Ho Chi Minh

My last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, with just one full day here. It seemed as though the hostel managed to make a cock up my reservation, meaning that I get a double bed in a dorm for US$17 for two nights. I can’t complain.

I set out to go to the War Museum today, it’s three floors and an outdoor area explaining the impact of the Americans due to the Vietnam War and the impact that it has had, which is still going on today — children are still being born with deformities and disabilities as a result of how the US fought. It didn’t paint the USA in the best light, though I feel as though it was unbiased, just like the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. On the way there, I had to walk into oncoming traffic as the pavement was blocked – it’s not that uncommon, and it’s usually a restaurant with tables taking up the entire pavement, or parked motorbikes. This time, it was because someone decided to set up and chill in a hammock in the middle of the pavement.

After a few hours in the museum I just chilled – grabbed some food and drank a copious amount of Vietnamese Iced Coffee (seems to be ice with coffee). There’s a couple of other things I could’ve done, including touring the Cu Chi caves, though for me, it’d probably hurt my back. It’s one of the tours where you can just fire an AK47 with no prior training or safety brief, because why not.

It’s quite interesting in the area I’m staying as it’s gentrified to foreigners, and it seems that the only way these businesses seem to think they can get people in is to advertise that it’s happy hour. I know that I’ve been abroad and had many drunken nights, but it’s a shame to see drinking culture advertised so heavily here, where there’s many great things about Vietnamese culture that outshine getting pissed.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Cambodia. I have my own private room for the next few nights as I am ever so slightly completely 100% over being woken/kept up in hostel dorms almost, if not, every day for almost three months.

In some aspects I can see why people love Vietnam; the food is great, it’s cheap and the people are incredibly friendly, wanting you to enjoy the country. For me, I wouldn’t say I’m a massive fan; I like to travel without being attached to Google Maps to navigate, I really enjoy being able to cross the road without fearing for my life, and I guess I’ve stayed in hostels and shared accommodation for too long – I’m sitting at six months straight without my own room.

 

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Hoi An

Before I came to Hoi An, I stayed in Da Nang for a couple of nights. There wasn’t a lot to do so I pretty much lounged around drinking coffee.

In Hoi An, there isn’t really that much to do that I want to – there’s beaches to cycle to but I neither want to get sunburn or cycle, there’s a temple supposedly similar to Angkor Wat, where I’m going this week, but there is a lantern festival on Sunday. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in cafes, drinking watermelon juice and Vietnamese Coffee.

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On Saturday I did a food tour – it was quite a few outdoor stands in the street then into the company’s property where they cooked around half of the 44 tastings that we had. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as though I needed an Uber to walk two blocks after the tour.

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Black sesame

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This morning, I got picked up for a cooking class, where we first went to a market to get the produce for the menu items we’d chosen to cook prior. I chose BBQ fish wrapped in banana skin as it’s a method of cooking that I’ve not done before, and it’s pretty easy. I was having a think as to what to tell everyone in the class my job was as it gets old being hoarded with questions because I’m a chef. A professional gymnast and hostage negotiator did come to mind, but I accidentally told someone about work.

The way the class worked was that the teacher showed everyone how to prepare the proteins and then came individually to show us the next steps, then one by one we’d finish the dish. There were 13 of us, so the day did grow a bit long, but I’ve had neither lunch nor dinner.

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Tonight there is a full moon which means that the Lantern Festival is on. I’ve been down to the river for a bit, but after being there for 45 minutes I wanted to get away from the crowds.

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Hue

To get to Hue from Hanoi was a 14 hour overnight train ride, where I shared a room with a German couple, a Vietnamese lady and her pet dog which she allowed us to pet. I’ve shared hostel dorms with hundreds of other people by now as well as maybe a cat, but this dog was a lot preferable to a lot of people I’ve stayed in a room with.

After a coffee and some food I headed to the Imperial City. It was 36 degrees outside but I did manage to get around more or less the whole thing. As it was so hot, I lacked the brain power to be able to read and absorb the information displayed, though it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

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Today, I went on a tour to see the Summer Gardens, Padoga and three tombs of historic emperors. My Asian history isn’t too great, it’s too hot to take in much information so had a nice day out and about, without knowing too much of the historic meaning.

