Usually I am travelling on my own. On the one hand side because I choose countries or regions which are not interesting for others, on the other hand side I prefer to travel independently, so that I can decide myself where to go, how fast (or slow) and in what way (bus, train, walk and where or how to accommodate). And last but not least, for me it's easier to adjust to others than others to adjust to my way of travellig.
Vietnam was a bit different. My roots are in Vietnam and I always had in mind to go there one day but did not consider as a „must do“ and to do that as soon as possible.
When the year 2014 approached I was talking with a friend about what to do because we are similar as we try to avoid this NYE fuss each year (what to do, where to go out, why to pay double or triple prices for stuffed places etcetc). So we were thinking of what we could do and she suggested to go to a place where we could avoid winter time. I cannot remember but I guess that we maybe also considered South America or South Africa (or the region) but I am pretty sure that I refused to go there because I am not really interested in these parts of the world :o) However, I cannot remember if we immediately agreed to Vietnam or also thought about for example Thailand or somewhere there. Anyway, Vietnam was obvious because of the good reputation and to see the land my mother is coming from.
We decided to go there for 3 weeks, to travel the whole country and make the trip starting in the north and finishing in the south, meaning landing in Hanoi and relax at the end of the journey on the southern island of Phu Quoc.
We organised a „visa on arrival“ and instead of using the „typical“ airlines which have a stop over in Doha, Dubai or the like we came to Aeroflot which (surprisingly?) offered the cheapest option ;-p When we arrived in Hanoi there was a knot of people who wanted to pick their „visa on arrival“. Nevertheless it worked smoothly and we took the bus to reach the capital of Vietnam. There we met another friend of mine because she also had some time left and decided to make the same journey, even though she had more time and so we just spent the first week together.
We were around in Hanoi for couple of days. Hanoi is an old city you realise that in the existence of old buildings, especially those from the French when Vietnam was a colony, the narrow streets and that there are specific areas connected to specific artisans. This is what differenciates it from Saigon/Ho-Chi-Minh City which is young, modern and boasts a lot of skyscrapers and neon lights.
Vietnam is by the way almost the same size as Germany. But instead of a „round“ shape it is pretty thin or long. So December in Hanoi was for us rather ok, I think temperature was around 15 degrees or maybe 10 minimum (in the evening). It was funny to see people there wearing winter jackets. But the further south you go the warmer it gets.
Next stop was in the east the much praised Ha Long Bay. We booked a tour on a boat showing us around in the bay where we have seen a village on the water and bringing us to some places like a cavern and a small island offering a great overview over a part of the bay. We also had an overnight but before „squid fishing“ was offered and I can remember that our guide (or someone of the boat crew) was totally into it and really had fun, afterwards we had dinner with local fish (not squids). The next day we continued and arrived the harbour. Before returning to Hanoi we made a side step to island Cat Ba, which is also beautiful but I think it was off season because temperature was at that moment a bit chilly. After another night we returned to Hanoi.
From there we split up and one friend continued north to go to Sa Pa and me and the other friend headed south.
As far as I can remember I would have prefered to take the train but connections were unhandy and it would have taken too long. So we decided to take the plane. First we were unlucky because we were told that for the same day there is no place left for economy. So we would have to take the flight the next day. We asked for the price but then also additionally for the price for the first class for the same day – which was almost the same! Sure we decided to take 1 st class for the same day then...
We arrived in Da Nang pretty late. AFAIR we had problems to find accommodation because a lot hotels had curfews but did it in the end. Da Nang is also a quite modern city and boasts new skyline and buildings. So we decided to go to Hoi An, which is said to be a „sewing city“ and indeed it is really charming – but because of that fact also popular and hence a lot of tourists ^^ Nevertheless, we enjoyed the city and we did some tours by bike and boat and it is really obvious that water is an element Vietnamese are living and working with, either for fishing, transport or tourism.
