A.D.M. Was Here: Vietnam

In the fall of 2013 I went on another trip abroad as a sort of before-I’m-an-official-lawyer trip; two and a half weeks in Vietnam, a few days in Thailand and Cambodia, and a week in Seoul. This post will be focused on Vietnam.

I flew with Asiana which, at the time, was suffering from some bad press due to an unfortunate incident in San Francisco so the tickets were cheaper. After many hours in the air and a complimentary hotel room in Incheon for a layover, I arrived in Tan Son Nhat International Airport in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Many folks still refer to the city as Saigon rather than Ho Chi Minh, so that’s what I’ll be going with.

Before going to Vietnam, I was told by a friend that might have to pay off the airport security in Vietnam for one reason or another (i.e., bribe them to not be hassled). So I was fairly paranoid going from baggage claim to the customs checkpoint. They looked at my passport while my bag went through their little machine and—well, nothing happened.

Saigon, Part 1

I spent most of my time in Saigon mooching off a friend’s relatives. I stayed in their apartment, ate their food, and was chauffeured around once in a while. A young woman, let’s call her S, who spoke more English than the other folks was sort of assigned to show me around.

View of a less touristy corner of the city from an apartment window.

View of a less touristy corner of the city from an apartment window.

After dinner with my friend’s family on my first night in Saigon, S brought me to some places where young people hang out. From what I remember, there were a lot of places to shop and eat, a lot of small groups of people just loitering on the sidewalk and talking. The next day, S brought me back to the mall while it was open and got me a prepaid phone.

Somewhere in Saigon.

Somewhere in Saigon.

Aside from my booked flight to South Korea, I had nearly two weeks to kill and had absolutely no plans. All I knew was that I wanted to explore Vietnam. As most reasonable people would do, I went to Google to research things to do and see; unlike some people, I waited until I was already in the destination country before opening my browser. Eventually, I resolved to use The Sinh Tourist to make my way from city to city.

The Sinh Tourist is a popular touring company, but it’s surrounded by imitators with similar names. I’m not sure if this is due to lax trademark law or simply a lack of enforcement. Thanks to all the other “Sinh” touring companies, both physical offices and on the internet, it was a slight hassle to figure out which was the one I wanted.

I had another one of my friend’s relatives bring me to the physical office. He thought it would be fun to do so on his motorbike rather than his van. Having never ridden a motorized two-wheeled vehicle before, it was a novel experience. What made it more interesting was Saigon’s traffic.

For those who haven’t seen Saigon traffic, imagine a swarm of motorbikes and bicycles with a handful of cars and vans all constantly moving through the streets, with little to no signs or lights to regulate them. If you’re a pedestrian, unless you’re at a huge intersection, there aren’t any crosswalks or lights to well you when it’s safe to move. You simply start walking across the street and try not to get hit. The trick is to keep your speed consistent. If you make sudden stops or sprints, it’ll make it harder for drivers to predict your movement and would probably make them hit you. If you walk at a consistent and moderate speed, the drivers will see you and adjust their speed so you pass each other without incident—supposedly.

On the way back the Sinh Tourist office, however it began to rain a lot. Not taking the van turned out to be a horrible idea. My driver had a rain poncho, but all I had was the back of his poncho to put over my head.

Da Lat

After a few days in Saigon, the motorbike guy brought me back to the tour company’s office and I hopped on a bus to Da Lat. It was my first day in Vietnam without my friend or his relatives to guide me, and it gave me a sense of excitement I’ve only ever felt when traveling solo. Right before the bus was to leave, a young blonde woman rushed aboard. She was out of breath and had cuts and scabs on her knees and arm. I think I had trouble placing her as English at first, having only heard her speak a few words to the bus crew.

The drive from Saigon to Da Lat took over six hours. One of our stops was at a large rest stop which included shopping and several restaurants. With the people from my bus being the only people there, it felt deserted. Since the English woman was also traveling alone, I asked to join her for lunch. I’ll be calling her D from here on out.

Back on the bus, D and I swapped numbers and, after checking into our respective hotels, met again for dinner. She, like many expats her age in Vietnam, was an English teacher. She’d been doing it for a while, maybe a year, and had some stories to tell. The most memorable bit was how she’d been mugged twice: once when she first moved to Saigon, and another time rather recently. It was a mugging that resulted in the scabs on her arms and legs.

