It is challenging and amazing at the same time.
My Adventures in Vietnam.
I stepped off the plane in Ho Chi Minh city on route to Hanoi and shared a bus with about 50 people on my flight to get from the plane to the hangar. OMG, I thought what have I done.
I was the only foreigner on the plane,15 plus years ago, as all the returning Vietnamese families were coming back for the TET holiday.
The first thing I noticed was the smell. The people smelled different, somehow fresher. It took me a while to figure out that the Vietnamese diet is much healthier than the meat-based diet I had been on.
I was told later that the Vietnamese can smell the foreigners’ meat-induced excretions and generally find it unpleasant.
A brief skip forward.
It was 3 years later, while working in a public school in Go Vap, that I was told by a Vietnamese teacher that I was voted as the best smelling foreigner. lol.
Off to Hanoi.
After having to collect my few bags and physically carry them to my connecting flight I was off to Hanoi. I had arranged a pick up from the airport in Hanoi and he was waiting for me casually at the gates.
My first taste of Vietnamese traffic, inside a car, was an unforgettable experience. I thought my driver was demented, little did I know this is the standard driving form in Vietnam.
The road fatality statistics are staggering in Vietnam. I have personally seen over 5 deaths on the road.
Not counting the person who road off a bridge. There was a crowd of people watching him either drown or survive. It is considered rude to help and possibly interfere with the will of God.
Vietnamese are a proud people who are also quick on the uptake for business opportunities as I discovered this day. A food vendor pulled up on his bicycle and started selling food to the close on 50 people watching.
On with the story
After being driven back to my hotel, 40% of the time on the wrong side of the road and never slower than 50 kph in a 40 kph zone, I unpacked and went for a walk.
I needed a beer to calm my nerves. I saw men sitting outside a Bia Ahoi shop, which is a homemade beer shop, and ordered a glass of beer. It was an amazing taste and an amazing experience.
Once again I was the only foreigner and a lot of people looked at me. I did feel a bit uncomfortable, so to loosen things up I bought everyone a beer. An instant success, people came up shaking my hand and saying things in Vietnamese that I totally didn’t understand.
But I understood the smiles and heartfelt gratitude of these people. I was instantly in love with this country. How could I not be?. Three hours and $20 dollars later ( Beer was .20 cents per glass ) I was roundly thanked before the then nightly curfew.
Not before someone had rung and gotten a friend of theirs who spoke English. It was a night that I will always remember, along with so many others.
Off to Halong Bay
Three days later after exploring around the French quarter of Hanoi and Swan lake I was off to Halong Bay to spend a few days on a “Junk” boat.
This was no junk boat but a beautifully equipped 5 star floating hotel My bedroom was coated in jade paneling.
It was a bit “patchy” at times. Like getting on and off the boat. Walking down stone steps to get on a “dinghy” that takes you to the boat, then climbing up a small ladder. All changed now from what I have heard.
Getting off the boat was just as exciting and showed me the humor of the Vietnamese. Unfortunately, we had a very loud, obnoxious man on the cruise with us.
As he was getting off the boat into the dinghy, he slipped and fell into his much younger Vietnamese “wife”
I could not help myself and sniggered, not loud but just loud enough for the Vietnamese staff to smile back at me. I was rewarded later with a few free drinks.
The drinking culture, whether coffee or beer, is big in Vietnam. You can find out more in my post about ” Coffee Culture”
Da Nang, Nha Trang and Hoi An.
After three wonderful days cruising around one of the natural wonders of the world, I was off again on my next mini adventure.
If Da Nang and Nha Trang resonate with you it might be because of the American and Vietnamese conflict. ( Which is forgotten by the younger generation)
Da Nang and Nha Trang are now beautiful cities in their own right. Cosmopolitan but still with the distinctive Vietnamese flavor. There are ex-pat communities everywhere in Vietnam and these two cities are no exception.
I had a beautiful ocean view hotel in both Da Nang and Nha Trang and had a great time, but it was Hoi An and ‘My Son” that won me over.
Hoi An is beautiful, yes it is a touristy town but the architecture alone is worth the visit. There are some incredible houses that have internal open courtyards surrounded by plants that you can visit.
Shopping here is fantastic and fast. I ordered a silk dressing gown and had it delivered within 24 hours at a price that I am embarrassed to say because it was so cheap.
I strolled from shop to shop and one I walked through had 200 plus incense sticks burning at the same time. The fragrant aroma of the incense was pretty strong, but a delight to experience.
If you have never been to My Son you are missing out on an incredible time.
“During the 4th to 13th centuries, there was a unique culture on the coast of contemporary Vietnam, owing to its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of India. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower temples in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.
My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE.”Unesco.org
I was taken to my Son by a young surly Vietnamese teenager and saw my first accident in Vietnam. A truck had run over a man on a motorbike. This doesn’t bode well for my day, I thought.
It was a terrible accident and one I have become, unfortunately, accustomed to, however, the day itself turned out to be great.
Let me explain.
I went out early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Shorts and T-shirt, but still sweating at 7 am in the morning. If nothing else, Vietnam is hot.
I spent the entire morning, and could easily have been the whole day apart from my surly guide, walking around the amazing broken and semi-broken structures of the Cham Hindu-inspired architecture.
If you are an avid photographer the opportunities available are enormous. Green jungles, old ruins, and if you get the time right, few people.
A lot of the brickwork is decaying and at that time there was no understanding of how it was made. The “cement” and “bricks” have not been able to be replaced because the technology of making them has been lost.
After I left I went back to my amazing riverside accommodation, where I could overlook the river and watch farmers tending to their paddy fields, I relaxed on my balcony and ordered room service. I was worn out.
Exhausted and off to Saigon.
Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city is not the place to be exhausted. Even if you are you will quickly rid yourself of any feelings of relaxation. This is a Go-Go city in more ways than one.
Just crossing the street takes all your skills to stay alive. The enthusiasm of the drivers is only matched by the trepidation of the pedestrians.
I only had 2 days in Saigon before I had to return back to Australia. But the bug had bitten. I returned to Australia and got my Tesol diploma along with an English teaching certificate and all my paperwork notarized, and back I went.
I have been living in Vietnam for 15 years and while it has its up and downs I have thoroughly enjoyed it. If you want to see my house and school ( Yes, I teach English ) click on the YouTube link below to first see my house and crazy family life.
My name is Stephen and if you want to find work as a teacher in Vietnam, I can help. That’s what I do. Bringing the world together one step at a time.