Most of Vietnam was a great break for us from the big cities, since we spent 24 of our days on a boat, at the beach, or a short walk from it. From the moment we arrived, the pace was slower than in China, and again we found that we prefer the smaller towns over the big ones. Daily routines became cooking/eating breakfast we bought the day before, then walking to the restaurant for a nice lunch, spending the afternoon at the market and the beach, then having dinner delivered. I remember saying “I’m bored” more than once — I know, blasphemy on such a trip. But now, even looking back over 4 countries in SE Asia, K will tell you that she recommends what we saw of Vietnam over virtually every other stop we have made. Here are some impressions, then the costs below.
Hanoi and HCMC traffic – Wow. Scooters 8-across, each way on the streets. Up to 6 people on a single bike. Oncoming traffic yields to people turning left across the lanes. The light turns yellow then red, and most still go. The others push to the line, spreading onto the sidewalk to allow another 3-4 bike widths to accommodate the numbers.
Calling in the crew to make a meal – This happened so often, I suppose it is just the standard process. You enter a restaurant and are greeted. You place an order. A kid you haven’t seen shows up on his bike with 3 cokes and 2 waters – just what you ordered. A girl you saw at the restaurant down the street walks into the kitchen with mangos. What a coincidence … Anna’s dish has mangos. 2 or 3 others show up and disappear into the kitchen, then leave again to their original restaurant right before you are served. I guess it really does take a village.
A definite vibe about the people… – They are curious, with an almost child-like flair (no offense intended here at all). Vendor or not, they always say hello and ask your name. If you answer, they ask your age. Always. It is very disarming, and you feel like you could have a chat with any of them about anything. They are well dressed (even in poverty), with Louis Vitton, Guccci, Nike, DG, and Polo everywhere. It must be the place where last year’s fashions went after they were replaced on the shelves.
…but still they are developing – It is so sad to see that happy child playing in the sand, but to realize that it is a weekday and they should be in school. Since school is not free in Vietnam, in the village where we stayed there are kids everywhere, all of the time. We marveled at the beaches, but had to be careful because they were also the local dump. We saw bags dropped daily at the edge of the surf with all manner of trash inside. When the businesspeople did a bit of a beach cleanup, they just raked the sand of the debris and dug some holes on the beach to bury it. We met a man from Georgia in Hoi An who had been there for 6 years. I asked what his business was, and he said that was keeping a promise he made to the Vietnamese people when he was here as an American soldier. I didn’t push, but he later said that his efforts had “paved a few roads and helped some kids go to college.” Believe me when I tell you that these are HUGE deals here.
Beat the heat – Boy, was it hot. We had to put off the beach until the late afternoon every day. We found that a guilty pleasure was riding to the nearest large town and hanging out in the mini-mall, because it was well air-conditioned. We bussed 40 miles , 90 min, for $1. Then the KFC offered ice cream cones for 3000 VND (that’s about 13 cents). Sometimes, you just gotta give in to a cone, or a couple. OK, we had about 4 each – sparkling examples of Americans that we are.
What about the war? We asked this question of many people, and it is basically a taboo subject. They just don’t talk about it, even amongst themselves (we were told). We were thanked a few times in the south when we told people we were Americans, and I do not think it was for anything I had done. The official version in schools is mostly about US invasion and war crimes, so I would have imagined a deep-seeded resentment throughout the country. Instead, it is as though the entire country has collectively agreed to forget it and move on. All you can do is admire them for this effort, and for welcoming us with the war being such a very recent bad memory.
Gross, gross, gross, gross, gross – That’s one gross for each time the lady in front of me at the grocery store touched and squeezed EVERY.SINGLE.BAGUETTE. I had already grabbed one and thought that I had narrowly missed the contamination of every bread product at the supermarket. I slowly backed away as another group of about 4 ladies approached the bakery. I was making my escape when I looked back and saw each one set down their seafood and proceed to touch and squeeze all of the bread. I swallowed my vomick and discreetly put the one I had back on the shelf. I’m having trouble reliving that memory… so let’s talk about costs.
As hoped, Vietnam picked up the slack from China and pushed us into the green. Yay! That is even with a huge attraction cost in the first column for the Ha Long Bay cruise (although it did include all meals and 2 nights’ lodging). And check out the food costs in Gành Đỏ- they break down to $24 per day, or $8 per meal for the whole family. Stayed at some great locations (Hanoi Central Star hotel, An Thi Homestay in Hoi An, The Bay House in Gành Đỏ, 4 Boys Hotel in HCMC). Such a geek. Green on spreadsheets makes me smile. – ALaff