In the touristy, foreigner area of Saigon, there’s a considerable rate of theft. One of the common means went like this: Two jerks drive by on a motorbike, one guy drove while the other sat in the back ready to snatch bags from tourists. The first time this happened to D was her birthday. The second time, D refused to let go without a fight. She held onto the strap of her bag and ended up with some cuts and bruises when she fell. The thieves still got away, though. She admitted it would’ve been smarter to just let go, particularly since she had known not to carry anything essential in her bag to begin with. In contrast to D’s experience, I’d been staying at my friend’s relative’s house, away from the touristy area and foreigner-targeting thieves.

D told me she’d already been to Da Lat, and she had come back on her solo vacation from teaching English because Da Lat was her favorite place in Vietnam.

Da Lat, unlike most of the country, was nice and cool. The city was at a higher elevation in the mountains with an abundance of green and fresh water streams running through and around it. Since D had already seen most of the touristy things I was set to do the next day, I had to go off on my pre-booked tour and make new friends.

The day tour group wasn’t too big, so it was moderately intimate, making it easy for me to befriend a group of college-aged kids from—well, I forget where, but I’m thinking Singapore or Malaysia. Their English was just a tad below conversational, and I didn’t speak a word of their first language so our conversation was minimal. However, we were able to communicate enough to take photos for each other (this was before the explosion of selfie sticks; not that I use selfie sticks).

The first attraction on the tour was Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, more of a mansion than a palace, but it was the vacation house to the final emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. I took a bunch of photos, but was most impressed with the green outside.

Da Lat 1

Front of the Bao Dai Summer Palace.

Woods outside of the palace.

Woods outside of the palace. There may or may not have been a public restroom just out of the shot.


Stop number two was the Hang Nga Guesthouse, better known as “Crazy House” to tourists (and the locals as well, except in Vietnamese). I’ll just say the place reminded me of Disney’s Toon Town with a nature and wildlife theme, with an insane amount of crisscrossing walkways and rooms (Wikipedia says it was inspired by Antoni Gaudi, and describes it as “expressionist,” if there are people reading this who know what any of that means). Until writing this post, I had no idea that the place doubled as a hotel/guesthouse.

One of many stairs at the Crazy House.

One of many stairs at the Crazy House.

Some walkways were kind of scary to walk on; this was one of the safer ones.

Some walkways were kind of scary to walk on; this was one of the safer ones.

We also stopped by some church and an old train station before going to Thung Lung Tinh Yeu (Love Valley): tall hills surrounding a small lake. As the name suggestions, the place caters to couples and is supposed to be romantic. There are several restaurants and snack stands, and plenty of cheesy decorations scattered about. You could also rent pedal boats and canoes to go out on the lake. Not being on a date, I spent my time taking photos and unsuccessfully looking for beer.

A dog in the train station.

A dog in the train station.

Fountain in the Valley of Love. Yeah, it's heart-shaped.

Fountain in the Valley of Love. Yeah, it’s heart-shaped.

View of the lake in the valley coming in from the entrance.

View of the lake in the valley coming in from the entrance.

Pokemon in the Valley of Love.

Pokemon in the Valley of Love.

The tour bus then brought us to one of Da Lat’s waterfalls. This required a fair amount of hiking but there was an option to expedite the journey downhill for a small fee if you were willing to get strapped into a little car and be launched forward on what was essentially a one-way roller coaster. Fewer people took this option than I would have expected, and it was easily one of the best parts of the tour for me. Then there was Truc Lam Temple, a Buddhist temple surrounded by green like the rest of Da Lat, followed by a gondola lift to a scenic view.

All hiking trails should have this as an option to get down from the top.

All hiking trails should have this as an option to get down from the top.

The cart moved faster than the guy casually standing in the way might suggest.

The cart moved faster than the guy casually standing in the way might suggest.

Somewhere along the trail.

Somewhere along the trail.

Overlooking some part of Da Lat.

Overlooking some part of Da Lat.

The next day, I took another bus (which might be more accurately described as a large van) to Nha Trang. Traveling solo worked for me again as I was the obvious choice to sit shotgun; I didn’t have to be cramped in the back and had a nice view of the mountains as we made the three-hour drive toward the ocean.

