Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vietnam, in a macademian nut shell

Ok, back from Vietnam and all rested up! Time for a quick summary of my impressions of country #7. First off, my 6 days took us from a flight transfer in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to the beaches of Nha Trang, then up to Hanoi for a night and out to Halong Bay for a day before flying back to Narita. Pretty busy for just under a week, but unfortunately that's how vacations usually go out this way as time off in Japan is rather limited.

On the total opposite end of the spectrum, Vietnam is great if you'd like to forget about all concept of time and just relax. They're not too big on schedules out there from what I could see... or maybe that's just how the beaches work. In any case, a watch was definitely not needed or of much use in Nha Trang.

My top 3 impressions of Vietnam:

1. Nice people
2. Traffic in Hanoi
3. Crazy tropical fruit

Nice People

At first I was rather sceptical, as the big scam in Vietnam with expensive taxi rides from the airport that take you to their over-priced hotels was my first impression. Now while I say expensive, I'm talking basically of a difference between normal at about $15 to expensive at maybe $25 or so for a 35km ride. In otherwords, expensive in Vietnam is still cheap, and once you get the hang of how things work you can get around the ripoffs.

As time went on and I got more used to things though, I found that the people were in general pretty nice, although knowing absolutely no Vietnamese and their spotty grasp of English meant that while they generally got the gist of things, details were definitely lost in conversations. In stark contrast to Japan, however, while most can't speak English everyone tries, even if it takes them beyond their abilities.

Probably the best example was on the way back to the airport. We made a stop at the hotel we stayed at in Hanoi the night before to pick up luggage and take a shower - the plan was to grab some Pho before hitching a taxi to the airport. We asked the guy at the hotel front desk about a good place for some quick noodles... he nods, then gets up and goes in the back. I thought he'd come back with a map, but instead he brings a case of beer and proceeds to start loading the fridge! We didn't have time so I went to look for the other guy manning shop, who was helping someone out on the internet. Then the first guy comes back and says he's going to take us to a Pho place, but as it was sorta far we'd have to hop on the back of his bike. I've never actually had hotel staff escort me to a restaurant before, and this meant that we got to ride through town in the transportation of choice, a scooter. Not only did he take us to a nice place which made for a lovely last evening in Vietnam and fit perfectly into our schedule, but it also leads into the next point of...

Traffic in Hanoi

Amazing... simply amazing. This is one of those things you really just have to see for yourself to believe. By luck of the draw we spent our one night in Hanoi during the Moon Festival - think of it sort of like Vietnamese Thanksgiving and Halloween all rolled into one - which meant that the normal craziness of Vietnamese traffic was compounded by a factor of like 5 or so. The roads are packed with motorbikes and seemingly have no order to them whatsoever, and yet no one seems to drive any faster than about 40kph or so and I didn't see one crash. You get people riding on both sides of the road and weaving all over the place, with pedestrians crossing pretty much anywhere, and yet it all works. With the traffic and watching them shoot off lanterns into the sky for the Moon Festival, we sat at this one interesection for a good 1-2 hours, just watching.

Crazy Tropical Fruit

Ok, so there is fruit in this world that unless you've been around SE Asia you probably have never heard of in your life. I had this one thing called a dragon fruit, there were these others called mangosteens, some spiky-looking lychee things called rhambutans, and some wierd grape-like things with a shell on them. We had fruit pretty much with every meal as it was cheap and excellent.


See, now I would provide you with pictures of all this, but unfortunately I lost my brand new camera on the last day, dropped in the sea in Halong Bay. I think I miss the 300 or so pictures I took even more than the $300 or so that I lost on the camera... cameras can be replaced.

Other than that I would say it was one of the most enjoyable trips I've had, despite having a cold for most of it.

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