Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday five: Tạm biệt, Vietnam.

Tomorrow we leave Vietnam. It's pretty surreal to think that we've been here two months! We've seen and experienced so many wonderful things and we think if Vietnam isn't on your short list of places to visit, you should remedy that immediately...

As we head into the unknowns of Lao there's a lot we will miss about this lovely country. Two things that go without saying are the food and the coffee, so I'm not even including them in the list. Here are five other things we will miss, in no particular order:

  • The friendliness of the Vietnamese people. From the grandmotherly-like cafe ladies who accepted our point-nod-smile method of ordering food and showed us how to eat their delicious meals, to the helpful bus drivers who ensured we got off at all the right stops, to the university kids wanting to practice their English, to the locals who helped us find our way when we were lost, to the hundreds of kids who screamed "HELLO!" at us as we passed on the streets - all of these encounters have left very positive memories.

  • Sure, there's been an occasional scamming taxi driver, but that's what taxi drivers do, right? Sure, there were some places where we westerners paid a lot more for things than the locals, but this is not a wealthy country and if Donald Trump visited my American fruit market you'd better believe I'd try to charge him double the actual cost of those bananas - he can afford it, why wouldn't I? - and if he didn't want to pay that much he could barter me down or simply walk away. And sure, there were some blank stares and a few scowls here and there, but where doesn't that happen? (I'm talking to you, lady at the Krakow information booth.)

the infamous $6 photo
(but the vendor did it with a smile!)

  • The energy! These folks get up early, buzz around on motorbikes, sweep their stoops every five minutes, jazzercize in the park, tend their fields in the cool of the morning and the afternoon, prep veggies for tomorrow's food cart at night...

    They slow down when it gets really hot, but even then there seems to always be some sort of motion wherever you look. And when there's not motion there's still animated conversation. Morocco had an energy too but it was intense, almost electric. Here it's more of a calm-but-constant hum from sunrise on.

humming Ho Chi Minh City

  • The ingenuity when it comes to moving things via motorbike. Motorbikes are the main transportation here but they don't just carry a person, or even a family of five in some cases. We've seen talented motorbikers transporting several 2x3m plates of glass, a pig, a bicycle, a dining table, crates of chickens, an armchair, and dozens of rubber tires. The Portland bike community would be so proud!

the sofa and table/chairs in Sapa probably took the cake though

and then one day this motorbiker transported me

  • The natural beauty. Honestly, we had no idea what to expect from Vietnam. All we knew was what we'd seen in movies - in other words, jungle. Much like Oregon, Vietnam has a little of everything, and what they lack in desert they make up for in (yes) jungle.

    The beaches may not be as pristine as ours on the west coast and the mountains may not be as rugged and tall as our Northern American variety, but they're both still beautiful. The waterfalls are still impressive during the dry season and the jungle is always amazing with its lush green and crazy sounds.

Dray Nur near Buon Me Thuot

Sapa's beautiful terraced mountain fields

Cat Ba's rocky beaches
so reminiscent of the Oregon Coast

Dalat's gorgeous jungle

  • The luxury of time. This is not really specific to Vietnam, it's true anywhere, but we do think it takes several months to really appreciate all this country has to offer. To keep to our Year Two plan we're now headed back into the one-month-per-country mode of travel and we're already a bit tired just thinking about constant movement and all the things we're going to miss along the way.

stop. breathe.
lather, rinse, repeat.

And a very short list of things we won't miss about Vietnam, also in no particular order:
  • The beer. If it's really cold beer, and it's really hot outside, it's momentarily refreshing. Otherwise it's sugary water that leaves you with a headache afterward. Patrick has acquired a taste for it but I still don't like it. (Yes, yes, beer snobs here. Sorry.)
best when it's 100 degrees
and you have this view

  • The bartering. This will continue throughout SE Asia - it's just the way it is here - but it's really grating sometimes. We mostly run into this at fruit markets since we're otherwise not big shoppers, but one night in Hanoi I decided to look for a new t-shirt. Thanks to secondhand stores and Ross, I never pay more than $5 for a t-shirt in the States and I wanted to apply the same principal here, even if locals could get the same t-shirt for far less.

    The merchant I found started the price for a simple black cotton t-shirt at 150,000 (~$7.50). I got her down to 90,000 (~$4.50); the process was quick but not fun for me and I know she made a killing off the sale. But got what I wanted so I can't complain, and I would do the same to Donald Trump so who am I to judge?

slightly overpriced
and "medium" in Vietnam is not "medium" in the US
but new t-shirts are good!

  • The connectivity issues with Facebook and Twitter, which will probably also continue throughout SE Asia (if we even have wifi, that is). There are ways around it but in this day and age, in this loosely communist country where you can get BBC news online and HBO on the TV, it just seems silly. Fortunately our mobile devices are usually not affected.

this tweet was two cities
and several wifi connections in the making

  • When strange men take pictures of us. There have been times when giggling Asian tourists ask if they can take photos with us, and that's always amusing.

    But it's really weird when a strange man asks if he can take your photo in front of a cultural icon and crops out the cultural icon from his photo.

    It's even weirder when a strange man asks if he can take a photo with just me. (Um... why? What are you going to do with this photo? Next time I'm taking a photo with my own camera too!)

    And it's really irritating when a strange man comes out of nowhere, snaps your photo when you're not paying attention, and doesn't even acknowledge you in return. That's just a tiny taste of what the ethnic groups must experience every single day, and MAN is it annoying.

this one falls under "amusing" though

  • The horns! Horns are used as a way of saying "hey, I'm here, don't make any sudden moves"... which means they are always in use. They seem to really help with the zen-like traffic ebb and flow but the noise can be unbearable to us at times. All those minibuses and the tourist bus from Hanoi-Hai Phong were definitely the worst - it's impossible to let your mind rest when you're startled by a blaring beep every ten seconds.

to be fair, we probably won't miss the minibuses either

These are but minor gripes about an otherwise awesome country. Tạm biệt, Vietnam! We have enjoyed you very much over the last eight weeks, and we can't wait to send more people your way in the future.

And now, to Lao, where symbols are the new alphabet! It's gonna be interesting...


  1. AWESOME! Thanks for this riveting and descriptive recap. It has certainly bumped Vietnam up on my list of "must visit"s. BTW, nice black T.

    1. Thanks Suzette! Yep, Vietnam really surprised us in a good way. If you guys go I have lots of recommendations - starting with bun cha in Hanoi. ;)

  2. We still have to visit Vietnam, but I keep hearing a lot of good things about this country. It must be weird having people taking photos of you all the time, but I guess this is how people feel when we (as foreigners) photograph them too.

    1. Hi Franca! Yep, that's why we try not to do it (or we do it as surreptitiously as possible)...