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I’m getting to the point now where I always “have to do something,” whether that be booking and getting to the transport, needing to download a map and a translator, make absolutely sure that I know how to get from A to B on travel days and even just out and about, knowing whether or not to trust taxi drivers and if so which ones, telling someone on the street that I don’t want to buy whatever shit they’re selling, the currency, exchange rate as not to get ripped off, getting to the other side of the road alive and in one piece, it feels like work and that’s where all my energy is going. I’m also going to play the female card, and say that being foreign, female and on my own pushes my guard up a lot more when it comes to trusting people.

I do want to go somewhere that’s familiar to me and I’m just wanting to go back to Europe for a bit. The week after next is my India trip which I’m excited for, and I’m so glad that I get to let someone else do all the work for planning that. In a few days time I’ll book a flight from India to Budapest and spend the time between that and the Egypt and Jordan trip in Eastern Europe, then I’ll decide where I go before heading off to New Zealand.

 

Ha Long Bay

Yesterday morning I went off to Ha Long Bay which the hostel had booked for me. It meant staying overnight on a boat, with my own room and the biggest double bed that I’ve ever slept in.

I’d been told that I’d get there by bus, however the streets around are too small to fit a bus down. A tour guide rocked up on a moped, told me to get on the back in t-shirt, shorts and flip flops with no helmet, and drove me through, and sometimes onto, the traffic to get the bus. I was bricking it, my travel insurance definitely would not cover that, and he was rather amused.

Over the past couple of days we’ve been into caves, climbed up to viewpoints and kayaked.

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Hanoi

Yesterday morning I arrived in Hanoi, and annoyingly so, my visa to allow me to stay in the country for longer than two weeks was approved within an hour of me leaving the airport. At the hostel I was asked what my plans in Vietnam are and have had up until I get a train to Hue sorted out for me.

I tried not to do a lot yesterday and felt very much as though I had to be switched on – the roads are a complete nightmare to cross and you literally have to walk into the traffic and hopefully won’t get hit by a car/bus/moped. My internal monologue whilst crossing is along the lines of “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck ohhh shit.” I’ve seen people carrying things just sellotaped to the back of their bike, as well as a parent riding with what must’ve been a one-year-old child in between his legs.

I went to the Hao Loa Prison museum, which was used by the French to imprison the Vietnamese and later on used by the Vietnamese to imprison the Americans during the Vietnamese War. Most of the museum was based on how the Vietnamese were treated when they were inside, though it was interesting to hear about how the Americans were treated inside – a lot, lot better. After I went to check into the hostel properly, nap, and go to the road where the train passes through a few times per day.

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The Hanoi Train Street is different because instead of traffic, bar a few mopeds, it’s a pedestrian road with train tracks which you can walk on (obviously not when the train’s coming). There’s a few bars there that are like hostel bars, where they encourage the foreigners to have a “Choo Choo Beer” and chat – the staff yell out “Choo Choo” when they give you the beer.

 

Today, I went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which I wasn’t fussed by, and then the Citadel, which I still wasn’t fussed by. After some pho, spring rolls and a Vietnamese Coffee I headed to the History Museum which I was expecting to be modern history, but instead it was more archaeology based. The area around is quite nice with a lake and stuff, but I didn’t feel it was worth going to. On the way back to the hostel I picked up some Bahn Mi and was inside when it started pissing down.

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Quite possibly the cheapest beer I’ve ever had at £0.66

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Overall, I think I’ve struggled with the city, but then it is very different to anywhere I’ve experienced. I’ve eaten better than anywhere else so far, and I think if I give Vietnam a chance then I’ll get used to the chaos and really like it here.

Tomorrow I’m off to Ha Long Bay overnight which is one of the reasons why I chose to come to Vietnam. I’ve heard from the people that I’ve spoken to who have already been that it’s definitely worth a visit.