On the way back to Da Nang we had a stop over at the Marble Moutains, which belong to Da Nang but are at the outskirts. We also considered Hue but unfortunately lacked time and instead had to continue further south, where our next goal was Ho-Chi-Minh-City but also widely still known Saigon.
When we entered Ho-Chi-Minh City I was in a bad mood. I felt pissed because I really enjoyed the pieceful parts of Ha Long Bay and Hoi An. But entering this hectic and „modern“ city left a feeling that I don't want to enter what we call „civilisation“ when it's modern, with a lot traffic and hectic and besides NYE knocking on the door.
After a while I acclimatised and we could go around. By the way, even though only 10 days passed when we left Hanoi, I mentioned that people there wore winter jackets because of the temperature having 10-15 degress. In HCMC, about 1500 km afar, it was about 30 degress or more and in addition the humidity, so pretty different climate.
In the evening we observed the fuss about NYE in Saigon and there was a hell going on (as we were also accommodated in the part of the city where a lot tourists and backpackers are). The next days we visited the places my mother told me of (like the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the post office beside) and many other sights and places. What was moving for me was the Independence Palace. Sure, I have seen a lot of documentaries and movies about the Vietnam war but this was the first time to see things in real (like the museums about the Great Patriotic War in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus), especially a box from an US-American soldier who sent his medals and orders with the words „I was wrong – I am sorry“. And here I see a similarity to what I experienced in Russia and Belarus: despite all atrocities which happened during the war, Vietnamese people usually have hardly any hostile attitute towards people from the US. And Vietnam was for a long time (or still is), even after the war ended, suffering because of the masses of the chemical weapon Agent Orange which the US used and spilled over the jungle.
Anyway, we also did couple of tours outside the city like the Cu-Chi tunnels, a place of an official religion cult, a boat tour along the channels and to a village where they produced candies and somewhere else along the tour fruits etc.
After about 5 days we continued to go to our last stop: Phu Quoc. This was planned as reward at the end of the journey and spend couple of days on the beach before heading back home. My brother told me about the island because he had been there already, but 10 years or more ago... And indeed, a lot changed a lot more infrastructure for tourism. When he was there he said that there was hardly anything. However, the island is a typical holiday island where you can do all touristic stuff. I was also snorkling the first time but couldn't really enjoy because of the stupid other snorkles because they did not take care of the environment and destroyed the corals with their flippers... I almost got furious and returned before I'd shout at the others.
Something funny is the different approach regarding the sun. Because „we“, as Europeans or US-Americans, lie in the sun to get tanned. But for Asians or Vietnamese they avoid the sun to keep as light as possible. So at the beach there are the women around offering massages but fully clothed and with the typical Vietnamese hat to avoid any tanning.
My conclusion of my trip in Vietnam was that I can travel with others :) Me and my partner had almost never any problems or quarrels, maybe only one or two moments where I or she had a bad mood, but for travelling three weeks together this is pretty good.
I enjoyed the country and there were really beautiful places like Ha Long Bay and Hoi An. However, I lacked the „euphoria“ moments I had like at Lake Baikal or Capri etc. Nevertheless, there are places I would like to see one day like Hue, the old and former capital of Vietnam, or Sa Pa in the north. I will see if and when I'll come back here.
I would also say that travelling there is more about observing the life itself and how people live. Hence, I took more fotos of people than I usually do, even though I don't like to take fotos of people without asking them for permission... But there are plenty of situations in Vietnam which make the moment somehow interesting, and it's not possible to ask, either because of language barrier or because it would destroy the spontanious moment.
And last but not least, my Vietnamese is pretty basic - even though I understand a lot more than I am able to talk myself. Because Vietnamese language is about pronunciation and when you are not used and trained to talk, chances are high to say the wrong word or the wrong meaning. Anyway, when I tried my Vietnamese it was very funny for people there to listen and I can remember a granny selling street food laughing her head off. She understood me but it seems that I sounded so funny :) I don't mind, because laughing is always good to connect!