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a beach resort town which, apparently, is popular among Russian and other Slavic-country folks. Being a budget traveler, I didn’t stay right on the beach, but Sinh Tourist put me up in a nice place within walking distance of the ocean called the Nhi Phi Hotel.

My first day in Nha Trang, having arrived in the afternoon, was spent walking around aimlessly and having a bucket of beers on the beach. I only recall the name of one of the restaurants I went to, Ganesh Indian Restaurant. I needed to get a curry and naan fix. The other restaurants I ate at were Vietnamese; one was decorated with a bunch of plants and another was “expensive” because it was by the beach.

Nha Trang beach; you pay to use a lounger for the day.

Nha Trang beach; you pay to use a lounger for the day.

On day two, I woke up early for a boat tour which began around nine. There were tourists from all over the world on the boat but the majority were on vacation from different parts of Vietnam. The tour brought us to several islands around Nha Trang, starting with Hon Mieu Island.

Hon Mieu Island, as far as the tour was concerned, consisted of a little cafe by the water and an aquarium. For whatever reason, the exterior decor for the aquarium looks like an old shipwreck. I didn’t want to pay the extra money to see an aquarium (never been a fan of them to begin with and I rationalized that I could easily see top-notch aquariums at home in California), so I stayed at the cafe with a few of the other tourists and had a beer. One advantage of not bothering with the aquarium was that I secured a nice seat in the shade. Just over the railing and about fifteen feet below the cafe were some men fishing on the rocks.

That's an aquarium.

That’s an aquarium.

The tour boat then took us out to a hybrid fish-monger-and-restaurant floating in the middle of the sea. Our crew rearranged the seats into a long banquet table and we ate lunch together. I don’t remember much of the cooked fare, but it’s probably because I stuffed myself on dragon fruit after having a taste of everything else.

Those little squares have fresh seafood in them.

Those little squares have fresh seafood in them.

Lunch on a boat (while docked on the side of that floating fish monger.

Lunch on a boat (while docked on the side of that floating fish monger. I probably should’ve taken the photo before we ate.

We were brought some place for snorkeling, which most of the tourists tired of rather quickly, and another place to swim more leisurely while one of the tour guys poured some kind of alcoholic shots from a float tube. They told us to get in while they blasted some sort of Top 40’s music from the boat speakers. When no one moved, I jumped into the water from the upper deck. This prompted the tour guide to give his legal-friendly suggestion to get into the water in a safer manner, but it didn’t stop one or two people from following my lead (most of the other folks didn’t seem to be able to swim without a floaty). If memory serves, the complimentary drink was sweet and not particularly strong (something akin to a kamikaze).

The final island we visited had a few little buildings which sold food and drinks, and a sandy beach for more swimming. I was too tired and lazy to swim anymore, so I just lounged around with some food instead. This probably wasn’t the best place to try Nha Trang’s supposed specialty of nem nuong (pork, cured and then grilled on a skewer), but that’s where I tried it. While eating my sub par nem and having another beer, I spoke to the Czech couple and learned they didn’t have any lodging in Nha Trang. They asked if there were public showers on the beach in Nha Trang. I didn’t think there was, so let them use the shower in my hotel when we got back.

Last stop for the tour of Nha Trang.

Last stop for the tour of Nha Trang where I lazed about with some beer and nem nuong.

Hoi An

I rode on what’s called sleeper bus several times with the Sinh Tourist; I think I took one from Nha Trang to Hoi An. The sleeper bus had reclined seats with enough leg room for me to be somewhat comfortable. Anyone over six feet tall or particularly wide would have a horrible time on that bus. I put on my earbuds and played music the entire time, falling in and out of sleep as I hugged my backpack—how I sleep when I travel.

 

Hoi An was another coastal city like Nha Trang, but rather than being a resort town, Hoi An is known for textiles and tailoring. Though the suits you get from there wont’ be fancy brand names, they are made-to-measure and are probably better than the $300 suits you can get in the States for a third of the price. With all my touristy and social activities, it totally slipped my mind when I was there and I didn’t get one (should’ve gotten three).

My hotel in Hoi An had an old school Chinese inn aesthetic which I thought was pretty awesome. The only negative was that the WiFi from my corner room almost never worked. I spent my first day in town wandering around, and had some prawn curry at a not-quite-traditional Vietnamese restaurant.

