With history and culture stemming thousands of years, I decided to take time from teaching English in China and visit Vietnam. Admittedly, as an American, I did not know much about this country, except what I had learned in school. When I finally did research, I was both excited and worried. Vietnam required a visa on arrival. Having never done this before, the process seems intimidating. After doing a little research on Google and asked some friends who had already visited, I discovered the right links and companies. After a month a pre-planning and visa work, I was ready to go.
With camera in hand and travel bag on my back, my girlfriend and I were off to Vietnam. For this trip, I decided to visit two major hubs of Vietnamese culture and history, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Though they were as different as night and day, both cities offered amazing and unforgettable memories.
Ho Chi Minh, the busy motorbike filled city in the south of Vietnam; offered large streets, historical boulevards and many Western-style cafes and historical churches. I found myself constantly pausing to admire or take a photo. This, however,was a little dangerous, as motorbikesdominated the roads and sidewalks. I quickly learned to keep one eye open, especially after being hit by a motor scooter on my first day in the city. By the third day, I was a professional at crossing a one-lane street.
Having been to various countries, I was surprised at how far the USD and RMB went. The most challenging thing about spending money in Vietnam was counting the zeros! Each Vietnamese dong came withat least four zeros, giving the impression things where very expensive. This wasn't the case. With one dollar being able to afford a meal, depending on taste and location, Vietnam was an excellent financial choice.
For the food lovers, Vietnam offered a wide variety of choices, from fantastic spring rolls to slightly sweet soup called Pho. My favourite dish, however, was the Banh mi, a somewhat spicy sandwich, on a fresh baguette. This, paired with an egg coffee, yes, an egg coffee, and I never felt hungry!
After four days of exploring the history, such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post office, it was off to Hanoi, a backpackers dream in Northern Vietnam. This former French colony held both an amazing colonial and modern history. With itscheap and affordable sites, such as the Prison museum, it was easy to learn Eastern perspectives on world culture and events. Hanoi itself provided many beautiful buildings and night markets, mainly next to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Unlike Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi had more narrow streets and small hidden treasures. St. Josephs Cathedral, nestled in the city's old town, was a beautiful landmark. The restaurants were smaller and more intimate for couples, and the city thrived with activity, from local vendors to blocked streets for pedestrians to enjoy shopping. The contrast between the two cities was amazing. Above all, my favourite part of Hanoi was the way locals enjoyed themselves. With sweet coffee and baguettes, Hanoi provided a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
Vietnam was one of my favourite and most memorable trips. I experienced a new culture in Asian and learned many life and travel lessons.
Rule #1: visas on arrival can be challenging but easy with preparation.
Rule #2: if someone offers to take let you take their picture; they just might ask you to buy something.
Rule #3: stay curious. Most places aren't as strange as you think.
If you can do these things, every travel experience will be as worthwhile as my trip to Vietnam.