Current Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

I’m certainly glad I made it back down for the wedding I was invited to.  There was a fair amount of trepidation towards it seeing as I could have ended up sticking out quite badly and being awkward at the same time.  Fortunately for me I just end up sticking out but without the awkward part of it.  Fatimas mom and her sisters family ended up taking care of me more than I could have rightly asked anyone to have done and even went as far as to include me in the ceremony of the wedding.

Fortunately for me the only job was to carry some gifts from the grooms house to the brides house and give the gifts over.  After that I just stood and sat around looking goofy as people made speeches, brides cried and grooms looked happy.  This ceremony actually took place at 6a when the fortuneteller predicted would be the best time for the wedding to take place.  Luckily for me the drinking didn’t start until 7p that night along with a 7 course dinner. The title of the post is whats chanted before drinking, much like the American ‘cheers’ (there is another word before the ‘Hai’ but I never caught it.)

I got to meet one of my old friends from Regal yesterday and the day before which was pretty neat.  They were here on a cruise from Singapore and stopped here for a day.  Nice running into them, we shared some food and I got caught up on the goings on back home.

I’d like to share my theory on street food and why It’s the best thing to eat in Viet Nam.  First of all it’s the cheapest food around, the fact that they don’t pay rent is a huge bonus; you just have to get used to the fact that you’re eating on the sidewalk on chairs made for kindergarteners.  Second of all, and more importantly, everything is transparent in terms of how things are prepared.  Most people I think are blissfully unaware of kitchen conditions because they can’t see them whereas the food cooked on the sidewalk has nowhere to hide.  Third is the food itself is amazing, usually these people only make one or two dishes meaning they have perfected the food they are serving otherwise no one would visit their stall.  All of the reasons I’ve found have yet to let me down, usually a meal costs less than a dollar and may a little more than a dollar if you throw in a beer.  How can that be wrong???

I can ceartainly see now why many travellers have said one needs to experience Viet Nam to understand it.  And while I don’t claim to understand Viet Nam at all I at least have some ideas of the place.  Besides the food being incredible the people here are really nice, contrary to what I had thought might have happened to an American running around the country.

I’ll post some pictures in the next few days hopefully.

Raining at the Beach

Current Location: Mui Ne, Viet Nam

I’m not so sure that Viet Nam can honestly call itself a communist country anymore.  I find it to be more of a totalitarian government that tries to control information more than anything else.  Doesn’t the fact that people are allowed to own property and businesses discount some of the fundamental basis for communism?  Control of information is evident to most travellers in the form that getting access to Facebook is difficult to impossible depending on what city you are in.  I also know you get into trouble for badmouthing the government so most people are careful what the say, but occasionally you run into someone who gives you an interesting slice of what they see.

Honestly didn’t care for Hanoi very much, the people seem unfriendly as compared to the rest of Viet Nam.  I did the musem thing and walked around the old quarter which does give it a ceartain amount of charm.   Any charm this place had was squashed by a taxi driver that threatened to ‘kill me’ if we didn’t pay 200,000dong after we had already come to a deal that was 50,000dong.  Fortunately for me this was just before I was catching the train south to Nah Trang.

Mui Ne is the kite surfing capital of Viet Nam if not all of SE Asia.  Other than that it’s a peculiar place with lots of Russians roaming around.  I’m not exactly sure how this came to be but most places advertise in English and Cryllic which is somewhat strange to see here.   After that it’s just a typical beach resort town, I can look outside and pretend it’s Kihei (if it wasn’t raining.) 

Had another dinner paid for by random Vietnamese people again last night.  I do enjoy the drinking culture here in Vietnam, the only problem is they drink incredibly fast.  I’ve learned the rules to drinking here and I’ll share them.  On the first drink it’s always bottoms up, every time you cheers ‘YO’ after that it’s half the glass.  And they tend to cheers quite often.  When you clink glasses where you clink matters, below the other guy if you’re younger or less important and even with the other guy if you are same age or about the same importance.  Suffice to say I was throughly pissed after 2 hours of drinking.

One last bus ride to Saigon in time for a wedding, should be really rad I hope.

Head in the Clouds

Current Location: Hanoi, Viet Nam

I went to Hue for two simple reasons.  Fist is that it’s on the backpacker circuit so I figured there must be something there worth seeing.  More importantly Fatty’s mom said I should go see what is there.

In the end I’m really glad I went, more than the citadel the genuineness of the people there are what sold me in the end.  I met up with a couple other backpackers on the bus from Hoi An and we decided to split the cost of a room and hang out for a few days.  On our first night in the city we wandered outside of the backpacker area to look for some food.  We ended up finding a bbq meat stall that smelled amazing, they could sense our hesitation and offered us some meat to sample. After that we were sold, it was probably one of the best dinners to date in Viet Nam.  They were incredibly friendly and kept looking our way.  Luckily I learned to kinda say delicious in Vietnamese which I find comes in handy.