Hoi An 1

Lobby of the hotel in Hoi An. At night, the big open entrance is boarded up with planks.

Hoi An 2

My room where I watched Sucker Punch and, I think, some random action movie about a trucker.

Hoi An 2.1

Pool in the middle of the hotel.

Hoi An 3

Another interior shot.

Having not met anyone to hangout on the sleeper bus, I went to a Couchsurfing event (couchsurfing.com connects travelers who provide housing and host social events for each other). This event was hosted by some guy living in Hoi An and attended by people from all over including a young man from Hanoi in northern Vietnam. Since I was planning on going to Hanoi eventually, I got the guy’s contact info before dinner ended.

I wound up going with some people to an expat watering hole called Moe’s Tavern; and, yeah, that’s named after the bar in The Simpsons as made obvious by the decor. It wasn’t particularly crowded that night, but I met more young women teaching English and played half a game of Jenga with a four-foot stack of giant blocks. Afterwards, some of us went off to get some late night food at some outdoor restaurant (perhaps more accurately described as some tables outside next to a hot plate).

The guy who brought us there, let’s call him H, spoke English as well as most Americans, but if I recall, H was of Chinese descent and grew up in some other Asian country (time and alcohol may have shifted these details around in my mind). Unlike other folks, he wasn’t there teaching, but was simply on on an indefinite vacation and had been in Vietnam for months.

The next morning I managed to get up for a tour of My Son, a ruined Hindu temple not far from the city. It was my first time seeing these kinds of ruins with this kind of architecture, so at the time it was impressive and somewhat intriguing (I like ruins). There were a lot of statues of Shiva and a bunch of phallic and yonic symbols everywhere.

I took more photos, but they sucked.

I took more photos, but they sucked even worse than this one with the grumpy dude.

On my second night in Hoi An, I went out for more shenanigans with H.

I don’t remember the exact chain of events, but H and I met up a friend of his at a Japanese restaurant. H’s friend was a Japanese girl whom I assumed H was interested in, sexually if not romantically. However, he didn’t seem particularly forward, so I couldn’t be sure about how much of her attention I could steal without him punching me in the face.

Anyway, the owner of the Japanese restaurant gave us free off-the-menu desert. I don’t remember what it was, but I don’t think it was great. After a beer or two, we made a stop at some house (I think it was where H was staying) for a restroom break. We grabbed H’s guitar, a few bottles of wine, and went off to the beach. The girl rode her bicycle while I rode on the back of H’s motorbike like a chump.

H's special friend.

H’s (special) friend on our way to the beach.

There was a small problem with the beach: it was private and reserved for guests of the restaurant or whatever the nearby building was. Since it was late at night, there was absolutely no one on the sand, but the restaurant still called the police on us. After about thirty minutes out there, two officers approached us in the dark to tell us we weren’t supposed to be there.

Having heard stories about being hassled by police in Vietnam, what happened was a bit of a surprise. The officers didn’t arrest us, they didn’t ask for money, and they didn’t even kick us off the beach. Without any incentive, they agreed to let us stay on the beach to finish our wine.

H’s deduction was that they were nice because we were foreigners, and foreigners are good for the local economy. It probably also helped that we were relatively harmless.

Hue

Another long bus ride later, I came to Hue, the old capital of imperial Vietnam. Thanks to a hookup from a friend, I had free lodging. My room used to be a rec room on the top floor of the retirement home. I had my own bathroom, but it was a bit dusty before I took my first shower. Another plus was that I had a few free meals and the people who worked there washed my clothes for me. Without a dryer, I had to hang my clothes all over the place (on those chairs and the frame of the beds in the photo below; and then I borrowed a portable clothes rack with hangers from the hallway).

Hue 1

Retirement home’s former rec room where I read the best parts of Marie Lu’s Legend.

It rained for most of my stay in Hue, which I took as time to actually read. Since my arrival in Vietnam I’d been reading Legend, Marie Lu’s Young Adult series, on buses and before going to bed (assuming I hadn’t been drinking that night). I believe I was already on the second book by the time I got here and, thanks to the rain, I burned through it. Champion hadn’t been released yet, however, so I had to wait to see how it all ended (and once I did see how it wrapped up, I decided I didn’t love the series though it was enjoyable the majority of the time).

