow jungle lined waterways. In reality that happened for about 5 minutes, followed by countless opportunities for us to relinquish our Dong at a thousand different souvenir shops. Lesson learnt!
With our 15 day allowance depleting, we flew to our next stop Hoi An (We flew to a place called Da Nang 30 minutes away, there is a dragon bridge there that breathes fire, but it’s no Clifton Suspension Bridge).
Hoi An was very romantic and picturesque after sunset, with visitors cruising down the river along with candles placed in lanterns that light up the evening.The western girl that was working at one of the bars berating us for not wanting to drink all we can in exchange for my Dong just didn’t fit in here. I will keep hold of my Dong, thank you Missy.
We stayed at a super swish, super cheap guesthouse very close to a quiet, sandy, long stretch of beach.Maybe it’s just me but before this trip, sandy beaches didn’t spring to mind when I thought of Vietnam. We were travelling during monsoon season, so we were thankful that our pad was close to the beach when the apocalyptic sky launched relentless bullets of water. Only afternoons were affected and it was quite therapeutic taking in the sounds of the rain from a sheltered balcony. We begrudgingly caught a bus to Hue next, pronounced like ‘Way to go’, or “hoo-way to go”, “which hoo-way?” Hue. I’m partial to an amber ale, and here there was a beer called “Kuda” which was the closest thing I’ve tasted in Asia so far to an amber ale. It was properly cheap too, so thankfully I could hang on to the majority of my Dong. The citadel in Hoo-way is the star attraction, and for good reason. We spent most of the day roaming around. It reminded us of the Forbidden City in Beijing. In terms of old stuff that we have seen on our travels, this didn’t feel particularly old or historic and possibly took away from the experience slightly – but then I’m English, we have pubs older than time itself. Another flight, (hang on we’re supposed to be budget backpackers??) this time to Hanoi, pronounced Hanoi. Another very walkable city, but the underground train system that was under construction whilst we were there would’ve been appreciated a couple of times, it was freaking hot. Lots of sights to take in; the old quarter, Ba Dinh square, pagodas.. We had a great time absorbing it all. Our favourite sight was the train track that runs disturbingly close to houses and shops through the centre of Hanoi. It was awesome/slightly stupid to stand next to when one of the two daily trains cruised by. I’m surprised the locals have never accidentally derailed the train before with the fires, leftover barrels and building material we saw on the tracks during the day. Last but not least we took a trip around Halong Bay with a dreaded tour company argh! A significant chunk of my Dong was handed over for this magical trip. Our lucky stars must’ve aligned that day, we were upgraded to a higher class cruise boat! Our room was easily more swish than 90% of places we’d stayed on dry land.
We spent our time cruising through the bay, kayaking around, walking to a view point and eating nicely presented food (I’m more of a big dirty burger kinda guy but sure, the food looked great)After snoozing onboard, we stayed on a private island south of Halong Bay, it was a pretty sweet set up. The highlight was partying with a group of vacationing Vietnamese medical workers. They were incredibly keen for us to drink their seemingly infinite supply of beer as quickly as possible with them.. who are we to say no?! It took me much longer than it should to realise the female company in the group were in fact “hired in help”! Thinking back, it’s hilarious how much fun we all had given that we barely understood one another.. the universal language of getting wasted on cheap lager I guess. We ended our trip back in Hanoi with rooftop drinks joined by our new Portuguese friends Diana and Pedro. We could easily write another blog on the grub during our trip. The Vietnamese cuisine features pretty high on my list of favourites, especially bún chả (pork ribs with noodles and greens paired up with crispy spring rolls nomnomnom). So after 15 days in ‘Nam, I have no more use for my Dong. I exchanged my Dong quite a bit for goods and services in Vietnam but there is still Dong in my pocket. If anyone is interested in buying the remains of my Dong don’t hesitate to get in touch so you too can have a wonderful time using my Dong in Vietnam!