Exactly 2 years, 1 month and 10 days ago I was woken up by the rest of my household creeping into my room with a camera and saying; “Claaaaaarrrreeee…wake up Claaaaare!” It was my nineteenth birthday.
After plenty of ‘happy birthdays’ and photos of me having just woken up (for what I can only imagine is for later embarrassment), Mum asked what I was going to do that day white everyone else was at work and school. My reply was, “I think I’m going to go to the travel agent.” This was met with an “okay”, and another birthday wish. That evening I announced that was I going to Vietnam in a month. That was my first real travel adventure (I don’t consider an alcohol fused schoolies week in Bali a year earlier as traveling) and really, where the next 2 years, 1 month and 10 days of my life started.
I didn’t have any expectations of this country I was heading to in mere weeks, because I didn’t exactly know what to expect at all. In all honesty I don’t even know why I choose to go to Vietnam, it was (just like most of my other travels) completely spontaneous and booked at the last minute, because well, I wanted to. But boy am I glad I did! Like I said, nineteen year old me, walking into the travel agent and being in a different country several weeks later (September 2011) was when I caught to travel bug and is why, for the following two years, I spent several months at home working my ass off to afford to travel for the rest of it! If you want to look at it that way, that’s the big picture. However, that trip I got to see an incredible country, which up until then I knew very little about, and which is now, still, my favourite countries in the world.
When I first arrived at the arrivals hall it was a crazy mess of people, and as I made my way through the crowd and outside I was hit with that immense heat and that smell which can only really be described as, well, Asia. And I loved it! This was a scene which I have since become very accustomed to since then. Walk through the arrival gates. Across the arrival hall. Outside. A few seconds to take in the weather conditions. Find the public transport/a taxi driver. Argue with the taxi driver about the price. Finally agree on a price, and off you go. Now I like to think that I’ve got this pretty down pact, but back then, my very first time out of the country by myself, I was a little unseasoned to how to go about this. But I managed.
This was in Ho Chi Minh City (formally known as Saigon), which to this day is still my favourite cities. It is pure chaos, and that’s why I love it so much! Things to do in Ho Chi Minh? Well besides just taking in all the city’s craziness, trying not to get hit by a motorcycle, and drinking coconut juice which is sold on the street; Pho 2000 is obvious. The locals will not stop raving about it. Everywhere you go; “Pho 2000! You must go! You know President Bill Clinton? He ate there!” Inside the very modest restaurant, situated in the busy center of the city, inside there is a is a huge photograph of Clinton standing in the very same restaurant with all he staff at the time. Then there is the night markets, where it is said that if you can’t find it in the markets, you don’t need it. I would also highly recommend a visit to the Vietnam War Museum. Although the Vietnamese people actually refer to it as ‘The American War’, this is an excellent way to get an insight to what happened and helps piece together the reminders of the war which you will come across all over the country. Yes, it is very confrontational, with several people walking outside, or physically upset because of what they are seeing, but I believe that a visit to this museum is vital. It’s all well and good to lay on a beach and drink Tiger all day, but I believe that history should be explored of all countries I visit. Even if it is bad, your going to gain more of an understanding, appreciation and a personal insight into the country and more importantly, it’s people.
Everything in Ho Chi Minh City is chaotic – including the power lines! When one stops working they don’t bother repairing or taking it down (probably because they can’t find it), instead they just put up a new one.
So there is Ho Chi Minh City, but then you have the rest of the country, which is absolutely mind bowing. From the extremely friendly people, the profound beauty and the rich history. You have Nha Trang, a small touristy town which is flooded with Russian tourists and plastered with Vietnam/Russia alliance propaganda (there is a army base/airport in Nha Trang which the Russian Military use), plus there is a lot of golf courses. But don’t let the Russians put you off! We got a boat and a guide and spent the day on the water and hanging out on an excluded island – with our very own catering team of course! Between snorkeling, eating seafood which has been caught that morning, jet skiing, dancing and jumping off the roof of the boat, and just laying around on the beach, all of which was back dropped by an amazing view, it was honesty one of the best day’s I’ve ever had – and I think everyone else would agree with me on that.
Then there is Hoi An. Yes it’s touristy, but it is beautiful! It’s French cross with Japanese architecture and style is incredible and amazing to walk around. Plus, you can buy a tailor made suit for $50 USD, and have it ready in less then 12 hours – how is this not one of the most amazing things ever?!
Two of the cutest kids in all of Vietnam! Myself and (the best room mate ever) Agraja spotted these cuties and asked if we could photograph them (by pointing to our cameras and then the kids). Their mothers were more then happy to show off their little ones. We may not have spoken the same language, but we all could appreciate the joy everyone else felt when these little guys showed off their somewhat toothy grins.
A little further up the coast is Hue, and then on to the country’s capital, the still very much communism dominated Hanoi. Both of which are packed full of history and overpowering monuments.
And last but definitely not least, Halong Bay. One of the most breath taking, surreal places you will ever visit. Photos really do not do any justice to the power of this bay. Spending a few days on a (very, very nice and comfortable) Chinese junk boat, we were able to discover this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although, one night our boat did get stuck by lighting and cracked, but we weren’t really that bothered – we were a bit preoccupied partying. There isn’t much I can actually say to describe it, but the views are some of the best I have ever witnessed! Just have a look for yourself:
So we know Vietnam is beautiful and has a rich (not always good) history, but then there is maybe my favourite thing about the country. The food. The. Food. A-mazing! I will never be able to get enough fresh spring rolls to be satisfied. Man do I love them! And then there is Pho (pronounced fur) – every day I would have a bowl of this. Crispy Vietnamese pancakes! Fresh seafood. Fried spring rolls. Doughnuts and pastries sold by vendors who walk around with them on a huge plate on their head. Dog… (Erm, that’s a separate blog post for another time I think!) Green papaya Salad. Vietnamese pork rolls bought off the side of the street, with a pate that probably isn’t to safe to eat, but yum nether the less. And (not Vietnamese) but the most incredible swordfish capaccio I have ever had, made for us by a an Italian chef. I can not get enough of Vietnamese food!
And of course, me being the one writing this, there was plenty of drinks. We had three favourites. The first being pina coladas – like, A LOT of pina coladas! Secondly there was the more traditional beer. And three, pretty much any form of alcohol which came in a bucket.
And then of course, there is the hangovers…
And then, some more hangovers…
So that’s it, an amazing trip in an amazing country! Which subsequently set me off on a crazy adventure which has lasted another two years – and I’m sure for a lot longer. But what I also got out of it, was the friends I’ve made. As corny as that sounds, and I’ve made plenty more since then, but these guys are what made this experience so memorable. Being stuck in another country with the wrong people is not fun and can be a real downer, but with the right people can really make traveling. From people I talk to every now and again online, those I catch up with whenever we are in the same city, or some who I consider really good friends, whether we live in the same city or on the other side of the world!
A very big thanks to everyone on this trip. An extra big thankyou to Agraja, Dave, Ness, Jo, Charlton and Champston, and Jess for the use of their photos! 🙂