On a relatively dry day, I ventured out to see the Imperial City. I spent several hours there on a self-tour of the place.

One of the exterior gates into the Imperial City.

One of the exterior gates into the Imperial City.

The gate where you paid the entrance fee—or had you ticket checked. I don't remember exactly.

The gate where you paid the entrance fee—or had you ticket checked. Maybe both?

Lots of space in there.

Lots of space in there.

Some canons that I don't believe ever saw battle.

Some canons that I don’t believe ever saw battle.

Another gate or something.

Another gate or something, and a dude riding a motorbike through it.

The citadel, probably.

The citadel, probably. As with the majority of major landmarks I go to see, there’s scaffolding.

I think that's the throne room or audience room or something.

I think that’s the throne room or audience room or something similar in the distance (they didn’t allow photos of the interior).

Hue 9

This was past the audience chamber, I believe it’s the residential area where people at court lived. Could be wrong, though, it was a self-guided tour.

At this point I realized the place was a lot bigger than I expected.

At this point I realized the place was a lot bigger than I expected. There’d been a lot more here before it was destroyed by—something, I forget. Probably not aliens. I’m guessing a fire or war.

Some gazebo thing.

Some cool-looking gazebo thing.

Pretty.

After going out the back of what I thought was the end of my self-tour, there was still so much more to see.

More pretty.

More and more. There were more photos I thought about including in this post, but there’s probably too many as it is.

Before leaving Hue, I tried its signature dish, bun bo Hue, a beef noodle soup. Having not done any research,rather than eating in a proper restaurant I wound up at a street vendor: a woman with a giant pot on the sidewalk. It wasn’t as good as what you can probably find in California, but I didn’t get any stomach problems from it, so that’s a win.

Yeah. I ate with those people.

Yeah. I ate a bowl of bun bo right there. I think my little plastic chair was behind that tree, or maybe it’s that one on the right of the photo.

Hanoi, Part 1

After Hue, I continued going north to the current capital city of Hanoi. The bus dropped me off somewhere near where I needed to be, but I wasn’t entirely sure of my location so I hailed a cab and gave the driver the address for the Sinh Tourist office where I was supposed to be picked up to go to Sapa. The driver brought me a few blocks down the street and told me the office was down the street. He didn’t want to drive into the touristy area due to the heavy pedestrian traffic. Since the drive was so short, the fare was pretty small—so small that I when I showed him my smallest bill, the driver said he didn’t have change for it.

Like the warnings I got about Vietnamese airport security and police officers, I was also warned about Hanoi cab drivers ripping off tourists. Like my other experiences in Vietnam, however, my personal experience turned out to be positive. The cab driver didn’t demand I simply pay with the large bill or cause a ruckus. He said I didn’t have to pay and shooed me off (with relative politeness). It was a free cab ride—only a few short blocks, but still free.

It took me a while to find the Sinh Tourist office among the shops, restaurants, hotels, and fake Sinh Cafe offices. Eventually, though, I found the place and left my luggage with them while I spent a few hours exploring. I wound up grabbing dinner at a restaurant called Gecko where I sat for a long time using the WiFi before going back to the tour company’s office.

Some kids in funny uniforms and hats. I saw them on another day in Hanoi, but I wanted to stick a photo here.

Some kids in school uniforms and bunny ears. I think saw them on another day in Hanoi, but I wanted to stick a photo here.

Sapa, Part II

The only other people going to Sapa from Hanoi were two American women in their fifties. They were friendly and matronly, which wasn’t unexpected since I’m pretty sure they had kids my age. A van picked us up and shuttled us over to the train station where we waited for about half an hour before our train arrived.

Yes, that's my dorky-cool hat.

Yes, that’s my dorky-cool hat with my ticket to Sapa.

The two women went off to another train car while I marched into to a 4-person sleeper cabin. I had one of the top bunks while a Central European couple slept on the bottom bunks. Walking to and from the bathroom, I caught a few glimpses of the cramped 6-person cabins and, to say the least, I was glad The Sinh Tourist’s default booking was for the 4-person sleeper.

