From Hue to the Mekong Delta
Oh, the joys of the open road. Cool air rushing through your hair, giant monster bugs flying into your mouth, and a sunburn that cost me several layers of skin. And even though the gratuitous protein snacks stained my teeth a sick shade of green, it was well worth it.
We took the road from Hue to Hoi An, winding our way through small villages and mountainous passes hugging the coastline, stopping once for food and again at the Elephant Springs (above). Whenever I was able to tear my eyes from the road and escape the death-grip of my brother Sam straddled up behind me, I glanced around at the breathtaking views before me. Oceans, beaches, forests, rice-fields, everything green, freedom to stop whenever and wherever we wanted, our fears of unscheduled bathroom breaks a thing of the past.
We were able to send our bags ahead of us, allowing us to both fit on the scooter we rented from our hostel and saving us some dong, but if your partner turns out to hate riding scooters and going faster than 20 mph you should probably do this on your own. But after 8 long hours we finally made it to Hoi An.
A charming city heavily influenced by its French colonizers, who beside ruling them, left a legacy of beautiful architecture, baguette sandwiches, and fashion. Every day hundreds of tailors try to lure you into their shop to get fitted for suits (It worked on us, thank-you Kimmy’s for crafting us some pretty cool gear). But it’s the nightlife we experienced there that was truly unexpected, exciting, even glorious.
The size of the city meant only one thing in terms of bars, there weren’t going to be many. A good thing for travelers, who tend to congregate in one or two bars in cities this size. And this city just happened to have an “after hours” beach club (By law, there is a curfew after midnight, probably the only time I ever realized we were in a communist country). This club shuttled people from the bar in the city to its location on the beach about 5 km away. Then it left you there.
After the third time walking home at 8 AM in only my swimsuit as people were going to work, I realized I didn’t care about being left on the beach. There are far worse places to be stranded.
After staying up until dawn chatting with a stoned out travel bum who had been sleeping on the resort chairs curled up in his silk sleeping-bag for the last month, I realized how enlightening meeting different people on different paths could be. This guy had nothing but a backpack full of paraphernalia and a 5-dollar silk sleeping bag, yet he was rich in experiences and seemed genuinely happy with his situation. I mean, he did get to wake up on the beach everyday.
But beside all that philosophical pondering, skinny-dipping under the moonlight with some new friends wasn’t bad either. At all.
Our hop-on-hop-0ff bust left us at the entrance of a hotel in Nha Trang at 6 in the morning after a night of uncomfortable bus-sleeping. It was a bad start to an interesting week dealing with our over-zealous night watchman who would follow us to our rooms demanding money for something? and nab sips of our whiskey cokes. His name was Phuc, and he was an interesting character to say the least. Near the end of our stay we were afraid to go out at night in fear of being locked out by a bleary-eyed, half-crazed Phuc.
The beaches were nice, the food was OK, and nightlife existed, but after the highs of Hoi An, Nha Trang could only be a low.
Ho Chi Minh City, a.k.a. Saigon.
Saigon is somewhat busier and bigger than Hanoi, but instead of the cool, habitable weather in the North, it was hot. Hot, sweaty, and hot, with a side of sticky. And neither myself or my brother do well in hot weather. As the temperature rises, our moods fall, and unless a cool glass of beer is available, it’s almost unbearable. But praise be to the beer gods, we were in luck, there was beer, everywhere.
It’s called Bia Hoi, and translates to something like daily beer, because, well, it’s made every day, then delivered to the doorsteps of the many restaurants and bars around the city. And the cost of one glass of this refreshing low-alcohol lager-style beer? 20 cents. Bia Hoi, Thank You, you saved our lives.
The Mekong Delta.
As we floated through the beautiful channels of the Mekong Delta, sailing by picturesque rice-fields and floating fish-farms, I was almost able to escape that nagging feeling of being ripped off. Almost. Our guide was, simply put, an asshole, who pushed meaningless upgrades, spendy beers and tasteless food on our group the entire time.
Travel is largely a give-and-take symbiotic relationship between locals and travelers, the line between experience and exploitation always being a testy one, but sometimes people, on both fronts, take it too far by either blatantly ripping off tourists or disrespecting the people and culture one travels within. And in this case it was the local who nearly ruined the experience.
But tensions aside, Vietnam had a lot to offer, in food, in landscape, and in friendships, and I’m planning on making a return trip as soon as I can.