Falling in Love with Vietnam
I fell in love with Vietnamese streets. The way they were chaotic and crazy and foreign and when I walked down the road I knew I was definitely somewhere other
Cafes served small old men coffee while they sat on child size stools. Stores overflowed from their tiny closet-like spaces out onto the streets, mixing with the army of vietnamese women were carried a bamboo pole on their should with a basket attached to either end. They walked around selling everything from bananas to barbies while noodle stalls on each corner beckoned with the salty steam. People sat around each noodle joint, heads hunched over their noodles, slurping up quietly.
Sometimes city streets don’t feel exciting. Sometimes they feel distubingly like a city street, that could belong in Tokyo, New York on London. But the city streets of Vietnam felt like city streets of Vietnam and I wanted to walk every last one.
Saigon especially sucked me in. They had their modern towering skyscrapers and shimmering chic cafes and bars that bespoke of modern times and new money in the city while older building recalled a colonial history, that despite its horrors, created some graceful buildings.
Yet with all these amazing building there was still asia spread out on the corners with its street food and crazy chaos.
I fell hard for Vietnam. From my first cup of coffee in Hanoi to my last whiskey in Saigon.
In Vietnam my itinerary looked like this
Hanoi – small beautiful little ancient city and the former capital of the North
Catba Island- beautiful karsts formations in the water
Phong Nha National Park – BIG caves (biggest caves actually… like in the world)
Hue – ancient imperial city
Hoian- major tourist trap ((and tailors) and ruins)
Dalat – old French city, (plus rappelling down waterfalls)
Saigon – BEST city ever
The only part of our itinerary that was mostly different then others was that we skipped going up to Sapa in the north to see all the rice terraces and minorities because I’ve seen a LOT of rice terraces and I feel weird going to remote places to gawk at villagers like they’re zoo animals. We skipped Nha Trang beach since every word that described it was a synonym of hedonistic and we didn’t do the Mekong Delta largely because we ran out of time. If I were to ever go back to Vietnam I would like to have about 4-5 weeks instead of 3, but I still had quite the lovely time.
I pretty much loved all of Vietnam with the exception of Hoian. Its famous for its many many tailors, but what most people don’t realize is that having tailors there is a completely modern structure of Vietnamese tourism industry. There is nothing remotely historical about it. While its thrilling that you can get a custom made suit in 24 hours for $50… its because they pay the employees nothing and force them to stay up all night making your lousy suit. Its a crappy industry that treats people terribly and I had exactly zero interest in supporting that.
I DID however find the old town, with its many Chinese temples, to be very charming and there were some lovely fair trade shops there.
One of the things that surprised me most about my time there is how different each place was. On Catba Island I was hiking, kayaking and running, Phong Nha had me swimming into caves while in Hue I was wondering ruins and in Saigon I was shopping boutique shops. I’m used to Asia but it was startling to see catholic churches dotting the countryside and cheese being sold everywhere.
I want to be startled when I travel, to see things unexpected and to realize a country is not really what I imagined. I said before that before when someone said Vietnam, I thought of the war and not a country. Now Vietnam brings to mind a 100 happy memories of a beautiful place.