On the other side of the train ride, another shuttle van brought us to our hotels. The Americans (the two women and myself) were last to get out at the Chau Long Hotels. There was the original Chau Long where I stayed, and the newer and more expensive Chau Long II where the women had booked for a few extra bucks. Though it was noticeably older, the cheaper hotel was actually pretty nice.

This is actually the Chau Long II, I think.

This is actually the Chau Long II, I think.

Having slept on the sleeper train we only rested in our rooms for a short while before meeting our tour guide in the lobby of Chau Long II. The tour started with a short walk into the town’s market before circling to a hiking trail that would lead us down into the hills and rice paddies. The guide gave us a little warning that there would be a lot of walking involved, looking more at the two women than at me, but the women said they could do it.

Road to town (Lao Cai).

Road to town (Lao Cai).

Market.

Market.

The view as we started hiking.

The view as we started hiking.

I like green.

I like green. I think that building is a restaurant we walked past.

Sapa 8

Another shot of that restaurant surrounded by rice paddies.

An awesome kitten.

An awesome kitten.

Mountains. I don't know if I took a photo of Fansipan (the tallest mountain in the region).

Mountains. I don’t know if I took a photo of Fansipan (the tallest mountain in the region).

I don’t remember as much of what the guide told us as I should, but I recall him talking about a little school in the distance. It was an elementary school which cost money to attend; a lot of the kids in the region—from the Black H’mong tribe—didn’t get very far in school, if they went at all, because it was cost-prohibitive. The tour brought us over huge fields, a souvenir shop, and a little spot after the waterfalls where we saw a cultural show; we also stopped and went into an actual house, primarily so the guide could point out how cramped it was.

Had to take the shot.

Had to take the shot.

No idea what we're looking at.

No idea what we’re looking at.

Super narrow stairway-thing outside of a souvenir shop.

Super narrow stairway-thing outside of a souvenir shop.

Walkway leading away from the souvenir shop.

Walkway leading away from the souvenir shop.

Little waterfall thing.

Water and junk.

On the way back from the first day of hiking.

On the way back from the first day of hiking.

We walked back up into town and I went off on my own to explore and find some dinner alone. No shenanigans this night. I ate, bought some snacks—including Pringles that didn’t taste like Pringles—and retired to my room.

Exploring Sapa.

Exploring Sapa. Pizza is everywhere.

More exploring.

More exploring. I think I bought my snacks from that place on the left. Maybe.

The day after, I checked out of my hotel and left my bags with the front desk at Chau Long II before eating breakfast. The tour guide came and introduced us to another guide who would take us to another village to visit the Tay and the Zday tribes (ethnic minorities in Vietnam.

One of the views on day two of hiking.

One of the views on day two of hiking.

We hiked into the green again and, along the way, there were little kids attempting to sell bracelets to us on more than one occasion. They had a little routine. They’d approach with a super-sad face and an outstretched hand, offering the bracelet for a dollar. Immediately after I said no, their sad-faces vanished and they ran off laughing. Despite the routine sales pitch, it tugs at the heartstrings to know these kids spend the entirety of their childhood selling trinkets, can’t afford school, and most of them will be stuck working low-paying tourism bits or in the rice fields for the rest of their lives (well, these are my assumptions).

After the same kids unsuccessfully tried to sell to us, we saw them again when we stopped to rest in a field during the hike. The kids and other locals who worked the tourism industry (on the bottom end) rested there, too. This was where they stopped trying to sell to us altogether and ran around and played instead. They seemed pretty keen on having their photo taken.

Older girls in traditional clothing.

Women in traditional clothing, and other random tourists.

Sapa 20

Bracelet-selling girls.

By the time we stopped for a lunch break, I was pretty done with all the walking and, thankfully, there wasn’t much left. We trekked a bit further but got to a point where we could be given a ride back up to the starting point (more or less). The women waited for a sturdier vehicle while I hitched a ride on the back of a motorbike. I got there about five or ten minutes faster than them; long enough to buy a Coke and finish most of it while waiting.

Lunch time.

Close to where we had lunch. I think I may have leaned out from my table for this shot.

That cattle thing was looking at us.

The cattle was looking at us.

