11.06.2012 100 °F
As much as I love Thailand and could have happily stayed there the entire duration of our trip, I was reminded why I love traveling so much as we headed to Vietnam. It was really fun to revisit places in Thailand, but as we ventured up north to new cities the real exploring began. It is such a rush to be somewhere completely new and to constantly be surprised by a different culture. We always do some research before going somewhere new, but it is still very different experiencing something first hand. As we were getting ready to go to Vietnam we were both genuinely giddy with excitement. The first time attempting to communicate with people in a new country, ordering food, asking for directions, or even smiling at the group of people wide-eyed at the site of you is always different everywhere we go, and I just can’t get enough of it!
Having seen many documentaries, movies and photos from Vietnam I thought I was relatively prepared for what it would look like. However, after just a few hours in Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon) I was overwhelmed by the craziness of it all. We arrived on a Tuesday night and it was instant chaos. We had to walk around a park to get to our hostel, and it was so alive! There were people of every age playing games, hanging out or taking a dance or aerobics class.
Vietnam is notorious for its motorbike packed streets, and HCMC is no exception. I would say it's easily 90% bikes and 10% other vehicles, and people drive in any direction they please. The stop lights are few and far between, and most people just use horns as they approach intersections. Standing at a corner attempting to cross the street can seem like quite a daunting task. We eventually felt pretty safe though because the bikes seem to move for us and are able to weave around the pedestrians very well.
It's also very impressive the amount of people and items they are able to carry on their bikes. We've seen whole families and what appeared to be the entire contents of a house all on one bike!
We quickly learned that Vietnam is a little more fast paced than Thailand, but equally as exciting and unique.
HCMC is known for its pagodas and temples so we spent most of our time there just wandering the city and taking in the sights. Again, it's so crazy to see how much time, effort and details are involved in the buildings that were made so long ago. I don't know if it is laziness, lack of funds, or that people aren't as willing to dedicate so much time to the construction of buildings, but there is nothing quite like an ancient Asian temple. Most people in Vietnam identify as Buddhist, but the temples and pagodas are a mix of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism so they are slightly different than others we've seen.
The people are also very proud of their temples and there is constant restoration happening, and most donations go towards that.
One of the first things we noticed about the locals here is that about 99% of the adult female population dresses in what appear to be matching pajama suits. They appear to be some sort of nylon material, and are all a loud floral print.
We have no idea if it is just convenience or a fashion statement, but they are everywhere!
Our next stop after HCMC was Mui Ne, a coastal town a few hours north. Since we are here in the low season it was pretty deserted, and rained a lot, but we were still able to get in an adventure packed day and some good eats! Check out our delicious meal from Phat Hamburgers. The word is still out on exactly what ‘phat’ means here, but we’re pretty sure it’s not the same as the slang word we know from middle school that means Pretty Hot And Tempting!
We started our adventure day by visiting some white sand dunes at sunrise,
where we also saw a wedding photo shoot happen.
Then we headed over to the orange sand dunes for some sand sledding. To be honest, I thought Vietnam was all hills, mountains and rice fields, and had no idea that these dunes even existed! It was the summer break while we were there so all of the 'guides' were kids between 5 and 14 years old. We had two of the teenagers helping us around and showing us how to slide. Part way through the trip one of them asked Gabrielle if we were going to tip at the end (which we had intended on doing) and she tried to explain to them that it wasn't polite to ask for it, and that more people would tip if they didn't ask. I don't think he got the message though because 2 minutes later he also asked me if I was going to tip them!
The next stop of the day was a traditional fishing village. It was still early in the day so everyone was preparing their catches to bring to the market.
They use these little, woven, circular basket boats to go between their fishing boats and the shore.
The final stop was at a very shallow river with huge cliffs on one side that looks a lot like Moab, Utah, or something out of Jurassic Park! The water was extremely shallow and it was fun to feel like we were walking on water!
Since the town was pretty empty and rainy we decided to leave that night and head to the beach town of Nha Trang. We had read about a vegetarian restaurant that was known for its cheap, delicious, ‘I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-meat’ food so we went on a mission to find it. When we got there this was the menu we were given:
We both went for the 'plain cooked rice wich miscellaneous' and this is what came out:
and it was so good! I’d say it was even one of the best meals we've had!
We had also heard about a natural hot springs and mud bath so we spent a day there. There were small, communal mud baths that were refilled after each use.
We then rinsed off and headed over to the natural hot tubs and pools. We shared our hot tub with a cute mom and her two little girls. There was a professional photographer walking around taking pictures that you could buy when you left. Of course the mom stopped the photographer and asked them to take a pro shot of the five of us with the youngest girl, who was still about 9, sitting on Gabrielle's lap. We're not sure if she bought it, but we were pretty curious what she would do with it if she did!
Since we were in a beach town we decided to take a snorkel trip and see if it was a match for Thailand. Unfortunately it wasn't as far as what we were able to see, but the food was by far the best, and most, we've had on a boat trip. It turned out to be quite the feast!
We also had a hilarious Vietnamese guide, who introduced himself as Bruce Lee and only responded to Bruce, and had obviously learned his English in Australia. It was a bit of a dead giveaway when his 'today' sounded a bit more like 'tuh-die'! He also struggled a little with the names. Gabrielle attempted to introduce herself as Brie, and there was a lot of back and forth of "Brie" 'Fwree?' "No, Brie" 'Fwree?' "No, Brie, Buh, Buh, Brie" 'Ohhhhh, Gee (like clarified butter)!' "Um...yeah." And there was a poor Scottish guy named Olly who he had a little trouble with and then Bruce attempted his Scottish accent by saying "I'm Sco-ish and I'm so impor-ant and I drink wa-er with my compu-er". He was quite the character!
Bruce is the one in the tiny shorts in the back right corner.
We were also able to use my underwater camera again, which is always a good time!
Next up: Hoi An. The 'old town', where we stayed, was situated right on the river. It was such a quaint little town and one of my favorites so far.
The architecture was so different from any other place in Asia we've been. Almost all the buildings were a very colonial style and Gabrielle commented that it reminded her a lot of buildings from the Dominican Republic, and I can see how that would be more fitting of this style.
Hoi An is known for its tailoring and custom pieces of clothing. This was immediately evident because all of these beautiful buildings were full of mannequins dressed in suits, dresses, coats and any other clothing item you can think of!
There were also quite a few women riding around on bicycles that all asked the same stock questions, "Where are you from? How long have you been in Hoi An? Would you like to come see my shop? Good price for you!"
We had been planning on getting some clothes made anyway, so we finally went with one of these women and got some custom dresses made! They are very similar to styles you can get back home, but the whole process was really fun and it is neat knowing the dresses were made just for us.
After that we continued up north to Hue, and ancient city that also has some remaining war tunnels. The next post will include that and more information about the war.
It’s been a while since we shared pictures, so here are a few of the gems we’ve collected along the way.
First real Vietnamese Pho at the world's tiniest table!
Power lines for days!
Birds for sale! We think you make a wish when you buy it and then set it free.
Lots of the children here are very eager to say hello.
Shout out to Steve...I hear you might call him lube-ner...