No prizes for guessing that we really enjoyed it! We spent almost a month there and will be back like a shot if the opportunity presents itself in the future.
The usual roundup’s been harder to write this time as there were so many good things it’s been difficult to group them.
Hanoi and Hoi An
There’s something about these places that make you feel relaxed and at home. People are friendly and helpful so nothing seems like a chore. As John said earlier, the staff at the little Hanoi hostel are among the nicest people we’ve met on our travels and really couldn’t do enough for us. They treated us like friends and after China it was so welcome. I’d also like to give a special mention to our cookery teacher in Hoi An who was just adorable. Always smiling and chatting. Such genuine warmth radiated from all of them and our time in both places was an absolute pleasure.
Apart from being bustling, yet relaxed, there were some more obvious advantages in these places. We were not influenced by the lovely draught beer that only cost six pence a glass. We were also not at all interested in the perfectly tailored clothes we could buy in Hoi An to our own specifications at a quarter of the cost of high street clothes in Britain. Of course not, we would never be that shallow 😉 he he. OK, we’re human.
Any slightly green area was filled with the most beautiful and diverse butterflies you could imagine. Sometimes there were just clouds of them. Amazing.
They punctually appeared almost every evening about 5pm. For many people this might not seem greatest thing in the world but we really enjoyed it. There were so many sheltered areas you could sit with a beer and watch the lightening, it was very impressive. The only problem is that when it continues to rain too hard then you have to stay for another beer until it calms down a bit. What hardships we endure.
For those that know us well this may seem a bit of a strange choice. I know that I’m never going to win the maternalistic woman of the year award. Children in Vietnam were well behaved and very friendly. At no time did we ever hear a child having a tantrum, screaming or crying. We saw only smiling faces waving and saying hello, almost all of them did this even if you were only walking by on the street. They were absolutely adorable.
Vietnam is just an interesting place
There’s just so much to see and do there. The American war is obviously of interest but there’s so much more to Vietnam than that. It’s a welcoming country that offers all the modern conveniences you might expect while maintaining a strong cultural and traditional identity. Traditional dress is routinely worn (and pyjamas strangely!), the old fashioned fruit and floating markets are fascinating and the architecture is interesting (either wooden stilted houses or old french style colonial buildings). As an outsider you are encouraged to visit more traditional areas of the country and to join in activities. It’s easy to arrange trips to almost anywhere and as it’s so cheap you can ask for a personalised guide if you’re interested in something less popular (like Cat Tien National Park). The public transport is also pretty decent so nowhere is out of bounds.
It’s just a great place to visit and we only have one major gripe this time:
Bad: Rip off merchants
Some people in Vietnam like to take advantage of tourists in vulnerable positions and try to charge you ridiculous prices for things. We always expect to pay a little ‘foreigner tax’ and don’t actually mind as long as it’s reasonable. In China or Laos locals are likely to round prices up to the nearest larger number. This might add about 20% or just over and we can live with that. In Vietnam some people will go for 500% or more of the local price, and refuse to allow you to haggle, they will not budge.
One of the more surprising places where this consistently happened was in the post offices. We were charged almost two pounds to send a single piece of paper to Japan and asked to pay around a pound to send each of our postcards, we know this is not the going rate. Other incidents were with taxi drivers who refused to use the meter, people trying to sell baguettes for three times the price you’d pay in waitrose, someone also tried to get John to pay $20 for a piece of rubber that might cost a couple of quid back home and of course there was the con of our minibus to Hanoi which was 600% of the local rate. It’s not that this would bankrupt us but we just don’t like being conned. Nobody does. Once you’re aware of this you can avoid it most of the time but it remained an irritant.
The last two distinctive things about Vietnam are firstly that it’s a country dominated by scooters and motorbikes, nobody walks even the shortest distance they’re all on those bikes! The second is the breathtakingly astonishing amount of weed being grown quite openly. It’s everywhere, you wouldn’t believe it!
That’s it for Vietnam, we would recommend it as somewhere to visit!