After the long day of hiking, I still had hours to wait for the sleeper train to go back to Hanoi. I grabbed my bags from the front desk and went to hotel’s waiting room. The waiting room was spacious with a bar which sold a small selection of beer, wine, and liquor. There were several pay-computers along the wall and a pool table. The most useful feature of the waiting room was the free shower rooms in the corner. I was feeling pretty grimy from all the walking, so the free shower was a nice surprise.

On the train back to Hanoi, I only had one other passenger in my 4-person cabin, some guy who kept to himself. However, as the train was left the station, another young man showed up. He looked to be of Southeast Asian descent—I’m guessing Vietnamese or one of the ethnic minorities from Sapa. He nervously threw his bag in an empty bunk and sat there, looking incredibly suspicious. Five minutes or so later, some of the train company’s employees showed up and asked for his ticket. They exchanged some words before taking him away. As it turned out, the stowaway was trying to get them to believe his friend had his ticket and was in the bathroom. I felt bad for the guy, particularly since he looked at me pleadingly before he was escorted out.

Hanoi, Part 2

I left the cool mountain weather of Sapa back to the hot and humid Hanoi. The train got back to the city at five in the morning; I was tired, and the sky was still dark. With a few hours to kill before my next bus, I ventured back to the Gecko restaurant/hostel. The lights were off and the patio furniture and a motorbike were inside; the place looked like a storage garage. I don’t know why I tried the door, but I found it unlocked and let myself in.

One of the employees was sleeping in the far end of the restaurant. He sat up and looked at me before flopping back down to sleep. I guess the restaurant doubling as a hostel made it common for people to come in and out at all times of the day. I laid myself on one of the benches against the wall, at the table I’d eaten lunch at a few days earlier, and used my bag as a pillow. Once again, I caught some shut eye while hugging my backpack.

Ha Long Bay

I didn’t sleep long. My bus left at 7:45 AM. The drive from Hanoi to Ha Long was a little under two hours and I’m pretty sure I slept for half of it.

Ha Long Bay is known for the rock formations scattered through gentle waters, and the tour involved sleeping on a boat in order to see more of it. I had my own cabin with a full-sized bed, but I was no longer tired. I went out and attempted to mingle with the other guests.

As with many of my other tours, half the guests were Vietnamese folks, and the other half were composed of a random mix of international travelers. There were a handful of Chinese men who I didn’t talk much with right away. The first folks I talked to was a young married couple from the U.K. The man was English and the woman was Scottish but was raised in England. I recall having a discussion with them, listening more than talking due to my lack of expertise on British politics, about the current issues with Scottish independence from the U.K. What got us talking to begin with, I believe, was the copy of A Game of Thrones which the husband had with him during lunch.

The major activities included: spelunking, on relatively safe walkways and stairs; kayaking; swimming on the beach of some random island; and a “cooking class” in which passengers attempted to roll their own spring rolls. At the end of the first day, the helmsman of our little ship tried to chase a good shot of the sunset for us to moderate success.

Some boats in the bay.

Some boats in the bay.

Same island as the cave we explored.

Same island as the cave we explored. Or the adjacent one.

View of the water while we hiked up into the cave.

View of the shuttle boats as we hiked up into the cave.

Cave fun.

Cave fun.

More of the cave.

More of the cave.

Too much cave now, huh?

Last cave photo, I promise.

On the way down from the cave, probably—judging from the plant on the left.

On the way down from the cave, probably—judging from the plant on the left.

Those rocks beg to be photographed.

Those rocks beg to be photographed.

It never ends.

It never ends.

Boats ruining the shot, or enhancing it?

Boats ruining the shot, or enhancing it?

The best I could do.

The best I could do for the sunset.

And, the sun is gone.

And, the sun is gone.

On day two, the English couple betrayed me and jumped ship. They’d purchased a different tour package which deviated from our itinerary, so they got on a little shuttle boat to be moved elsewhere. After that, I started hanging out with the Chinese guys who were in Vietnam on business (but took a few days to do touristy things). The guy I spoke to most worked for a major American car company, but I guess he handles stuff in Asia for them.

My kayaking buddy.

My kayaking buddy.

Our kayak while we got on land to look at some rocks.

Our kayak while we got on land to look at some rocks.

The top of our boat.

The top deck of our boat.

