the nothing whatever...

Nic on Vietnam

Firstly, I have to thank my Mum and Dad for blessing me with the metabolism of a 3 year old, as it has helped me out a lot in Vietnam. This country is undeniably foodie heaven, I have trouble picking something off the menu at the best of times, let alone when I want, and must, have it all. From the Pho Bo to the Bun Cha, it is all amazing!

Vietnam was one of the countries I was most excited about. From the outside looking in it seems to have everything a traveler would want, cheap amazing food, lots of budget accommodation, beautiful scenery and, for those who are interested, a lot of war history. I for one am particularly interested in the “American” war, as they call it here, and how it shaped them as a nation. I was surprised by how open the museums are at telling the story from their point of view, they display many photographs, weapons and ammunition used in the war and what Agent Orange did to not only their country but to just about every country that fought in the war. I was not surprised to discover that the people here are not allowed to talk openly about it; they must display their love for Ho Chi Minh, even if they despised the guy, or they could run the risk of going to jail. This deeply saddens me. I could not even imagine a world where personal opinions are obsolete and are not wanted. But in saying that, the Vietnamese people seem pretty happy and I guess that stems from their government. I can respect a country that can move on from its past and create a future in which the younger generation can achieve greater heights than their parents, if only due to the simple fact that they own their country, and who would mess with them again…I know I wouldn’t!

We traveled South to North, and while for us the North was prettier eg. Halong Bay, the South was a much happier place to be. I could see myself spending a lot of time in Saigon, it’s a spectacular city and so random. You feel like the night could take you anywhere and wherever it does take you, it’s wonderful. It’s a thrill to the senses. While in the North, Hanoi in particular, the city isn’t as buzzed as it is in Saigon, everyone seems to be shitty for some reason and going somewhere fast and you are just in their way. They have no problems with shoving you in the back with their shoulder as they try and pass you, or coming within centimetres of hitting you with their motorbikes, all while staring straight through you. You might get a smile out of them just before you’re about to buy something, but as soon as the transaction is complete, they look at you as if to say, “ok, get out”.

Traveling out of the city is a good chance to see the Vietnamese culture for what it truly is. Mekong Delta was an eye opener, it was remarkable to see how an entire province of people can rely on one life-source to survive, but they do it and they do it well. Our guide told us they make about 3 crops of rice a year and they make about $10,000 a crop which, in my humble opinion, is pretty good money for people who are self-sustainable. We also traveled to Halong Bay, which is about 3.5 hours north-west of Hanoi. This was by far my favorite experience, we stayed on a junk boat and walked through limestone caves, kayaked under pitch black tunnels which opened up to massive lagoons, we even saw a few monkeys playing in the trees and once again the food on the boat was delectable. Again, you see villages living on the water, but this water is something out of a story book, it doesn’t look dirty or polluted like a lot of the rivers and lakes do around Vietnam. It is a must see, I would recommend going to Hanoi just to see Halong Bay, the place is stunning. Another little village we went to was Hoi An, about half way between Saigon and Hanoi. I would love to go back there just to eat the Banh Mi, they are off the scale. For those who don’t know what a Banh Mi is, it’s like a bread roll, but in the shape of a baguette, they keep them warm by storing them over an open flame, which makes the outside crunchy and the inside fluffy, anything can be put inside them, mostly pate and a mixture of meats, coriander, chilli, some mayo like substance, cucumber etc. They are like god’s gift, my tummy is rumbling as I’m describing them right now! Hoi An had the best Banh Mi in all of Vietnam, each food vendor we went to had a diverse take on the flavorings and they all tasted so good.

Lastly, I would like to thank the bus drivers. First impressions of them are not great, they grunt and yell at you if you forget to take your thongs off before entering their bus and they have been known to make you sit where they want to you sit, but they know what they are doing, so don’t question it. The amount of hairy situations I think we have been in, but have been swiftly avoided by the experienced bus driver, I cannot count. Our rides have been somewhat tame compared to many of the stories I have heard, but I guess as Ben always says, expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised.