I’ll try to summarize my two weeks travelling in Vietnam from north to south in one post. Here we go!
The capital city of Vietnam actually looks like a very big, noisy village with lots of motorbikes in every street. The motorbikes seem to be almost everywhere in this country and you have to learn some kamikaze skills if you want to be able to cross any road (traffic lights are scarce). The trick is, no matter how many motorbikes you see coming from every direction, you just have to cross the street and they will somehow avoid running into you.
My highlight of Hanoi was actually not in Hanoi. I took a day trip to Halong Bay because I wanted to experience this:
You just cannot miss Halong Bay if you come to Vietnam.
By the way, when I arrived to my hostel room in Hanoi, this furball was waiting for me there:
Its story is as follows: an English girl travelling around Southeast Asia was walking in the streets of some Vietnamese city and suddenly found those big abandoned eyes looking at her from a bush. She couldn’t do anything else but take it with her. When I met this girl, she was looking desperately for a way to travel with her kitty to Singapore or the Philippines, where she had some friends who had agreed to become the final adoptive family of the furball before she had to go back to England (taking the cat to England would have been too expensive).
One night, after she had had to change rooms because a girl in ours didn’t like to have animals around, her Swiss roomate told her politely that he would feel better if the cat didn’t jump on his bed. When he went out of the room some minutes later, the English girl did what any Cat Lady would have done in this situation. She grabbed a big bottle of water, opened it and spilled it all over his bed while all the other roommates were witnessing the scene. The following morning, Cat Lady and furball were already gone.
I could fill a book with this and many other hostel stories, really.
In Hanoi, apart from meeting potential book characters, you can visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the former president of Vietnam is preserved. I only saw the building from the outside, because I’m not a fan of corpses since I was 16 and our Physical Education teacher at highschool took us to the Faculty of Medicine on a day trip so that we could learn anatomy from dead human bodies. True story.
The Mausoleum itself is not very impressive, but the square in front of it is maybe one of the biggest areas of Hanoi without buildings, motorbikes and people people people, so I spent some time there just enjoying the pleasure of breathing.
I read everywhere that the Women’s Museum was definitely worth a visit, so I tried to go there on my last day in Hanoi. It turned out that the map which had been given to me at the hostel was not properly labelled, so I spent more than one hour looking for the museum, asking every security guard, shop owner or passer-by where it could be, even though I really hate asking for directions.
Eventually, everyone was sending me in a different direction (and they all proved to be wrong when I checked Google Maps afterwards), the temperature outside was close to 35 degrees Celsius and I couldn’t find any wifi, so I cursed a little bit in Spanish, went to the supermarket, bought some Oreos (also vegan here) and sat by the Hoan Kiem Lake to relax for a while.
If you ever go to Vietnam and get lost trying to find some place on a map… You’d better ask other tourists.
I did go to Hoa Lo Prison Museum. There you can visit the cells where the prisoners lived years ago and see some exhibitions with material from the Vietnam War. The atmosphere was obviously a little bit cheerless, so from all the pictures I took, I will just show one that caught my attention because of my love for languages:
American pilots during the war carried these documents with a translation in many languages of the phrase “I am a citizen of the United States of America. I do not speak your language. Misfortune forces me to seek your assistance in obtaining food, shelter and protection. Please take me to someone who will provide for my safety and see that I am returned to my people. My government will reward you.”
And the best way to finish my stay in Hanoi was by eating sunflower seeds (pipas in Spain) with some other backpackers on the street:
The most known attraction of this city is its Citadel. Inside, you can wander around huge gardens and old buildings:
I should have done more in Hue, but I was having some of those days where I could only think “I wanna get out of this country, now!”. Hue is a very touristic city, so every local is trying to make a profit out of it. That means that in every corner of every street, a man will offer you a ride on his motorbike for 2 dollars, a woman will try to sell you some handicraft products and a waiter will try to get you to eat at his restaurant. It might not seem a big deal, but if you spend a whole day having to say “no thanks” every two minutes, staying alone in your hotel room without doing nothing for some hours sounds like a dream.
I was already feeling in peace with the world when I arrived to Hoi An. And just the moment I got off my bus from Hue, about five taxi and motorcycle drivers surrounded me. “Moto ride, moto ride, two dollars” “Taxi, taxi, lady”. I was waiting for the driver of my hotel, because a free pick-up was included in the price of the accommodation, and I told that to the taxi and moto men, just in case one of them was actually my driver. “No free, you pay, two dollars” “You see, no one waiting for you, come with me”.
I sat on a bench to wait for a while just in case my driver was late, and even then I kept being offered moto rides while I was saying “No, please, I’m waiting”. Finally, I felt so pressed – “Where are you going miss, where are you going” – that I got into the first taxi I saw and left. I found out at the hotel that their driver had been late indeed (20 minutes late, not nice!), but I don’t regret taking that taxi to get out of the bus station.
And then I went for a walk and my grumpiness disappeared.
Hoi An is a peaceful town with old buidings, nice bridges, clothes and handicraft shops everywhere and, most important: no motorbikes in the central streets during some hours each day. Even outside this hours, you get a feeling of calm that you won’t find anywhere in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
If you want to visit the many buildings of the old town, you have to buy a ticket that gives you access to five of them. I followed the recommendations of my Lonely Planet guide and visited the Assemby Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, Tan Ky House, Tran Family Chapel, Quang Cong Temple and the Museum of Trading Ceramics. My memories are a little bit mixed right now, but I believe this picture was from the Quang Cong Temple:
And in the Museum of Trading Ceramics, I had to smile when I saw some familiar names written in the Vietnamese way:
Anyway, I still think that the best thing to do in Hoi An is just to go for a walk in the old town at sunset:
Or at night, when you will probably come across some couples having their pictures taken in the most picturesque spots:
Ho Chi Minh City
My final stop in Vietnam. While Hanoi looked like a big village with a lot of motorbikes, HCMC (formerly Saigon) looked like a real big city but still full of motorbikes and motorbike drivers who couldn’t care less about the pedestrians. In the widest streets, I sometimes had to wait 2 or 3 minutes at the crossings until I found a gap in the traffic and could get to the other side.
HCMC has plenty of museums and places to visit on a rainy day, for example the War Remnants Museum.
In the museum, you can have a look at photographs of the Vietnam War and its consequences. That one of the damaged camera was the only one I considered taking a picture of because the other ones were just too appalling. After two hours seeing images of the horrors of the war, I had to sit down for a while to try to process how so much cruelty could have been possible. If you think I’m just too sensitive, take a look at the article on Wikipedia about agent orange. I wasn’t surprised to see that Monsanto, one of the most evil corporations I could think of, was involved in all that s**t.
Another site worth a visit is the Reunification Palace:
The final episode of the Vietnam War took place here in 1975. Since then, the palace and its rooms have remained unchanged and are now open to the public.
And these are all the places I visited in Vietnam. I should have stayed a couple of days more and visit the rice terraces of Sapa and the beaches of Nha Trang, so I guess I will have to come back some day. When you are travelling, no matter how good you plan your itineraries, there will always be something worth visiting that you will miss, it’s a fact!
In my next post I will write about all the vegan and vegetarian restaurants I found on my way in Vietnam. Finally a country where I didn’t have to cook!