A Genius Abroad – Vietnam
I have to admit, Vietnam was a complete unknown to me when I first decided to book the holiday there. All I really knew about ‘Nam was Apocalypse Now and that a war happened there that sent thousands bat-shit insane. Now usually I have a good knowledge before hand of the places I’m going, but with the significance of Vietnam and its socialist history, I decided to go on a whim. And it was brilliant!
Shopping in Vietnam is a mixed bag (literally). You can get all your designer stuff (yes its real) or you can go for your local made handicrafts, needless to say the local stuff is DIRT cheap. Like ridiculously cheap. And your designer brand name stuff is pretty much the same as everywhere else.
One thing I saw in Vietnam was a bunch of tourists going around bargain hunting. Now cmon people, when your paying $6 for a tshirt and assisting a person to live and feed their family in one of the poorest nations on the planet is it really necessary to bargain them down to $4? Yourve just paid like $2000 for your plane ticket and now your going to argue over $2 for a cheap gift? Save your time for taking in the breathtaking landscape and culture and just pay what they ask for (unless your really strapped for cash) ultimately.. It’s as good as donating to World Vision.
Stuff to buy in ‘nam? All your obvious War artifacts, Marble animals are a big thing and they look great. I also picked up a painting of a woman in her viet hat made of eggshells. All this hand made stuff is great, unique and a great reminder of your trip. Splash a few bucks and put it around your house for a constant reminder of this great time in a great country. A lot of guide books will steer you to the Ben Thanh Market, in my humble opinion, unless you want to be mobbed by people begging you to buy their wares and have no interest in peacefully browsing their offerings then this isn’t the place for you.
So after walking out of Ben thanh market after 500 vietnamese ladies grab your arm attempting to drag you into their shop, step across the road to Pho 2000 “Pho for the president” proudly displayed on the side. Here you can join me on my unbeknownst trend of dining at the same places Bill Clinton has (check the walls for big bill pounding into a bowl of Saigon’s best pho). Pho is rice noodle soup, and it’s a good meal choice any time of day.
Hoi An is also an awesome little town for its food. Check out the Before and Now bar, trendy as hell and upstairs an Italian trained Viet chef will whip you up a meal that will be unbelievably good, and unbelievably cheap!
Now travelling around Vietnam youll soon find out, yes its true, the tap water is not safe for drinking. But the other rumour that the street food is not safe. Total Myth! I ate at several street food stalls in Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An and didn’t get the slightest bit sick (and I have one sensitive stomach)
Another awesome trend is places like KOTO (Know one teach one) where professional chefs hire disadvantaged kids to teach them and give them an income (food here is top standard too and the dining is not formal at all)
Way way cheap. You can probably pass out before your wallet empties in any Viet town, And the bars arnt bad at all. From the trendy watering holes of Hoi An to the neighbourhood bars of Ho Chi Minh, to the small microbreweries like Big Man Beer in Hanoi. If you like a good beer or cocktail. You can probably have both! Your wallet wont feel much pain at all!
Try the still beating snake heart in a shot of vodka if your game!
Who needs entertainment in a land of dirt cheap and tasty food, cheap booze and amazing sights? OK OK, So I haven’t mentioned the attractions yet, So ill get to work.
Lets start with having a look at a dead body? Ho Chi Minh has Saigon renamed after him, one important Socialist figure. Good experience as morbid as it sounds. But the lines don’t lie, hundreds of viets flock here to pay their respects daily.
The Temple of literature is also a good place to visit, with many historical artefacts dating back hundreds of years, and a great gift shop where you can get some awesome locally sourced jewerly and other take homes.
You can also take the long trip with a private tour company out to Halong Bay, yes, that place where they made the bond movie. Cruise around the massive limestone caves and formations. Try it in your own kayak!
Also Chu Chi tunnels and American war museums will be of great interest to historians and people with any interest in the military activities of that era. The size of the bombs the US drops are a real eye opener.
All in all Vietnam gets a massive tick from me, Hope to go back someday. But plenty of other places to explore yet.
Till next time!