Before Vietnam my only time in Asia was a short Stop Over in Bangkok on my way to Australia, we spend about 24 hours there and it surely was enough to get a first glimpse of the Asian Culture and Mentality. I loved seeing the beautiful Temples and Palaces which are spread out all over Bangkok and it was amazing to visit the fleeting Markets and watch the people go about their businesses. It really made an wonderful first glimpse.
But it surely was not enough to get a decent impression, it was just too short and with the Jet Lag I had it felt sort of unreal. Especially when you see an Elephant walking on one of the Main Streets during Rush hour.
. So since I got into the Plane towards Sydney I knew that I would be coming back to Asia one day.
It took me some years since I was able to fulfill this dream, as I was lacking the money to go on a long trip again. But in 2009 I finally managed to go back. I booked a three weeks guided tour in a group together with a friend which started in Vietnam and would lead us via Cambodia to Thailand.
And my feeling was, that with these three countries mixed together it should be able to get a real impression of Asia. And I was not disappointed with it. And today I want to start to write about the first of these Countries.
To be honest before I got there, my knowledge about Vietnam was very limited. Of course i do know about the terrible War and the separation they were suffering under. But besides that I knew very little as I have to confess. And so before I left home I started to read a bit more about the Country and its history. And it is really sad when you hear about all the conflicts that happened here. Vietnam used to be under foreign influences and powers for a long time of their History. The Chinese left their marks as did the French with their Colonial Time and the Americans with their time during the War. And you can feel all these influences now when you are visiting this Country. I sometimes had the impression that the Vietnamese are struggling with that cultural Heritage. You feel that they are very proud of their Country and of their own History and show this when they can,, They have beautiful music, they have a wonderful style of traditional clothing and the Temples are as amazing as in Thailand but still all these foreign influences are also a part of that Heritage.Its in the Culture, the food and in the Architecture, And sometimes there seems to be sort of a struggling which part of the heritage is stronger and bigger. I had this feeling when I was in Ho-Chi-Minh-City which is better known as Saigon, even though it lost this name in 1976.
You can see and feel all these foreign and Vietnamese influences altogether in this place. There are French styled Mansions besides typical Pagodas and not far from there you can see the typical Westernised Fast Food Restaurant in its typical form. And that is not to mention all the huge Skyscrapers you can now find there. It all makes up an very interesting mix.
I remember being very excited in the weeks before our trip. We have sorted all the paperwork out, getting our visas for Vietnam and Cambodia, getting all the necessary vaccinations and our Malaria Medication and the trip was getting closer from day to day. And I was wondering what to expect from this Journey and from Vietnam in Particular. To me Vietnam was a country I didn't knew so well backthen. Of course the pictures I have seen of it were amazing. Halong Bay for example looks stunning, and till this day I am very sad that our tour didn't passed it. And there is of course the food you know from several visits to Vietnamese Restaurants at home, and there is of course the History and culture I have read about. But I couldn't somehow fit it all together. It looked like a very exotic and strange place to me. And it was exciting to know that i would be going there.
But to get there you need some time. Our flight was via Doha and it took us about 16 hours to get there. A really long time, especially when you had to work on the day you were leaving and your flight is in the evening and dont have the ability to sleep in a plane. So for me it was a long time but eventually we descended towards Ho-Chi-Minh City and the excitement was getting stronger and stronger. When we arrived there it was already early evening and everything was illuminated which made the city look really impressing.
But the first impression I had after we had left the Airport was Chaos and Mayhem.
And with Chaos I mean the thing they call normal traffic in Ho-Chi-Minh-City. Believe me, after that the Roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe looks like a calm play street.
The preferred type of transportation there is a Motor Scooter, almost everyone seems to use it there. I guess one reason is that they are more affordable as a car. But it is very interesting when you are in a car which tries to find its way through the streets and you have around a Billion Motor Scooters before, behind and beside you. Of course this number is just a conservative Estimate. It was amazing. I have never seen so many Motor Scooters in one place. They were everywhere, and their concept of Street rules was slightly different to ours. There were at times like ten Scooters in one lane, not just only beside each other but totally mixed up, I wonder how they avoided any accidents. And it is amazing how many people you can get on one small scooter. There were whole families, including Grand Parents, Kids and Pets on one Scooter. Other ones were carrying cartloads you normally would find on a huge truck. And they transported everything, from food, over crates filled with chicken to their whole house equipment.
It felt like a different world indeed. I think it took us about an hour to get out of this mess.
And our journey was not over yet. As we still had a few days until our tour would start we decided to start our Vacation in a resort about a 100 Km outside of the City in a small place called Ho Tram which laid at the shores of the South Chinese Sea.
I think our drive there took us about two Hours and when I was feeling very tired and exhausted when I arrived in Vietnam I was now quite awake, which wasn't due to the growing excitement in me, but had more to do with the driving style of our driver. I still feel puzzled how we managed to survive this. He was changing lanes without giving notice to other cars, drove with fast speed and was catching up to cars in front of us so close that we could have touched the glass pane of the cars rear in front of us.
And how do you pass two cars which are driving side by side in front of you on a two lane Road? Of course you are passing them right in the middle. It was nerve wrecking to say the least. But somehow we arrived in the Resort.
