Vietnam was the last country we went to on our tour o’Asia. Our first stop was Hanoi. I liked Hanoi. It was like a giant small city, if that makes any sense. I think the biggest thing I learned in Hanoi was how to cross the street. Yes, I likely should have learned this more towards the beginning of our trip, but traffic was mundane compared to what it is like in Hanoi. Here is a video to prove it. Watch the traffic circle at :40 and then if you stay in a trance with all the cars and motorbikes, watch around minute 3:00 as well. It’s impossible to cross the street so you have to not panic and most importantly, not change your mind. If you are going to go, just go. You just have to walk carefully and flow at every lane.
The very first day we were in Hanoi we took a long bus ride through the country, passing so many rice farms, narrowly built 4 and 5 story homes and so many road signs we were hopeless at even coming close to understanding. This part of the trip, I remember thinking about my Poppop a lot and know he would have loved to see all of this. Not sure why but boarding the boat to get out to some of the awesome parts of Halong Bay and seeing the giant limestones islands and cliffs just jutting out of the water makes you feel like you are in some sort of Jurassic Park type era. it was beautiful and peaceful and eerie all at the same time. Especially with the fog and haziness in the sky.
That night we ended up going to the night bazaar which was slightly crazy so we ended up finding a good place to smoke hookah, drink a beer and people watch. There were so many people it was pretty crazy. The next morning with no flight until the evening, we decided to head to Hoa Lo Prison. It was built in the late 1800s by the French colonial government to hold Vietnamese prisoners and many years later was used to house American POWs, who referred to it as the Hanoi Hilton. Part of the prison is now a museum. First thing you notice: The emphasis is on the French occupation. An entire room is filled with friezes of French jailers torturing patriots in barrels of water or with sticks and clubs, and mannequins depicting Vietnamese in slave ankle shackles. Some exhibits cover the American War, as the locals call it, and include photos of shot-down naval aviator John McCain being captured and doctored for his injuries, a flier’s suit, and a looping video of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara apologizing for the conflict. It was quite interesting to see how they make it seem like they treated the American POWs in such a positive way so Americans going to this museum think that it wasn’t soooo bad for them. It’s just interesting how it seems like they have put this whole war behind them and have completely moved on. There were American flags sitting right next to Vietnam flags in the gift shop, like we are besties now, duh. All of this called for some street food and fruit juice to lift the mood afterwards. That night we flew to Ho Chi Minh, which most people just still call Saigon. I really liked this place. It was a good intro to going back home, the food wasn’t the cheapest we had been experiencing, it was a big city but still with markets that gave it more of a small town vibe and it was lunar New Year which meant everyone was out and about and shops closed early. This part of the trip was sorta like Phuket in that we really had no plans. So we wandered around for 2 days before the long flight home to the USofA. Our hotel was right by the Benh Tha Market which is apparently the place to be. It was also the week of this huge flower festival so there were a lot of crowds for that as well which was just a few blocks from our hotel also. The best thing I can tell you about Saigon is that not even a block from the market is this amazing restaurant called Bato. We ate there two nights in a row because we were dreaming of this meat dish that had veggies and these little pillows of Heaven we called them – just some amazing dough filled thing that tasted so good. It was the beef pho stirfry. Just go there and order that and sit at a table that faces the street so you can watch all of the crazy things go by.
Terrible photo from my phone but jeeeeez, this was sooooo good.
The first morning there we found a banh mi for 75 cents and a vietnamese iced coffee and sat on a quiet street to figure out what to do that day. We met this vietnamese woman who married a man from Washington state and lived in the states for 15 years. She was so friendly and I thought it was worth mentioning so you know that everyone is really friendly. After breakfast we decided to walk to the Saigon River. We thought about a boat ride but we didn’t really think this is what we would be getting… there was a random guy walking around by the actual boat tour office who was offering boat rides for cheap. He takes us over to this man that isn’t wearing shoes, has no teeth, and looks like he hasn’t showered in forever who is now our boat captain and makes us walk down some very scary “ramps” aka a beam of wood not even as big as a dvd to get on his super sketchy blue boat to take us for a little cruise down this river. We floated by their version of a floating village and saw people napping in hammocks, some eating cereal, brushing their teeth in boats that were the size of my closet. It is impressive how some people can live. They were friendly and waved at us. It was definitely interesting to see the old and the new juxtaposition of the city. The last night we went to Eon 51. This was not easy to find. It was a bar on the 51st floor of this huge building. It was awesome and it was the best beer I had had in weeks. And the most expensive. If you decide to go to this bar, which you should, for one drink, and then get back down to the street and drink 25 cent beers instead, you have to ask at the desk on the first floor how to get to Eon 51. They will escort you to the first escalator and then at the top of that escalator an attendant takes you to an elevator that takes you up to the 50th floor and then another attendant takes you to another elevator that takes you the rest of the way. I felt very important. The next day everything was pretty much closed. We got our final souvenirs, Emily bargained for a tea set and I bought chopsticks, attempted to walk around Chinatown, which was deserted because of Lunar New Year and then settled in at a little cafe to drink yet another smoothie and hydrate. The best way to end our trip was happening upon these 4 or 5 adults sitting on the floor of a camera shop doing karaoke. We paused to watch them and they noticed us and we all giggled and next thing you know we are invited in and given beer and snacks and given the english song list and were told we had to sing a song in so many words…since they spoke no english. We decided Britney Spears was universal and dazzled them with our rendition of Oops, I Did it Again. My best advice about Asia is that you really need to go. And go with an open mind and not so many plans. You hear a lot about these places as being scary and not good to travel to, ignore all of that. Seriously, all of it. It was an amazing trip and I would do it all over again and eat even more food if I could.