First Post since 2014 but since we have returned to South East Asia, I thought the blog would be fun.
We have been on the road in Vietnam for about a week now. We started in Hanoi after 3 days in Paris visiting friends and 10 hours on the plane. I’ve just lost the elite status I had reached after 3 years in the corporate world again, so we were relegated to the “back of the bus”. No one saluted as I walked on board the plane.. oh well 😔.
I had heard all of the scary stories about Vietnam; everybody overcharges you, look out for scams etc etc. So far our experience has been to the contrary; the Vietnamese people have dealt with us tourists for a long time now and the hospitality industry knows exactly how to handle us. Much more refined then Cambodia or Laos. Even than Thailand.
It is true that you must only ride in certain taxi cabs. We did get out of one cab because his meter was obviously rigged. The hotel gave us a list of good companies and as long as we stuck to those all went well. We are approached frequently by someone want to sell us something but a smile and a no thank you is all that is required in those exchanges.
We had forgotten the chaos of the cities of South East Asia but it all came crashing back in Hanoi as we were swept down the streets by the honking horns, loud music, and massive throngs of people. It’s fun to cross the streets and watch as somehow the hundreds of motorists swarming around you pass by and expertly avoid running you down.
There are SO many tourists here. Many of them wearing backpacks and many others marching in line like cattle behind someone carrying a flag after just coming off the tour bus. Michel and I were unable to bring ourselves to join in on any of the tours. We preferred to wander and search for those brief encounters with the local people.
In Hanoi it was Tet or Vietnamese New Year. That means all families come together for the holidays. They dress up in beautiful clothes and take pictures of each other. As our hotel was situated on the fashionable corner of Hoan Kiem Lake near a beautiful old temple, all of the good looking people of Hanoi were there.
After resting a bit in our very comfortable hotel room, which even included a minibar and coffee machine, we headed out for another food adventure Bun Cha. A wonderful soup and specialty of Hanoi. A sweet and sour broth with fatty pork, comes with rice noodles, meatballs, crispy spring rolls, all kinds of salad, and fresh herbs. You put everything in the bowl with the broth and the pork. Spice it up a bit and it’s yummy. We discovered a Pho restaurant right next door to our hotel. The Pho is a traditional soup in Vietnam and the broth (which must come from a master broth) was sublime. We ate there a number of times during our 5 days in Hanoi.
Our impression of Hanoi is that it feels very Westernized; local people wearing shorts and revealing tops, many people speaking English, beds in our hotel soft and comfy. It is not as big as Bangkok but certainly business is booming and we frequently saw a Lexus or Mercedes going by.
We took the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue. Our 4 bed room was shared with a young couple who plan to cover about 1/2 the planet in one year. Their next destination after Vietnam is going to be base camp at Mount Everest…wow! Then on to places like Egypt and Morocco. Too many stops for me even given a year but they are young and looking for physical adventure as well as cultural.
The train ride was comfortable enough but as usual it was difficult to sleep. The reward was waking up to passing green rice fields and small towns. Always my favorite part of Asia.
Hue is a backpacker/tourist town with about 350,000 residents and is divided by the Perfume River. Packed full of tourists and large buses. The streets are lined with bars and the rock music is very load at night. We managed to find a peaceful hotel in a quiet alley but were never really able to escape the tourism except when we explored the Imperial City and the tombs of the old emperors outside of town. The special soup here is bun bo, a noodle soup like Pho but with smaller noodles. Served with beef and lots of herbs.
Hue must have been an amazing place before the war but it was bombed heavily and some historical sites have been newly restored. So much of Vietnam was destroyed and newly restored landmarks was a recurring theme as we traveled.
From Hue we took a private car to Hoi An. A four hour ride, including stops, which took us up over a pass near the coastline. There were pretty beaches along the way and nice views at the top. We passed through Danang and I counted a least 10 high rise building under construction. There must be 20 to 30 that are already occupied. So, obviously, Danang is growing. Many of the high rises were apartments so business must be booming and new people moving to town.
Our first hotel in Hoi An was on the river and far enough from the town to be peaceful. Hoi An is smaller than Hue and also a more conservative town. The bars and restaurants all close down earlier at night. Dress is perhaps a little bit more reserved. My kind of town.
We walked or rode bikes daily into the old town or outside of town. Old Hoi An town has buildings on the river front that date back as far as the 15th century. It is again well tourist-ed but very beautiful. We discovered good food here. Including our favorite “Stuffed squid in a wonderful sauce. More in that in my next post when I blog about our second and most special hotel called An-Villa and the meal we prepared there. As usual, we are always searching for a beautiful quiet place and we found all those things and some new friends in this little hotel outside of Hoi An.
South East Asia is rapidly changing and seems to be morphing into the mega-region being predicted by some of those who understand Asia. For us, the trip was a reminder of a frequently learned lesson in my life; you can never go back. The South East Asia that we knew on our long adventure here and before that in the first decade of this century is very hard to find now. Replaced by hotels with fast internet, comfortable beds, and guests with money. Of course we are following the regular tourists trail Hanoi to Hue, then Hue to Hoi An. We had only 3 short weeks here which was not really enough time to truly know Vietnam. We met good people along the road and based on our short experience I recommend Vietnam for a first time visit to South East Asia. It would be a great country to introduce yourself Asia as long as budget allows mid-range travel (or higher) prices.