Goodbye Vietnam

I’m so glad I came to Vietnam. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it: so many of the people I’d talked to beforehand had very negative things to say about the country. I’d heard that the people were unfriendly, that it’s polluted and confusing and that everyone wants to scam you. Luckily I tried to view the country with an open mind, because I completely disagree. Vietnam is great! It’s easily as the top of my list, one of my very favorite countries I’ve been to.

Traveling in Vietnam wasn’t always easy, there were definitely huge moments of frustration: things like being forced to wait 3 hours for a mediocre meal during Tet. There were setbacks like broken cameras and lost ATM cards. There were hard lessons to be learned about traveling as a couple in a stressful environment, although I like to think we came out on top of that one.

Still, there were really rewarding moments that made me love travel, love my life, and love Vietnam.

Some of the things that made traveling here so worthwhile:

The People

More than one person has confided in me that Vietnamese people have been the most unfriendly of all their travels. I really don’t get it. It’s true that up North people are more reserved (unless they want to sell you something), but we met some of the nicest people ever down south. Vietnamese people have beautiful smiles and even when they don’t speak English will give you a wave and a greeting. They can be shy, but many love to talk to you with a friendly curiosity.

The little kids are the best though. I never get tired of them waving and shouting hello. Or staring up at me with total puzzlement. One of my favorite moments this month was at a famous temple in Hue. I was trying to take a picture next to this impressive dragon staircase, when an older woman appeared and insisted I take a picture with her very bewildered grandson:

The Food

Holy cow, the food in Vietnam is second only to China in cheapness and deliciousness. After a month in Thailand we were getting pretty tired of eating green curry (no matter how good it is), and luckily in Vietnam there is an almost infinite variety of meals. The cuisine is influence by Thai, Chinese and french cuisine. We liberally ate from restaurants, street food stalls and even took a Vietnamese cooking course to hopefully reproduce some favorite dishes at home (of course giving my cooking skillz this isn’t very likely). My favorite dishes were fried tofu in tomato sauce, rice pancakes and crispy noodles. Oh and crispy french bread. Can’t get enough of that.

street food!

Could have passed on the artichoke tea though. Blech.

The Electricity

Vietnam is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, both in terms of population and economy. It has a very young population, which makes the place pretty exciting. Constantly dodging motorbikes drove me nuts, but I loved the feeling of walking down the street and discovering something new each day. From a new street food stand, to a group of kids playing kick the can, to a group of old women drinking beer and gossiping, there was always something going on. The people watching was unparalleled.

The Beer!

From Saigon Beer in Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi Beer in, you guessed it, Hanoi, Vietnam had a huge variety of cheap and good beer. Most beers were only popular regionally, so we kept discovering new ones. My favorites were probably Saigon, Huda Beer in Hue and Halida in Hanoi. Best of all was the “fresh beer” in Hoi An that sold for 3000 dong a glass. At 15 cents, that’s got to be some of the cheapest beer in the world! Yummy too.

Yesterday I put Mike in a plane. He’s back to work in China for another semester. This afternoon I’m hopping on a bus for Vientiane (a 24 hour ride “if I’m lucky” the travel agent told me). I’m flying solo once again, and kind of nervous but psyched for the next couple of weeks in Laos, a country I’ve only heard nice things about. Still, I’m definitely a little sad to leave Vietnam. Something tells me I will be back at some point though, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this big and busy place.

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