Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh
07.09.2008 - 18.09.2008
As soon as I left Laos, at the Vietnamese border, I could straight away tell that the next few weeks were going to be quite different to what I'd experienced so far, both in terms of the scenery I was going to get the opportunity to see and the culture I was to be surrounded by. I arrived in Vietnam slightly naive as to what they had been through as a country and was keen to learn more.
As soon as you crossed the border you could notice the change in architecture, very French as a result of their colonization and the surrounding mountains were beautiful, however it was hard to relax on the bus to Hanoi for all the beeping of horns! It was unbelievable, the bus beeped every time it went past a car, another bus, pedestrian, cyclist or moped etc and there are literally hundreds of beeping mopeds!
It's not only the surrounding physical environment which is different here, the attitudes of the Vietnamese seemed somewhat the complete opposite from what I had experienced so far. Especially following on from Laos where everything is so relaxed; in Vietnam everyone is very efficient to the point of being slightly aggressive.
Due to having such strong neighbours, namely China, they can't afford to relax and are very keen to develop as quickly as possible and that's certainly what they are doing. You don't feel that you're in a communist country, far from it in fact, as so many Vietnamese have their own little business's. Apparently the country tends to concentrate on growing the economy through business and so the political situation remains on the backburner for now.
The different attitudes of the Vietnamese first became evident during the border crossing when travellers were being prevented from entering the country as their passport was either deemed fake or that it wasn't them! After the 2hr crossing (apparently that was a quick crossing) we entered what was the loudest country I've been to yet!
Arriving in Hanoi, the capital, a lovely lady took me to a guesthouse which was perfectly positioned right in the centre of an Autumn kids festival which was going on for a whole month! Hanoi is so busy that you have to play cat and mouse when crossing the road or is it Russian roulette? However this festival made the situation pretty impossible to say the least. The lovely ladies in the guesthouse assured me that the noise finished at 10 pm, but failed to mention that you just get knocked down by locals on mopeds who are window shopping rather than watching where they are going!
After a while I got a true feel for the city and found it to be quite European in places with locals eating late by the lake in the old town and the local markets. We were hoping to visit the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, however he makes a trip to Russia for 3 months a year for some 'retouching' so we settled for the presidential palace instead and the prison there, both of which are worth a visit. I could write about the Vietnamese history for a while, however not everyone is keen to read about the horrors or repeat their History GCSE so for now I'll miss details.
Ha Long Bay
Having had my bag slashed out in the streets and camera stolen, Ha Long Bay was a welcome relief from the busy, noisy city that is Hanoi.
I knew that Ha Long would be a highlight of my trip and it most certainly was, it is beautiful and if you ever make it to Asia I really would recommend it. Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit the biggest island, Cat Ba, there but I've heard that's worth a trip too. We were treated like royalty on this 'Pirates of the Caribbean' style boat, swimming in the bay, gorgeous seafood, kayaking and more importantly the cleanest room I've had yet all for just 15pounds a day!
Vietnam is a vast country and it took me 3 night buses to make it down to Ho Chi Minh so I would recommend that you have at least a month if you're planning on seeing the whole of the country.
Hue and then Hoi An were the next on the itinerary. Hoi An is full of Tailors and hostels, one after the next. The Vietnamese are known for their tailoring techniques and beautiful fabrics and their speed at making items. The girls I was with had 3 piece suits made, which following the 1st fitting we thought were going to be an absolute disaster but amazingly they fitted perfectly the next day after this little Vietnamese lady had given a lecture to her right hand man with us standing there like lemons and being pushed around, they might be little but they certainly shouldn't be messed with!!!
The full moon passed as we were on the way to Nha Trang, a town on the coast. It took longer than expected to get there as in every town we passed kids dressed as dragons jumped out in front of the bus and began parading around in the road to the drivers disgust but to our amusement!
After a month on the road, the beach at Nha Trang was welcomed.
Beach at last!
The clear sea and white beaches were just what I needed. My main memory of Nha Trang though was the Vietnamese ladies who would go up and down the beach selling jewelry, watches, pineapple and lobster. The Lobster lady would carry a big pole across her shoulders, one end with the piping hot water and the other end the fresh lobster and plates. All day in the heat, fully clothed, he would walk up and down the beach cooking the lobster freshly infront of you.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh was where I speant my last few days in Vietnam. The visit to the Chu Chi tunnels is most definitely worth it, giving you a great insight as to how many lived during the war. The Mekong Delta trip was also of interest but probably worth getting this trip if you are on the way to Cambodia as you can cross the border to Phom Penh here.
Vietnam was certainly beautiful and I would definitely return to explore the places that unfortunately I didn't have time to visit on this trip, namely Sapa in Northern Vietnam where all the tea plantations are. Maybe to Ha Long again!