I’ve found that the best experiences come when I get out of the tourist area and into the real city.  I relate it to other people like a bunch of zoo animals escaping from their cage and the natives are mildly amused that the animals have wandered into their area.

On another occasion we wandered further away from the area to find a stall next to the river and sat down.  We were then invited by a bunch of guys to eat and drink with them.  After a minutes hesitation we decided we couldn’t refuse their offer and sat down with them.  We ate some delicious meat and drank heaps of beer with them all the while we had a stilted conversation about ourselves.  Lots of beer and laughing make up a great dinner here in Viet Nam.  They then paid the bill and left, leaving Jergen and I a little dumbfounded.

I kinda skipped through Hanoi on my way north to Sapa figuring I’d be back through on my way back south.  I met up with some guys I met down in Hoi An and we went to pay our respects to Uncle Ho.  Side note, why do communist leaders always put themselves on display after they are dead?  So far I’ve visited Ho Chih Minh and Mao Zedong, I only have to visit Lenin to get a full set of communist leaders on display.

I made it to Sapa only to be enveloped by the clouds for the entire day.  Quite a disappointment after seeing pictures of the area that are absolutely stunning.  The second day was a bit better but still half of the day was spent in the clouds.  Found some other backpackers heading into the hill tribe area on their own and wandered around with them.  The scenery is amazing to see, it must take tremendous amounts of effort to shape the hills into rice paddies and maintain those fields.  The costumes worn by the hill people are very colorful but I still couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of them, though I did see people unabashedly shooting to their hearts content.

We had a few conversations between us on what the area would look like in 10 years.  Construction of homestays is furious in the area and I wonder how focused they are on rice production any more, it seems they are far more interested in selling trinkets and clothes.

Now that I’ve made it all they way to the North of Viet Nam it’s time to go all the way back down to Saigon.  Fatty’s mom will be here in a few weeks time for a wedding which I’ve been invited to in Saigon.  Also coming is Ray and Sonya on a cruise a few days later so it’ll be nice to meet up with people I know.    I expect picture taking will slow down as I’ll have visited most of the areas already.

On that note I posted a few pictures from the last few days.

Easy Rider

Current Location: Hue, Viet Nam

I must say that I didn’t set out to do a six day trip by motorcycle upon entering Da Lat but the one day tour around Da Lat was a lot better than I could have imagined and he gave me a price that was better than I had expected so I figure I’d spend mom and dads Christmas gift on something that would take me off the beaten track.  As I often bemoan the typical backpacker circuit this would be a surefire way to get off the path and see some things authentically Vietnamese.

We left Da Lat promptly at 8:30a and proceeded to hit the countryside stopping as we went along to see what people were up to.  It took me a while to get used to this as I feel like we were intruding but it genuinely seemed like people were happy to sit and talk for a while to the guide and stare at me for a while. I met tons of locals at parks and things who were keen to have their picture taken and share a little rice wine or fruits as I walked along.  Not much else is said besides “Hello, How are you?” by both sides but it’s still fun and they usually get a kick out of saying anything in English.

This experience was very similar to the one day ride I did through the countryside of Battenbong where kids would smile, wave, and shout hello as the bike zoomed by often with me waving back.  It’s quite charming to see them all smiling on the side of the road.  My favorite experiences were those that felt fairly organic, often he would stop the bike and I would walk a kilometer or so just to stretch out my legs and I would often run into people on the side of the road, we’d both motion to each other and ‘converse’ as much as we could… I left each of these encounters smiling.

It’s nice to take a break after 6 days of running around Viet Nam on the back of a motorcycle.

I spent a few days resting in Hoi An and really enjoyed the place.  It’s easy to see why it has UNESCO World Heritage status with all of the old buildings down by the waterfront.  They shut down traffic at night and it becomes walking streets and you can almost pretend that you are back in time at that point, you just have to ignore the hundreds of tailor shops that inhabit Hoi An.  Other than that they have some wonderful regional food there that was extremely cheap and you could always find people to chat with.  I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the back alleys that wind their way past houses and have the occasional well driven in the middle of the path.   Definitely a must if you make it to Vietnam.

Last thing I did before leaving Hoi An is to visit the Marble Mountains, a suggestion given to me before leaving New Zealand by Terry.  It was worth the trip as the area isn’t heavily tourist and it’s basically left out of the Lonely Planet. Huge caves and lots of sculptures in there make it a neat place to visit, that along with being able to climb to the top of the mountain for a great view was awesome.

I’ve posted the first set of Viet Nam pictures