Two weeks in Vietnam and we barely scratched the surface. The population is 90 million and the north and south are divided by an invisible line that separates two different climates, meaning weather, not politics. The north has a break from the heat in the winter, while the south only knows two temps: hot and hotter. This is my first time to Asia and the prices are very affordable. The hospitality is amazing and the Vietnamese people are nothing but kind. I wasn’t sure how they would feel towards Americans, but I learned that most young Vietnamese think of the Vietnam War as a lifetime ago and they are happy not to be fighting now. They enjoy their freedoms and I couldn’t tell that it was a Communist country, other than the hammer-and-sickle flag that flies next to Vietnam’s.
We met up with Dan and Andrea, Denise’s sister and her boyfriend, and Dan’s sister Kimi and her fiance Pat. D’s cousin Melissa was traveling in Vietnam at the same and we got to see her a few times too. Kimi had found a tour of Vietnam called “On The Go.” It was a 10-day tour of Vietnam starting up north in Hanoi and ending in the south in Saigon, with many stops along the way. Our tour guide was Jack and he was brilliant and made sure we learned alot about the country. We didn’t have to think about anything, which for us was one of the best parts. He made sure we got to the train station, airport and boats on time. We had six girls from England, a couple from South Africa, and 2 ladies from Australia to accompany us along the way. Our tour included one night on a junk boat visiting some of Ha Long Bay’s 1500 islands. Don’t mistake the name of the boat; it was first class with lots of activities. At night there was squid fishing; that’s right, we caught squid with fishing rods, who knew. The prices in Vietnam were a fraction of what the rest of the world is used to paying. We enjoyed pho on many occasions and never paid more than $2 for a bowl. Beers and Vietnamese coffee averaged around fifty cents. Our first night in Hanoi we ordered everything on the menu and had a couple of drinks each and our bill was $15 a couple and that included the tip. That meal and all of our meals were amazing! Halfway through the trip we ended up in Hoi An, where we had custom suits, dresses, leather jackets and shoes made to our size, for 1/2 of the price you would pay in the States.
Times are changing quickly in Vietnam. In Saigon, we talked to a few locals who said in 1997 if you saw a car, people would look at it like it was from another planet – everyone was on bicycles. Now the country is dominated by all kinds of traffic, but mainly scooters, and it seems everyone has one. There are high-rises popping up everywhere and Saigon’s skyline resembles Manhattan, as we saw from Chill, a rooftop bar where we had drinks. We visited the floating market along the Mekong Delta and were told that the market is getting smaller and smaller because of a bridge that was recently built. It looks to be the size of the Golden Gate and now trucks have access to the farms that were before only accessible with boats. Because of this the floating market will probably not exist in a few years. One day we took a tour of an organic farm and learned to cook Vietnamese omelettes with bean sprouts. The chef conducting the class said his American name was Mr. Han Some and I had the opportunity to work in his kitchen the following day. He taught me some tricks of the trade and told me that he and his crew work 7 days a week and only take off for the Chinese New Year. You couldn’t tell from the others who worked at the restaurant, who were all ages and in great spirits. He said that all of the tourism in Vietnam is both good and bad. Good because it is bringing in money to locals, but bad because prices continue to go up.
Before arriving in Vietnam, we were excited about seeing D’s sister and family. They did not let us down. I think we could have been in a corn field in Iowa and had just as much fun. We not only ate, drank, and shopped, but we shared a passion for music. We started our adventure in a karaoke bar, where we had a private room and lots of vodka. Honestly we didn’t need the vodka to loosen up – it actually loosened me up too much because there are videos of me singing Elvis out of tune, but my face showed me determined to nail every note. I wish there were an app that could make me sound better. We hit two more karaoke bars in different cities along the way. Dan, Pat and I had our guitars with us and even though Dan and I are just learning, Pat is a seasoned vet and a guitar teacher by day. He taught us some tricks and played for the girls, Jack, and the others in our tour. We played on the train, boat, and in our hotel rooms while the girls sang along. Pat gave me a free lesson our last day in a park in Saigon and a few kids from the university stopped by to ask some questions about us and find out if we were enjoying their city. They had some requests and before you knew it they were sitting and singing with us. The next morning, after nearly 2 weeks with this crew, it was time to say goodbye and Denise and I left, wishing for one more night.
Where we stayed in Hanoi:
Hanoi Chic Hotel
Where we stayed in Saigon:
Cat Huy Hotel
Where we stayed everywhere in between:
Courtesy of On The Go travel
(photo cred Daniel Boyd)
(photo cred: Daniel Boyd)