Link for pictures!
I hate to say it, but I was annoyed by Hanoi. The food was the best part, well really, the only good part. At the risk of sounding like an expectant, spoiled Westerner, I must say, I can’t really recommend Vietnam to fellow travelers. There were some things I enjoyed, and we met some really nice locals and travelers, but as a whole, the standoffish, and sometimes flat out rude nature of the locals put a damper on the whole thing. If you’re lost, don’t expect help unless you are prepared to tip. If you need to use the restroom, be prepared to bring your own toilet paper for a squatter, and STILL pay to use it. At museums, you pay double, sometimes quadruple. At restaurants you pay double, at train stations you pay double. It’s all about the money-money-money…
So on the flip side, if you have the ability to travel from any western world to Vietnam, you’ve probably got a lot more money than they do, right? Unfortunately, Vietnam seems to have three main industries: rice, tourism, and corruption. When your police officers take bribes left and right, and your government has no money, and you lie about your taxes, how is any sort of infrastructure supposed to form? When Americans bombed and gassed the s*** out of your country, and the French forced you into serf-like subservience for a century, and naive tourists are taking over your town, why should you be nice to westerners?
I’m primarily referring to the big tourist spots in the country. We didn’t do a great job getting off the beaten path here, but when we did, it was a different world. In Danang, the city was harsh, and the people ignored us as much as possible, unless they were driving taxis. When we were in the outskirts – in China beach, where we stayed, it was relaxing, pleasant, friendly, and fun. We met cool travelers, and had some of the nicest, friendliest hosts of the trip. The coast just north was lined with high-end beach resorts, but we stayed at Hoa’s place, the only guest house in the area. It was still a tourist spot, but for surfers, budget travelers, and beach bunny backpackers.
Aside from eating our faces off, we went to a few museums, walked around the city, and took a 2-day, 1-night trip to Halong Bay, where we slept on the boat in the middle of the water. We also met up with a couple we met in Danang, got ourselves pretty lost, and found some peanut butter at the store.
The Museum of Ethnology was probably the best museum of the city. They had all of this great information about the different ethnicities that make up Vietnam. Prior to modern-day wars and tyrants, they enjoyed a rich history and vibrant culture. We’d also visited The Revolutionary Museum, but it was kind of boring, super biased, and not nearly as informative or interesting as the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.
On the last day, we went to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. They embalmed his body, and have it on display Tues-Thurs from 8:30am-10:30am. You’re all herded through this single-file line for a few blocks, and you’re not allowed to speak, stop moving, bring food or drink or cameras, or cross your arms while in the mausoleum. Zac and I both think the body is fake. Wax, probably. The two women in front of us were in a traditional get up, and cried.
There were some adorable little kids on a field trip to the mausoleum. They were all so excited to wave and say, “hello.” They were very proud of their English skills.
Our worst experience was our time in Halong Bay. The crew on our boat made it perfectly clear that they didn’t want us there. Our tour guide, named Banana, wasn’t much of a guide at all, and quite obviously took a cut from some of the “not included” activities. He also seemed to have anti-gay opinions. Zac says he was just ignorant, which is probably true, but I couldn’t understand it, and it infuriated me. There were 4 couples on the boat, 1 of which was made up of two girls, and there were only 3 private double rooms. He refused to give a double room to the girls. In fact, someone else gave it to them, and he snatched it away. The girls were too nice and polite to cause any trouble, and wouldn’t let anyone else switch with them. They ended up getting twin beds right next to the generator, which goes all night and seeps smoke under the door. Awesome. Banana was a jerk.
Everything on the boat was 3-4 times as expensive as it is on the shore, but if you brought any of your own food or drinks, you had to pay a service charge almost equivalent to the cost of the item on the boat. What is the service for? For me walking off the boat and buying a beer and opening it and drinking it and throwing it in the garbage? You’re probably throwing that can in the water later anyway, so why the fee? I get that you’re trying to make money, but that was overboard. We couldn’t even borrow their playing cards without forking up a few bucks.
We were able to make the most of it, and all of the travelers on the boat were really pleasant. We went to the caves and did the included kayaking. (Which they were going to skip until a guy from Italy forced them into it. Then we got a solid 25 minutes.)
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend going to Halong Bay unless you do a booze cruise. We aren’t the biggest drinkers, especially while on this trip, and a booze cruise didn’t sound attractive at all, but when comparing the stories of each type of trip, they definitely had more fun. More people on the boats, cheaper food and drinks on board, friendly staff and crew, real guides, and a party environment. They had included rock climbing and hiking as well.
Back in the city we comforted ourselves with the delightful street food, and the knowledge that soon enough we’d be comfortable at my sister’s apartment in Hong Kong.