We are flying over the South China Sea towards Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia it is hard to believe that our 9 day stint in Vietnam is over. In those 9 days we scaled the country from Ho Chi Mihn City in the South up to the central cities of Da Nang/Hoi An along the old DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), North to Hanoi the capital, and East towards China in visiting Halong Bay. There is so much we did not do and see it seems there is a now a list for next time.
Overall, the people of Vietnam are lovely people. They are nice, generally want to help you, and are trustworthy. It is safe to say that the people are one of the highlights of the trip. Tourists in Vietnam are very international and yet there are few American tourists. We met many Australians, Koreans, Chinese, and Europeans, but only yesterday did we bump into American tourists. I found this particularly amusing because the American dollar is a widely accepted form of currency along with Vietnamese dong. Prices were listed in either $dollars or $VD. There were many times I heard tourists comment, “That is in American… what is it in Australian dollars?” I concluded it has to do with the history of the country and the war that this idiosyncrasy exists.
Vietnam is definitely a developing country. Poverty is easy to see, but the people in Vietnam are very hardworking. Some work several jobs for what amounts to nothing in our currency and yet the country continues to advance. It is roughly 20,000VD to $1.00. One night we had beer for 0.25. It is fun that your dollar goes so far, but is humbling in the sense that there are such huge inequalities in this world. Despite this difference, as I mentioned earlier, the people here seem genuinely nice and content. It is a lesson for us all in simplifying to what really matters; people. Family importance stood out as something important in the Vietnamese culture overall. Children, parents, spouses we seemed to have met them all (they conveniently all work in the same business usually), but they want to extend that feeling of family to all they meet.
The city is busy, the countryside is picturesque, and the food is fresh. I have commented on these in previous posts, so I will try not to repeat myself too much, but it deserves some emphasis. Driving in Vietnam is something that does not cease to amaze me. There are lanes and stoplights, but yet there seems to be a general tolerance of not following any of the rules. It makes me wonder if there is any sort of rule book or license exam… I mean I am sure that they pay to drive, but the lack of rule following yet successful ebb and flow of traffic was impressive. What I have learned here is to use your horn liberally assume that everyone will cut you off and if you want to pass a semi in a lane supposedly reserved for oncoming traffic go for it, just make sure to lay on the horn while you are doing it.
The countryside is beautiful and similar to what you see in National Geographic. Rice farmers in the fields harvesting and planting, tilling with their livestock, and animals grazing in big open fields. There is few machines here, so most work is done by hand. Seeing it gives you an appreciation for that single grain of rice that someone picked by hand for you to eat. Riding by train is definitely a great way to see the countryside and the train ride from Da Nang to Hue is 2 hours of some of the most spectacular coastline and worth the train ticket!
Speaking of eating… Vietnamese food is so much more than Pho and rice noodles. If I had to describe it in one word I would say it is fresh. Due in part to lack of adequate refrigeration, but having the herbs picked that morning and the broth made that day impacts flavor in a way that Vietnamese restaurants back home cannot match. Not to mention that street food despite the unbelievably cheap price tag is so delicious. Neither one of us got sick, not to say it does not happen (we did not drink tap water) but we ate everything and both of us managed to eat it all without getting sick. We always looked for the street stalls packed with the locals and the same rule went for restaurants too. It so far has been a good rule of thumb because everything has been delicious.
My only question now is, When can we come back?
Sayonara for now… D&M