Nineteen days, eight towns/locations, and numerous activities in Vietnam has given me much to write about. I have about 170 decent pictures, several minutes of video, and dozens of stories and memories. We heard that Vietnam was overwhelming and chaotic, and much of it was. But it was also unique, exciting, picturesque, indulgent, and delicious!
The Vietnamese were much more physical with our children than we’re used to, often reaching out to feel their hair or pinch their white skin. Our kids have become quick to pull away and give dirty looks should anyone invade their personal space. We also got hassled a lot to buy things we didn’t want, our gentle “no thank you’s” being ignored. I don’t like being rude, but there is only so much touching and insistent selling I want to tolerate. We also got shortchanged and charged extra by a number of taxi drivers and other service providers (sometimes 10 times the regular price). Sometimes I fought it, and sometimes I just paid it as it was still cheap and they probably needed the money more than I did.
Fortunately, we also met some genuinely friendly and hospitable people. For example, a family waiting at the train station let Marie try their yo-yo, and then gave it to her (they wouldn’t accept it when I tried to give it back). A woman at the Cu Chi war tunnels in Saigon waited at the exit for I don’t know how long in order to give Emily medicine for her tummy. And at the Da Lat airport terminal, Marie threw her rubber snake around and it got stuck in a grate on the ceiling. A nice Korean man proceeded to throw his shoe at it for several minutes until it fell down, resulting in a chorus of applause from the other waiting passengers. The service we received at most restaurants, hotels, and on tours was also usually top notch and more attentive and helpful than anywhere I’ve ever been.
We didn’t plan any of this trip in advance except for the first two nights we booked at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We just had a short list of places we might want to visit (Saigon, Mui Ne, Da Lat, Hoi An, Phong Nha Caves, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa) and activities we might want to do in Vietnam, but we chose our hotels after we got to each area and could see them in person, and we based our activities on how we felt that day. It worked out well for us this way, and allowed us to go at a comfortable pace, which ended up being faster than normal for us.
I could write a series of blog posts about our time in Vietnam, the different towns we’ve visited, and everything we did in each city. But I think I’m going to keep it short by only mentioning the most memorable moments. Some of them happened on tours or in tourist attractions, and others were off the beaten path and completely unexpected. Each one will play a part in how I remember Vietnam. After that, I’ll blast you with all my pictures and videos so you can get a audio-visual feel for all we did.
So here are some of the memories that stand out from our trip to Vietnam.
- Peering into one room homes of the locals at night while walking through the alleyways in HCMC/Saigon.
- Watched a traditional water puppet show with interesting and well rehearsed live music on ancient instruments.
- Crossing the streets with oncoming traffic that doesn’t stop or slow down. Motorbikes just go around you as you walk — scary!
- Got a poor quality massage at a place in Saigon that turned out to be a prostitution house. I turned down offers for sex three times, after which she said “you good hub-sand”.
- Seeing crocodile, frog, snake, snail, and other strange foods on the menu. We did try crocodile curry.
- Met a lovely French family with six kids at a beach resort in Mui Ne and chatted with them for several hours by the pool.
- Rode ostriches in Mui Ne. I had to draw a picture of a stick figure riding an ostrich in order for the taxi driver to understand where we wanted to go. Most drivers understood zero English and the Google translator app on my iPhone came in very handy when I had reception (which was most of the time).
- Getting hot and sandy sliding down the sand dunes in Mui Ne, then walking down a shallow red river with sandstone formations and red rock on the side.
- Ate a luxurious and delicious 5 course lunch at a restored French villa in Da Lat for under $50 for the whole family.
- Went on a gravity-based roller coaster in Da Lat where you can control the speed through a hand brake.
- Having the kids paddle us around a lake on a swan shaped paddle boat, and laughing together.
- Got in a small car accident with a tractor on the way to Da Lat. Our taxi driver got out to assess the damage and cut his finger on the bent metal. We gave him a pink princess band-aid, which he gratefully accepted and wore (after I helped him open it).
- Got fitted for custom-made clothes at a tailor in Hoi An, and got them back in less than two days. It’s so nice to have clothes that actually fit my small body! And the prices were very reasonable (around $20 for a jersey knit cotton shirt, for example). The tailors loved seeing Aysia walk around, and they were also totally freaked out by Marie’s rubber snake. People seem surprisingly jumpy and squeamish in Vietnam about things like rubber snakes.
- Ate dinner in the house of a “Kung Fu Master” after a long bike tour. His wife served us some of the best food we had in Vietnam, then massaged our feet. I also asked for and got a short Kung Fu demonstration.
- Riding on “sleeper trains” which saved us a lot of time because we could go to bed in one location and wake up in another. We slept rather well, too.
- Explored the amazing Phong Nha caves after a boat ride through a scenic river. Such a picturesque area and huge caves (some of the longest in the world)!
- Cruised around the jagged rock formations in Halong Bay on a small but luxurious cruise ship. Made some nice friends, had amazing food (buffet breakfast, and two 5-course meals per day), kayaked and swam in the warm waters, explored beautiful caves, mountain biked, and went squid fishing. Amazing trip!
- In Sapa, I helped a sweet old man with a long beard lift his hand-bike up on the curb (he could barely walk, let alone lift the bike). After which, he gave me a hearty “cam on” (thank you in Vietnamese). I asked to take his picture and he pulled out two cell phones from his pocket asking me to take his picture with each one, which was difficult for me to figure out because they were in Vietnamese. But I asked another guy on the street to help me, and was able to take the pictures we both wanted.