The transition between China and Vietnam has quite impressive. China’s building and roads were grand and impressive. It’s society seemed very orderly and measured. Vietnam, on the other hand was very different. Rather than a single large and impressive building, the vietnamese would build a hodgepodge of narrow, three story buildings with random passageways among them. Rather than stopping at traffic lights, the vietnamese seemed to be blind to them. They simply dart in and through any gap they can find.
You felt a very different vibe in Vietnam. You could sense that individuality was a much bigger part of their society. While there were still some impressive communist and soviet-era buildings it their midst, they didn’t seem to be affected by them. They were free spirits.
The chaos also brought some safety concerns. While we had always felt safe in China, Vietnam was different. We had heard about all the scams and in the end would get sucked in by a couple. We had also run into people that had experienced some dangerous situations. We definitely had to change our travel mode in Vietnam. Unfortunately, we had to be less trusting and more cynical.
Scams aside, we had a great time in Vietnam. Most people we met were very open and inviting. We had a great time.
When we arrived in Hanoi, you could feel the vibe. It might have been the adrenaline from dodging scooters and motorbikes, but it definitely felt exciting. It was a bee-hive of activity. It was fun just walking down the street and watching the chaos unfold.
Even the buildings seemed rather chaotic in Hanoi. The colonial and soviet-era buildings provide the backdrop, but then all sense and order breaks down. Tall, narrow buildings are squeezed into all available space with little passage ways and odd shaped corners. Our hotel was insanely narrow (one room width and a hallway wide). When you looked out the window you saw a collage of roof tops of all different styles.
Still they found room for nature with green patches in dispersed throughout. Despite being a large city, Hanoi was very green. There were many large trees along the streets and plants in windows and on roof tops. The city was a somehow peaceful and manic at the same time.
It all came together in the food. Everywhere we went, from a posh restaurant to cheap whole in a wall, the food was fresh and fantastic. At one restaurant, the owner even came and sat down with us. He recommended some different dishes and showed us how to prepare and eat them. It was a very different experience from China.
We had been living in the karst countryside since we had visited Yangshuo in China. We had heard about the scenery of Halong Bay and we were not disappointed. Even though we had been seeing karst mountains for almost two weeks, the unique islands around Halong Bay were impressive. The tall jagged rocks were in sharp contrast to the calm flat waters at their base.
There weren’t any towns around us, since there is nowhere to build a town. They had some floating villages on the water, but they weren’t very big. It was very peaceful.
Still there was lots to do. We went kayaking through the floating villages and a number of caves. We swam to small isolated beach and dove from the top of the ship. The boat tour kept us busy, but somehow it did not seem hurried.
I had been a little worried about the boat tour that we booked, because it was a cheap tour and I had heard lots of bad stories. While the boat was rather dated, the crew and other passengers were great. And the food… the food was great and there was lots of it. It was a great three day trip.
As with many of the places that we visited in Vietnam, the food was awesome. We got some tips from a local foodie, and he got it all bang on. Great food and reasonable prices. We had lots of good meals in Hoi An. The ambience in the old town just seemed to be the icing on the cake.
The best part of Hoi An, however, was just taking it easy. We had a great little hotel with friendly staff that had a really relaxing vibe. We could just sit by the pool and relax, or we could grab some free bikes and go for a ride around town.
On days when we wanted to be more adventurous, we could take the bikes to the beach… which we did on a number of occasions. We played in the surf and the kids go to try out boogie boarding for the first time. We even got to catch up with some old friends (well they are old friends now) that we had met in Yangshuo.
It was just a great, relaxing town.
The Mekong Delta was a world away from the rest of Vietnam. It was a whole society centred around the river. Here was got to see the floating markets that we had seen on TV. We met river merchants that filled their boats up river and had sailed down river to sell their wares. Boats full of pineapples, or boats full of watermelon, or full of any number of produce. They would put samples of their produce up on long sticks so you could tell what they were selling from a distance.
It is pretty hectic in the Delta, so we had booked a tour. It was an equally hectic tour, but we got to see a lot of different aspects of life on the river (rice factory, rice noodle factory, coconut candy factory, fish farms, other farms, local music, etc). It was a lot of fun, even if we did get scammed by the tour company in the end.
Vietnam was definitely a high point in our travels.