Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Today, one of our favorite Jaunt Contributors, Victoria Yanakos, says, ‘Good Morning, Vietnam.’
“Where are you from?” in Vietnamese, ‘tá» cÃ¡i³tc báº¡n Ä’ translates to mean: “from what water do you come.” Inspired by this beautiful sentiment I spent the past few days sailing on Ha Long Bay and enjoying a respite from the city.
Swimming in the bath-like water, drinking with the locals, bruising most of my lower body jumping off the cliffs (note: no correlation to the Mekong whiskey, I just couldn’t figure out how to fall that far and get my feet to go in first), and sleeping out on the water… perfection.
Another Vietnamese sentiment I picked up this week is “same same.” For instance, I ordered yogurt for breakfast, she brought me pork. The explanation : “Oh no, no yogurt, I make you pork. Same same.” How do you even argue with this? Public buses are another culprit.
Me: You go to Ngo Hyen st?
Bus Driver: Yeah, yeah, Ngo Hyen Street
20 minutes later, many km’s away from Ngo Hyen Street, I’m in front of a handicraft shop that appears to be owned by the bus driver’s brother.
Bus Driver: No Ngo Hyen St. Here, same same.
One final thought on Hanoi before I leave this wonderful city: crossing the street. Or rather crossing the death gauntlet of hundreds of motorbikes who yield to no one. Having refined my skill for this in India, and taking a cue from the locals, the basic protocol is to confidently step out into traffic with a deep-rooted belief that the bikers will stop. A. they don’t and B. this only works if the streets aren’t flooded – which they were last night. Suffice it to say, I survived a rather comical collision soaking wet but otherwise only minorly scathed.
As a solo traveler in this country, everything has this spectacular way of feeling like a free for all. It’s rather wonderful never knowing exactly what you’re in for. I subscribe to a travel philosophy that organized tours (at least for me) are never the most genuine way to experience a culture or a country, however, never has this been a more challenging theory to live than in the Mekong Delta.
As it turns out the jungles and canals are significantly more expansive, and difficult to navigate, than you might expect.
Arriving by bus to My Tho, the most trafficked of the four islands that make up the Delta, I was feeling good I could do this on my own and not have to spend the day with a bunch of westerners with an “English” tour guide (read: if you stop paying attention to him for even a moment, the English starts to sound suspiciously like Vietnamese). Many of the boats at the harbor are already commissioned by tour companies, and, as such, inevitably chaotic, making stow-away status relatively easy.
The idea was to take the boat to Ben Tre- another of the islands, then bail for more genuine travel. I’m not sure where we landed, but after wondering around dense jungle for the better part of the afternoon, I thought that perhaps a row down the canals might give me some orientation. I was able to convince (read: pay) one of the local workers by the water to lend me his boat – but only briefly I assured him. After getting myself thoroughly lost and soaking wet from the short but intense monsoon rain, I was relieved to see the owner of the boat calling to me from the shore. Without discussion, he summoned his son (I assume) to come row the boat on my behalf. Humbling? Yes. Necessary? Immensely.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
He took me all the way back to My Tho where I boarded a public bus back to Saigon. Perhaps, in retrospect, a tour would have been a more efficient way to explore the Mekong Delta, but when you’re traveling – and lost in foreign waters – the experience is all that matters, right?
Even being an eternal optimist you can only be propositioned so many times (every two feet in Vietnam – and this is not an exaggeration) before suspicion becomes your instinct of choice. The form of solicitation though has an entertainment value that far exceeds any hassle, and as such joins my list of all things wonderful in SE Asia. Aside from the ubiquitous moto taxis (of which there are 100’s on each block) that never miss a single foreigner to offer a ride, (“where you going ma’am. I give you good price.”) some of the other more discrete “sales people” are far more creative with their pitches. “T shirt, T shirt, cocaine?” is my favorite to date.
Another successful tactic is the “start conversation under false pretenses, offer obscure service, then ask for money” approach. Sitting in the park yesterday apparently this landed me (and every other girl, and a few guys, in my hostel) a pedicure. Abate the somewhat painful service; it’s nice to be able to help. Slightly derailed from Hanoi (don’t fall asleep if you have to make a bus transfer), I enjoyed the past several days soaking up the insanity of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and exploring the canals and jungles of the nearby Mekong Delta. Moving on to Mu Ne, and writing from the sand outside my bungalow with waters from the South China Sea cooling my feet, Vietnam continues to amaze me.
28 Tho Xuong & 41 Ngo Huyen St, Hoan Kiem district Hanoi
Good clean rooms, en suite bathroom, good location, $12- $20/night
City Gate Hotel
10 P Thanh Ha
Warm friendly owners, very clean rooms
Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake
If you’re looking for luxury, the Intercontinental just opened their new property built entirely over the serene waters of historic West Lake. InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is adjacent to the famous 800-year-old Golden Lotus Pagoda and the hotel features 359 guestrooms showcasing contemporary Vietnamese design at its best.
Cha Ca La Vong
14 Cha Ca Street OR
107 Nguyen Trong To St
You will be the ONLY westerner here. Truly local, amazing “grilled fish” (which is the key note dish of northern Vietnam)
If you need a break from Vietnamese food…
FIVE bistro is predictable, comfortable and actually has good wine!
5 Hang Be, Hanoi
HO CHI MINH CITY HOTELS
127 D Cong Quynh
$12 – $25/night
Clean, friendly, lots of less typical amenities for budget accommodations, such as satellite TV and in room fridges
Guest House California
Laid back, clean, rent moto bikes and bicycles on site
HO CHI MINH CITY RESTAURANTS
Quan an ngon
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia
Quan Mot TP HO Chi Minh
10 kitchens, every Viet food imaginable, very local and very good! Try the papaya salad and spring rolls. I hope you like pork, it’s in almost everything.
Massage – HCMC
Try the spa at Hotel Liberty 4
265 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1 HCMC
8 364 556
For about $8 USD, you can get 60 min full body massage, 30 min foot massage, and unlimited access to jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room… and only minimal Karaoke.
Next stop? Cambodia!