Vietnam: love it, hate it, love it again

The trek north through Vietnam continues. I’ve been suited up, wandered through a bullet-pocked citadel, enjoyed the greatest waterpark ever, and it’s culminated in a visit to one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of being in: Halong Bay.

I left Nha Trang in a spur of the moment decision after a most excellent day at the Vinpearl waterpark. Highlights included going down a water halfpipe on a tube, Asian ladies crying from fear on the swinging ship, a stroboscope slide, the world’s largest above-water cable car, and so much more. We had a blast all day, but it was time to get going and leave the craziness of Nha Trang behind. What I didn’t know was that I would also leave behind the great weather I’ve been blessed with over the last few months.

Arriving in Hoi An, the tailoring capital of Vietnam, the next morning I was greeted by rain, a chilly breeze, and overcast sky. Needless to say this got me thoroughly depressed (as well as a cold) and while tailors were busying themselves over my suit and shirts I had time to reconsider my travel plans. I decided to push on anyway, and endure a week or two of crappy weather in order to see the sights in the North.

Hoi An is not just a place to get suited up for what amounts to spare change, it’s also a pretty, quaint town lit by lanterns at night while classical piano music is piped through speakers hidden along the streets. But it’s also completely overrun by middle-aged tourists, similar to the scene in Luang Prabang in Laos which makes me wonder where they all go in-between? As soon as my clothes were done, I grabbed a quick bus to Hue, the original capital of Vietnam.

In Hue I spent a good day wandering through the Citadel, the residence of the Vietnamese emperors. Although largely destroyed by vicious streetfighting during the Vietnam War, there is still enough left of the palaces, temples, baths and other quarters to give a good sense of this huge place. And you can still see the bullet holes pockmarking the walls, an eerie sight.

Quickly though, it was off to Hanoi, which is the base of operations for my last week in Vietnam. Right away I went on a three-day tour of what has been my most anticipated destination of this entire trip: Halong Bay. Thousands of limestone islands jut sharply up from the sea, completely uninhabited except for huge numbers of nesting birds. We stayed at a junk sailboat for the first night, and then in huts along a small stretch of beach for the second night. We went out for wakeboarding, engaged in an unbelievably high level of consumption, but the absolute highlight for me were the kayak trips. On the first day we went in a big group, all coming back to the junk as the sun was setting. But on the second day, me and and English guy Thorne went out by ourselves, got a little bit lost, and ended up finding our way back to the beach in pitch black darkness, the dark rocks contrasting with the shiny water. And occasionally we would kayak through a patch thick with phosphorescent algae, lighting up our paddles so brightly it was like a fire in the water.

Every look at Halong Bay is stupendously beautiful. The rocks just keep coming up one after another, scattered around, all so majestic and beautiful. It was breathtaking, an absolute highlight of my trip and well worth the hype I’d been setting it up for.

Back to Hanoi for a few days of relaxing, laundry, and a quick run through the sights here: The Army Museum, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, a crashed B-52 bomber. But the coolest detour was to Snake Village, where I got to handle, pet, then kill and eat a snake. We drank snake blood mixed with rice wine, snake bile, ate crushed snake bones, snake intestines, snake ribs. Not all of it was fantastic but it was certainly very interesting, and washed down easily with rice wine.

So if all is well, then why the subject line for this blog post? That has to do, unfortunately, with the Vietnamese people. By and large they are wonderful, beautiful people, but it seems that anyone in the business of tourism is just terrible. In the beginning it’s kind of cute that kids cuss you out when you refuse to buy their wares, or when old ladies try to charge double for a bottle of water. But after a while it just gets tiresome, and it seems to me that they’re not trying to be clever or hustling, but that they straight up disrespect and dislike tourists. It’s a terrible feeling because disrespect is so easily reciprocated. Especially when contrasted with the incredible generosity and hospitality in the other South East Asian countries, or even the way other Vietnamese people are, it’s such a shame that anyone involved in selling you anything is actively out to screw you.

Still, this does not take away from the fact that every look of Vietnam is amazing. And Halong Bay was the very pinnacle. Here are some photos to back that up:

Next up I head back to Thailand for a very exciting rendez-vous and a few days of well-deserved R&R at a five-star beach resort. It’s a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget!

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One Response to Vietnam: love it, hate it, love it again

  1. Niels says:

    Hey Arjan
    Leuk al die interessante leesstukken. Ik las dat je naar Thailand gaat. Let je daar wel even op de wateroverlast, het wordt vanuit Nederland ontraden om naar bepaalde gebieden (o.a Phuket ) te gaan. Wees voorzichtig daar en het is al gauw mei en dan zien we je weer.
    Veel lieve groeten van Remy, Myrna, Vivianne, Jacqueline en Niels

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