We’re concluding the first leg of our south east Asia adventure – 3 months have gone by in Vietnam. This being our first trip anywhere this exotic, we weren’t sure what we’re getting ourselves into. All 6 weeks of preparations in London was just theory. Even on the plane to Hanoi we made jokes about how it just didn’t seem believable that we’ll be homeless for many months to come. Only when on a bus from the airport to central Hanoi did the realisation of what we’ve done finally start to creep in. The very different landscape covered in banana trees, the number of motorbikes on the road, the unfamiliar language spoken around us. When 90% of the world around you looks different to what you’re used to, you either cry out of joy or cry out of horror. For us, it was joy, and 3 months later, we’re still crying :)
So, Vietnam. Did we like it? Yes we did, and no, we didn’t. Not even half-way through the trip we realised that we’d like to come back here again, both to experience the amazing sights one more time (hike around the terraced riced fields of Sa Pa, breathe the aroma of flowering coffee plants in Buon Ma Thuot, kayak to a private beach island in Halong Bay), but also for the delicious food, found on every street.
As for the reasons we don’t want to come back – well, there are a few, let us introduce our official “Top things we like and dislike in Vietnam” list:
First, the “likes”:
* Vietnamese food (Bun Thit Noung (dry noodles with grilled meat), Ca Phe Sua Da (filtered coffee with ice and condensed milk), grilled sticky rice with banana, Bia Hoi (fresh beer of Ha Noi), the list is too long to mention everything; have a look at our Vietnamese cuisine photo gallery.
* Beautiful nature that is often not too far away – quiet beaches, evenings listening to frog “music” and water buffaloes puffing in between rice paddies, blooming coffee plants in red soil, accented in the evening sun, see the pictures to get the idea.
* Hammocks – Vietnamese have a great love for them and it didn’t take us long to develop it too, we even bought one and hang it in the balcony (if we have one :). There’s not a more comfortable place to have a nap in during the lunchtime siesta, be it in front of the ocean or in a small roadside cafe.
* Minorities – there are over 30 different minority groups in Vietnam. We only met 3 of them, but were very impressed by their traditional houses and handicraft (of which Gerda bought several items).
Now, the dislikes:
* Greediness for money – overcharging tourists happens in many countries, but we felt some Vietnamese take it to the next level. When you’re asked to pay twice as much for the coffee / fruit / food, when a second ago, right in front of you, a local paid the real price, you’re not left with a smile. Even when you explain that you saw what the real price is, the seller insists on charging you more. When you ask a taxi driver for directions to some restaurant, he offers you a lift, but when you explain that you want to walk, he drives away, you can’t help but call him a cunt. And then comes the bus driver who tries to charge you an extra ticket for your luggage. You can never let your guard down, or you need to bring twice as much budget. Luckily, some honest people can still be found, eventually.
* Littering – all the time and everywhere. When, on a small bus, we decide not to throw our food box out of the window and tell off a local for doing the same, we’re given weird looks. Many locals get sick on longer journeys, possibly in part to crazy driving, and can you guess where the plastic bag with the puke goes? That’s right – out of the window. Roads are littered with them. The number of amazing stretches of beach or rivers & canals we saw covered in layers of plastic and cans is unbelievable. With “quality of life” (aka “spending more money on stuff”) on the rise, this doesn’t look like its going to change any time soon.
* Pushing in and not letting other people through. Vietnamese don’t seem to show much concern for other people. Whether in a queue to buy something or driving on the road, they always need to get ahead of everyone else. Keeping your place in a ticket queue is more difficult than at a really busy bar. Driving on the uneven roads, there seems to be only one rule to play – if I have a bigger vehicle than you, you need to get out of my way (stop or even leave the road completely, I don’t care). Bus drivers are the worst, they overtake when its convenient to them, no matter if there’s an oncoming vehicle only 10 meters away. Lets not forget the constant using of the horn, which, we figure, stands for “Coming through! I’m not breaking, or have any patience, get a move on you fucks!”. Anyone who’s been here isn’t surprised to learn that Vietnam has one of the highest rates of motorist accidents in the world.
Yes, that’s quite a lot more negative words about Vietnam than positive, but its a place well worth of a visit. Don’t believe our word for it, check it out for yourself!