Where to begin.
Vietnam is indescribable; which is most likely true for any other country a person visits that is not like their own. How can I communicate the general essence of the Vietnamese life to those who can only understand by seeing?
Derik and I went on this vacation not knowing what to expect. We didn’t know much about Vietnam at all. Why did we decide to choose a country we knew nothing about? It came to us highly recommended by several people. We were adventurous and went with it. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go alone.
I’ve talked about our amazing friends Ethan and Sandra before, because we’ve hung out a few times in Korea (and went to college together, for those of you who didn’t know). E&S were very excited about joining us on this unknown adventure, and before we knew it, we were boarding a plane for the five hour flight to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
I should mention, just because I’m quite proud of this fact, that the only luggage we took with us was the backpack ever-so-carefully packed on our backs. We had a long travel itinerary in the country of Vietnam, and didn’t want to be lugging around suitcases in buses, taxis, airplanes, boats…you get the picture. Because we packed minimal luggage we were able to travel quite smoothly.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at about 1:15am, where we called a taxi to bring us to our overnight hotel. We then had a good night’s rest and headed out for the airport again, early morning, this time bound for North Vietnamese city of Hanoi. When we arrived in Hanoi we were immediately immersed in the culture and daily lifestyle of the Vietnamese. There were farmers, street peddlers (selling everything from their overloaded bikes), beggers, construction workers, taxi drivers…and everyone seemed to be doing something. Also, I’ve never seen so many motorcycles in my life. We were trying to figure out a good ratio between cars to cycles…and Sandra and I both agreed it had to be at LEAST 20-30 cycles to one car.
We learned real quickly that crossing the road is very different from the US or Korea. You just go. Don’t stop, the bikes with drive around you. I can tell you, it’s quite terrifying trying to cross the road and you have 30 bikes coming straight for you. The best way to do it is close your eyes or look the other way, and hope you don’t feel wheels hit the side of your body. I regret not taking a video of us crossing the road…but I didn’t want to give anybody heart attacks, or risk losing my camera in the process. :)
As soon as we were settled into our cute (but small) little hotel room, we headed out looking for something to eat. A restaurant was recommended to us, and after a 30 minute walk we were there. We were immediately blown away by this little outdoor restaurant. It was SOOO busy! There were multiple kitchens all cooking different things surrounding the perimeters of the restaurant. Cool.
We were sat down at a long table, right next to four other guests. The menu that was given to us was more like a book. Biggest menu I’ve ever seen! They had a beef, a chicken, a fish, a soup, a salad, a roll, and a noodle category. Plus drinks, fruits, and desserts.
Took us about thirty minutes to figure out what we wanted…partially because of the menu, the other part because all the food was so cheap. A steak dinner cost $4.00. A beer? $0.50. I settled for beef noodles at $2.00 and fresh (not fried) spring rolls. Best meal I’ve had in over a year…maybe more.
After paying our lunch bill (total of $15 dollars for the four of us), we headed out to see Hoan Kiem Lake (also known as Sword Lake). Legend has it that an emperor was boating in the lake with his magic sword. This sword was then taken by a turtle, and never seen again. Turtle Tower was then built in the middle of the lake to link the lake to the story.
There was also a beautiful red wooden bridge built on the north side of the lake connecting the mainland to a small island that houses a temple built in the 18th century. Unfortunately for us, the temple area was being used for a wedding, and you had to pay to cross the bridge to get to the temple. We decided against it.
In Hanoi the streets are very busy (as mentioned before) with buses, cars, motorcycles, and…these. These wheelchair type contraptions are called cyclos. As far as I could tell, it seemed like more of a touristy way to get around, maybe similar to a horse and buggy back home?
A little bit further down the street a lady went right up to derik and threw her baskets of fruit on his shoulders. It seemed funny at the time, but after paying $5.00 later, we realized it was a ploy for her to get money. She did that, we took the picture, and then she demanded the money. She was wanting about $7.50 (or 150,000 vietnamese dong) but we refused and walked away. You live and learn I guess. Oh well…here’s our five dollar picture.
Walking back to our hotel, we noticed the electric lines. Talk about a nightmare if you had to fix anything. How the heck would you know which wire to fix?! This cannot be safe.
Back at our hotel, we had an amazing view of the surrounding neighborhood. This is just an example of the way the Vietnamese live…and these are some of the nicer places. It’s really humbling. Here I am an American waltzing in to this country, and I have more money then a great majority of these people will ever have. One of our taxi drivers said that it is average for a person to make $1.00 a day, maybe if they’ve got a really good job…$100.00 a month.
We spent the rest of the evening playing cards on the balcony enjoying the sunset. We would head out for our 2 day cruise to Halong Bay in the morning.