Hanoi, Part 3

Coming back to Hanoi for the third time, I finally checked into a proper hotel. This was probably the first place I stayed in Vietnam that wasn’t through The Sinh Tourist or mooching off my friend and his family. The place I booked was called Hanoi Impressive Hotel and it was indeed impressive, considering the fact that it only cost me twenty-five dollars and was several times better than the seventy-five dollar motels you’d find in the States. I paid them what probably wasn’t much money to do my laundry which I’d pick up the next day.

My room in the Hanoi Impressive Hotel.

My room in the Hanoi Impressive Hotel. The lighting seems a bit funky. That’s my bag of dirty laundry to the right, just in case you were wondering.

View of the nearby church from the hotel.

View of the nearby church from the hotel.

Now that I was finally staying in Hanoi, I contacted the guy whose phone number I got back in Hoi An. He was going out to dinner with more Couchsurfers and told me where to meet him. Being exhausted from my hobo-like travels (the hiking, kayaking, swimming, and constant moving), I didn’t want to walk the 700 meters to the restaurant, so I went outside and paid one of the motorbike guys a buck or two.

The food wasn’t all that great at the restaurant. I don’t remember what it was, but it was an obscure, yet safe dish. It was, however, nice having some company even if I barely talked to most of them. After dinner, I went with a Dutch dude from the group to get a few beers. While out, we met a random French guy who was riding his motorcycle around the world. Then we had more beer.

Hanoi 4

The next morning, I had practically all day to kill before I had to go to the airport on my last-minute flight to Thailand. So, I had lunch at KFC (the spicy chicken over there is pretty awesome, by the way; we need that in California), saw some cultural water puppet show, and went to a cafe on the fourth-or-something floor of a building to work on my WIP novel.

American fast food = my comfort food.

American fast food chains = my comfort food.

Pond near the KFC.

Pond near the KFC.

Water puppet show. Huzzah.

Water puppet show super close to the KFC. I had no idea what was going on, but the was air conditioned, so—yeah.

The cafe I wrote in had a nice view of, you guessed it, the KFC.

The cafe I wrote in had a nice view of, you guessed it, the KFC.

Saigon, Part 2

After an arduous journey to get back to Saigon from Thailand and Cambodia (details in another post), I finally got back to Saigon. I went back to my friend’s relatives’ place to mooch some more and eat some home-cooked food. I also met up with S again, the girl who’d brought em around and bought me my prepaid phone, and we had dinner with my friend from the States. Coincidentally, my friend from the States had mutual friends with D, the girl I’d met on the way to Da Lat, because they were all English teachers.

Some beer in Saigon.

Beer in Saigon.

When S dropped me off at the airport, I learned that I had missed by flight to Seoul by a few hours. After all the on-the-fly travels over the past two weeks, the time of the flight totally slipped my mind. Talking to the airline people, however, they arranged for me to get on a later flight to Seoul with no extra charge. The second flight wasn’t for a bunch of hours, so I texted S and she turned around.

Unlike most airports I’ve been to, the most of the airports in the United States (or pretty much all the other airports, the Tan Son Nhat International Airport was not in the middle of nowhere and isolated from the rest of the city. This airport was literally across the street from a shopping area which had a movie theater, so S and I went over to catch a film. We ended up watching Runner, Runner staring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck which I actually found enjoyable despite popular opinion (maybe I was on a natural high from not being gouged by the airline for missing my flight). Then S brought me back to the airport and we said goodbye.

After going through airport security and eating my obligatory Burger King airport meal, I spotted a clerk at one of the airport stores playing Starcraft (maybe Starcraft II). Goofing off: how champions love their jobs.

 

Saigon 5

Killing the Zerg or leading them.

My last meal in Vietnam.

My last meal in Vietnam.

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7 thoughts on “A.D.M. Was Here: Vietnam

  1. Vietnam looks so beautiful. I definitely hope to be able to go there some day. All that hiking looks amazing, and I love the idea of riding a little roller coaster the way back down, lol. The “street vendor” you bought soup from looked a little shifty… but I guess that’s part of the experience. I’m definitely adding Vietnam to my bucket list of places I want to visit one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those pictures of the Imperial City and Ha Long Bay are amazing. Have to admit Southeast Asia is not necessarily high on my list of places to visit, mainly due to all the bad stories I’ve heard but I must admit your post piqued my interest!

    Liked by 1 person

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