Vietnam: Familiarities

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

After Siem Reap, I took a flight to Saigon and spent the next 3 weeks making my way from there to Hanoi.

Whenever I thought about Vietnam, it seemed like a place that would take a lot of planning and navigating of buses, trains, schedules, figuring out how to communicate with people, staying in shitty places, just generally being in different degrees of discomfort, but still seeing cool things and eating all the food. This thinking is basically why it took me forever to go, I just never felt like I was in the right head space to challenge myself to be constantly figuring things out and making myself comfortable in an uncomfortable situation and to do it alone. 

I dunno if it's because I've been in South East Asia for over a year, but Vietnam is an incredibly easy place to travel. First off, getting a SIM card there is easy and cheap - $15 for unlimited 3G for a month! So that already made it really easy to figure out where things are (although for being so connected, Twitter is blocked). Getting from city to city is really easy, you can arrange it with wherever you're staying with very little notice. And there's so many ways to get from one place to another, with the prices range from reasonable to insanely cheap. The country sees so many tourists, with most of them generally taking the same path (Saigon to Hanoi, or vice versa) and so a lot of things are built so that it's really easy to find and get to where you want to go. 

Where I sleep really affects whether or not a place sucks for me. And especially because it was unbearably hot in Vietnam when I was there (again, do yourself a favor and avoid Vietnam in May, otherwise you will know the true definition of heat and sweat), I spent a considerable amount of time in hotel rooms (AC!) I was worried that Vietnam would be full of places where I would have to convince myself that it was okay and that it was just for one night and to put aside my germaphobic tendencies for the sake of budget and experience, but mannn, Vietnam is full of the most clean, reasonably priced, value for money places I've been in.

Every time I told someone I was going to Vietnam, they kept saying that the people are quite hard and it takes a bit more time to really get friendly with them. I dunno who they were talking to, but everyone I met and interacted with were incredibly warm and kind. 

Saigon is grimy, messy, chaotic, dense and I loved it. A lot of it felt instantly familiar. The garish signs in awful colors with some pretty terrible font choices reminded me of all the Vietnamese restaurants I went to growing up in Calgary. It was like, oh man, those aesthetic choices actually came from somewhere. Massive streets lined with trees reminiscent of Paris (this is another great thing about Vietnam - there are cheap, legit baguettes everywhere! If you get sick of rice or noodles or just Asian flavors, this is a welcome sight - also hilarious/interesting - there's these ladies on the sides of highways and roads with their motorbike just covered and stacked with baguettes). Insane motorbike traffic that not too long ago would have scared and stressed me out to no end, but was a nice exercise in death defying and felt like making your way through a sea of fish (you move slowly and they just go around you). Alleys and nooks packed tightly in together, hiding lives inside.

First ca phe in Vietnam. I love that they have these setups everywhere, just a small plastic table and chairs around it and you just chill and watch everything pass you by. 

 From Saigon I took a flight to Danang and then took a taxi to Hoi An.

The center of Hoi An is a UNESCO Heritage site and is known for being cute, that every other store is a place where you can get tailor made clothes (sounds a lot nicer than it is), is the home of an incredible banh mi, and being insanely romantic and swoon-y at night with all the colorful lanterns lighting up the streets. It's small so you're able to ride a bicycle around it and pretend that you're in some sort of quaint movie. That said though, it is insanely touristy and you see the same store selling the same thing over and over. I think that's one of the downsides of Vietnam, that you don't really see a lot of emerging designers or people doing different things like you do in Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Japan, Seoul, and even Bali. I found myself a bit hard pressed to find a store that sold things other than typical tourist things like rice hats and I can't even remember what else. But I guess who needs new shit when you got noodles and ca phe and scenery.

From Hoi An I took a bus to Hue and from there I took a bus to Phong Nha to see some caves there.


I took a flight from Hue to Hanoi and then went on a tour from there to Halong and Bai Tu Long Bay:

Back to Hanoi:

By this point I didn't even bother trying to see museums and those sort of things in Hanoi. I had done enough of that in Saigon and I can say that, the museums are pretty terrible (although the buildings themselves are really cool) and I'd rather just eat and drink egg ca phe all day (what the lack in museum content they more than make up for food and drinks).

There was a moment where I was taking a taxi from my hotel back to the airport in Saigon - it was early morning and the light was pretty and gentle. We were passing by these parks and like many parks in Asia, you see bunches of people wearing bright (and not so bright) clothing doing exercises together (tai chi, dancing, or some other sort of thing), And then were these women who had these giant wooden bead necklaces (the beads were a little over half the size of a basketball) that they were swinging around their waists as a form of exercise and extreme blood circulation (I guess). Seeing all those things, with the morning light, and the days before that I had just spent exploring and taking everything in, I just swelled with nothing but love and awe for Vietnam. I was telling someone this, that there were these really nice small moments filled with visual idiosyncrasies that I loved so much and so inexplicably that it hurt. And he said that I went there and unexpectedly ended up finding something that I didn't realize I was even looking for.

Yes, totally. It swallowed me up, opened me and filled me with the best food, the nicest people, and sweet, warm moments.

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