First impressions of Vietnam

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July 12th 2014
Published: July 18th 2014
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While preparing for our journey around the world and thinking about where to go, Vietnam popped out as one of the countries we both were very interested in. We both love Vietnamese food, and we pictured green rice paddies, peasants with conical hats and junks (the boat, not trash) slowly drifting along the mighty Mekong. Therefore we have reserved our last month of our journey for exploring this country.

Our first stop in Vietnam was Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) as it is currently named. We have become a bit lazy lately, so we had asked the hotel to arrange an airport pick-up for us, and were dropped off in front of a shady looking alley with signs pointing towards our hotel. Our hotel still turned out to be nice, clean and centrally located, but without tripadvisor we would a) never had found it, and b) turned away in front of the alley (with turned out to just lead to some apartment buildings and the hotel, nothing shady actually).

We had read that HCMC is a city you either love or hate. Already our first evening placed us more in the first category, maybe it was not our favorite city but we definitely liked it. We went out walking in the park outside our hotel, filled with people exercising, training kung fu (or something similar) and dancing on small dancing pavilions. The traffic was chaotic, but once you tried it wasn’t actually hard to get over the road even though the motorbikes were swishing past all around you. The streets were filled with neon lights and people selling food and drinks, and it felt like a good mix of big city and exotic vibe.

Our first encounters with local Vietnamese food weren’t that impressive. In Vietnam they seem to put meat in everything, and we are really missing the superb seafood noodle soups we enjoyed in Canberra. Even though there may not be any meat present in a noodle soup, it is still made with beef or chicken as a base, and the vegetarian ones are often tasteless. We found a quite nice vegan restaurant near our hotel, but haven't come across any good seafood restaurants serving noodles comparable to what we have had elsewhere.

The next day we headed out to explore the city, following the route from Lonely Planet Vietnam. The walk was nice, however cut into several pieces with big breaks in between by the weather, there were several heavy showers during the walk. We visited the Ben Thanh market place, but didn’t get that excited about all the pirate stuff they sold there, instead we decided to do our shopping somewhere else. Along the Dong Khoi we found nice small shops selling local and international brands, here we later bought some bags and Johanna a belt, much nicer than the pirate stuff, and the quality also felt better. We ended our trip visiting a vegetarian restaurant called …hmm with good reviews on tripadvisor, excellent choice even though the portions could have been bigger.

To get to see the Mekong we took a two days, one night tour to the delta. We initially planned to take a bike tour, but after a lot of comparison we ended up going with Water Buffalo Tours who offered a private tour (i.e. just the two of us, a guide and a driver) to the delta. The sights in the delta area weren’t maybe that impressive, the rice paddies were flat, the places we visited not that exciting, but everything on the tour itself was perfect. Our guide took us on different routes than the other tourists, to markets were westerners are a rarity, and hired boats only for us for the river crossings. We saw a cabinet maker’s workshop, a chili nursery, biked through rice fields and drove around on the rivers in small boats. We also finally got enough courage to try the king of fruits, durian, that we had heard tastes awful. It was actually quite good, a really cream and juicy taste. The smell is however strange, like fried onion or maybe even rotten onion, so it feels a bit strange to eat it.

The highlight of the tour was visiting the morning floating markets near Can Tho where we spent the night. We visited both the retail floating market and the wholesale floating market, containing all kinds of stands (i.e. boats) that you would normally find on a market. To advertise what they sold the sellers put up examples of their merchandise on long poles and other boats then drove between the stands doing their shopping. We had coffee from the café boat and some fruits from one of the fruit boat, but mostly just drifted by all the stands with our cameras smattering.

On our way back we also visited a Cao Dai temple, quite new and kitschy, the head nun however invited us to the backrooms of the temple were we got to share a vegetarian meal with the monks, nuns and volunteers of the temple which was a nice experience. After the tour we still stayed a night in HCMC doing some further shopping before setting of towards Dalat in the high lands the next day.

Additional photos below
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18th July 2014
Mekong delta - river cruising

The Delta
Great photo. Beautiful.

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