Vietnam was by far the most exciting place I had ever been in. Admittedly it wasn’t comfortable 70% of the time, and I was miserable in some parts of it because it was not comfortable- okay, maybe more than some of the time (I’ve been taking a lot of luxuries like clean air and spacious transport systems for granted), but it was still extremely memorable and I wouldn’t have changed anything. I flew from Melbourne to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) which was an 8 hour flight on Vietnam Airlines. The plane was fine, but cramped because leg room was non-existent, probably catered for the native petite people haha. However, they did serve plenty of food. I was expecting only one meal (lunch), which they served within half an hour of take off, but then an hour before we were about to land, we were served food again, this time an “Afternoon snack” which was pretty much another lunch/dinner meal. Which I found really generous/absurd since we were landing just before dinner time Vietnamese time, but you know, Asians and their food..
It’s overwhelming when you first experience it, but now I love it and miss it so much. There are some road laws apparently but I have yet to see them in motion. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel and you are immediately pelted with the sounds horns blaring, the sights of cars and bikes swerving around each other (beeping as they do so), the smells of pollution fumes from the masses of motorcyclists, the horns beeping, the horns beeping and… the horns beeping. They drive with their hand above the horn permanently. They beep at everything. It’s not being rude like in NZ however, for them, it’s a means of letting whoever is in front of you that you’re going to overtake them, the people beside you that you’re changing lanes, the people at an intersection that you’re approaching, or telling the person in front of you to move out of your way. Yeah, it’s a lot of things to say in one beep so they generally beep a couple of times to be safe. Multiply that by a few hundred people on the roads and there you have it. Vietnam traffic. This is where asian drivers originated from, seriously. I was amazed there were no crashes or anything at the way they drove around each other and the fact that it was like our motorway at rush hour but 24/7 (as in the amount of people on the roads, but there wasn’t any slowing down, oh no). The city was constantly moving, everyone interacts with each other, selling street food and goods, but at times, you will see the locals just sitting on the streets and observing the daily activities. It makes NZ seem so slow and sluggish in comparison! I’m feeling nostalgic thinking about it as I type this up. Crossing the road takes a lot of guts too. It’s hard at first, but you just have to muster up the courage, close your eyes, walk straight ahead at a steady pace and ignore the 50 or so motorbikes zooming towards you with no signs of slowing down. They see your speed of walking and will swerve around you (probably getting in a few beeps as they do so). After the first few times, it becomes second nature!
The city never sleeps- once we had put our stuff in our hotel and freshened up a bit, we walked to the night markets at about 10pm and the party was just getting started. It’s completely safe to walk around at night, many of the people are street sellers and they pretty much work every hour that they’re awake so once again- a city that never sleeps.
Another thing- everyone is so skinny. I’ve been told numerous times that I’m quite slim, but my goodness, the girls over there make me look fat. Seriously. No, they’re not the living-in-poverty-skinny, but the I’m-an-aspiring-model-skinny. Pretty much every girl there has the look down. They dress quite stylish too with heels and all but what I find amazing is how they don’t even have to try. In Vietnam, breakfast, lunch, and dinner is usually a bowl of noodles, maybe congee, or some kind of rice rolls. You know the size of the bowls that Pho comes in? Can you imagine eating a whole bowl for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention the snacks in between? And still be stick thin despite sitting on your butt all day working in a nail salon or sitting on the streets selling goods? It’s unbelievable. Everyone is always eating and yet, they’re still very, very petite to the extremes. The heat would play a part in that but still.. Speaking of heat, it was around 35 degrees Celsius (and it was winter there, but summer and winter temperatures are pretty much the same for Saigon) and the girls would wear jeans and hoodies. Absolutely flabbergasting.
We stayed in Saigon for 3 days in a rather tourist-y area mainly looking for a tour to book which was frustrating because we were extremely picky and insistent on visiting certain places. In the end, we had a tour personalised for us :) It was a lot of effort but we got there in the end. You have to be extremely careful in Saigon because it’s the main city so the locals tend to be very pushy in getting you to buy their wares, and also there are quite a few pick-pocketers about so do not ever use your smart phone in public. I almost had my phone snatched out of my hand when I whipped it out that one time to call an aunty and then a motorcyclist attempted to grab it off me while driving past. Mind you, that was in the dodgy area of Saigon which I doubt many tourists would visit. Back to the main area of the city- it was not clean at all haha, they don’t have rubbish bins- you throw your garbage onto the sides of the streets and the street cleaners will sweep the streets every few hours.
Anyway, our tour started off with an eight hour bus drive to Nha Trang. Which was the most miserable eight hour drive I had ever had because it turned out to be an 11 hour drive with (shudder-worthy) bathroom stops every 3-4 hours. However, Nha Trang was the best part of the whole trip. If you go Vietnam, GO NHA TRANG!! There are a lot of Russians in this town which I was super surprised at because I have never come across anything about Russia and Vietnam interacting before when I took History in high school. The islands are really beautiful there, rather exclusive really.
First up, we went SCUBA DIVING! I was still brimming with excitement for days after this experience, it was like watching Discovery Channel in 3D HD. My sister and I hopped onto another boat and had a 1 minute pep talk, then jumped into the sea! With scuba gear of course. The beeaaauutiful, colourful schools of fish flitting past you in the deep, clear blue water, skimming your hands over the sea anenomes that were gently swaying on the ocean floor was truly unforgettable. Clearly I sucked at swimming though since my scuba diver instructor told me “You slow swim… I swim for us, okay?” Hahaha, well…
After scuba diving, the boat took us to the first Island where we went snorkelling and kayaking on the beach which was nothing on scuba diving of course. The sand was clean and water was amazingly clear however- cleaner than most New Zealand beaches I’d say. Then, we departed for lunch on a floating restaurant! Truly amazing, sitting in the middle of the ocean and eating Com Suon (grilled pork on rice). We decided to have fresh squid as well. Unfortunately, we had a super athletic Squid which escaped death relentlessly for a good 10 minutes which was probably why it was tough to eat. I’ve never seen a squid with such athletic swimming ability o.o
Our 2nd Island was a man-made beach and was seriously like a luxury private resort.
There were about 4 pools resembling mini Wet n Wild/ Sea World and gorgeous sand and even a mini bar at the pools. Felt like something out of a movie set! No better way to relax than this :)
The third Island was a museum I think. However, you have to pay to get on this island (actually, you have to pay to get on all the islands but we were exhausted from the day’s activities and decided to sit this one out).
We took the boat back to the main city of Nha Trang and got dropped off back at our hotel, and then left again at about 9pm to hit the night markets.
Next post will be on the ancient town of Hoi An, heavily influenced by the French, famous for it’s silk tailors, and lanterns that light up the whole town at night :)