And as we were to thrilled to go to bed right away we took some beer from the Mini Bar and tried to calm down before we walked around the Resort in the Dark to get a first feeling of it. In front of our room was a large pond on which you were able to see the Silhouette of a small boat, And we heard the chirr of thousands of crickets and the buzzing of at least the same number of Mosquitoes. In the end we walked down to the beach and sat down there for a while and only listened to the sounds of the turf which were really calming after that car trip.
But after a good nights sleep everything was fine again and we awoke on a very sunny and warm morning. And this is a nice thing when you got away from Germany on a cold and wet Day in February.
The first thing to do that Morning was a visit to the bathroom, which wasn't actually a room at all, but were part of the backyard. It was partly roofed, but the shower was right in the backyard. And I really loved it. Having a shower in the outside was really amazing. I really loved the concept.
Now with the sunshine and the blue sky above us we were able to get a real good view on our surroundings. The Beach Resort was really beautiful. It was not too big, but i wouldnt call it small neither. But it was not Mass tourism yet. They had a lot of Trees and Flowers planted all along the Resort which gave it a nice view, and there were resting places scattered all over the place. Some were build in a Pagoda like style. It really looked inviting. And it really was, we had some wonderful days there which felt really relaxing. The beach right behind the Resort also was really nice and inviting. It never was crowded and I like sitting there with some Music on my Mp3-Player and watching the small fishing ships on the water.
We also tried to discover the surrounding area of the Resort and rented some bicycles for the day and went out for a longer ride. And it was wonderful. The area was really green and lush. We passed some forests, some small lakes and heaps of Rice paddies. It was so beautiful and so differently from the nature you can find in Europe. And I was amazed by the Friendliness of the people. Almost everyone we met greeted us. They waved at us, wished us a good day and some even a Happy New year. As we found out lately the new Year in Vietnam had just started back then. And coming from Germany you are just not used to being people so friendly. And I couldnt help but feeling very humble then.
These people were really poor when you compare it to the Western Standard and I am sure they don't have an easy life but even when it might sound strange. They seemed to be more content then we are feeling most of the time. And they like to share what they have, even when it is not much happily with you. I think we could learn a lot from that.
I think this Bike trip is still one of my favourite memories from that journey. It felt so nice and peaceful. Although the peace can be deceiving. You still have to be careful when you are walking around. There are still a lot of mines lying around so you really have to be careful where you are treading. But other wise the area there was really nice. But unfortunately by now this will have changed. As we drove along a road close to the sea we saw a lot of Construction Sites for huge Hotel Complexes including some giant Casino. So I guess the Mass tourism is finally getting into Vietnam. Which is a shame as the place was so wonderful. But I guess it is both a curse and a blessing. The people will find more work there and this might change the possibilities for the people living there. But it is a shame that the place will lose its originally looking.
Well all good things come to an end and we were back on our way to Ho-Chi-Minh-City, luckily with a different driver this time, to meet up with our group. We had a small first city excursion with our guide before we called it a night. And this time the City made a better impression. I think once you are used to the Chaos in the street it is not too bad at all.
The next day was filled with a lot of Sightseeing in the City. And what an amazing city it is. I was surprised how much there is to see. We first went to Cholon a really lively and vibrant part of the town with some amazing Pagodas and Temples and some really nice markets. I found the Temples very inviting and beautiful. Some had some amazing carvings and decorations and the smell of incense sticks was all around you. It was a place where you really felt that you were in the middle of Asia.
A strong contrast is the huge Notre Dame Cathedral in the middle of the city which was build during the 1870s is a really impressing structure with a very strong European look. As is the Central Post office. An building that reminds you of an old train station and is surprisingly vast inside.
Also the Reunion Palace is a very impressive structure. And after that day in the city I really feel in love with the city. When you get used to the chaos it is really a nice place.
The Afternoon we spend with visiting parts of the Ho-Chi-Minh Tunnels which is the Tunnel network the Vietcong was using during the war to hide from the Americans which are still partly intact and once stretched from Saigon up to the Cambodian Border. Nowadays you can visit this place and get a feeling of how it must have felt back then. And it really is an intense experience to clamber around in the small chambers there. You really shouldn't be claustrophobic when you decide to go in there.
Beside the tunnels you can also see the nasty traps the Vietcong build back then. Really horrifying. But I guess that is war. And if you still dont have enough of that Martial experience you can also fire a Kalashnikov in a shooting range there. And the whole is proudly operated by the Government. Which left you with a strange feeling as this place had a weird vibe. But it was interesting nevertheless.
|One of the traps of the Vietcongs|
The day ended on a very nice restaurant on a ship in the Harbour area where we had a traditional Vietnamese dinner with some traditional Music. I really liked it. The food in general is very good and tasty in Vietnam. It is not as spicy as in Thailand for example and they are using some ingredients like water spinach you normally dont eat that often.
On the next morning we left this huge city with its 7 Million inhabitants and went towards the Mekong Delta. The Mekong River is one of the mightiest rivers in the World and is maybe the Lifeline of that part of Asia. At some places it looks really small and not broader then the Rhine for example. But at other places it can get amazingly wide, I read that it is around 2 KM at some places. It is an incredible sight.
But once you are there you realize the importance of this River. There are a lot of Farm and Rice Paddies alongside it. And the Ships on the Mekong are transporting all the important goods the people are needing in this area. Even now in the area of Trucks and Planes.
And it was amazing to see how busy the people can get in the ports. And how many ships you can get up on one river.
But it is also a place where you realize how poor the people are who are living there. On the Outside Vietnam looks like a modern country, especially when you first visit Saigon, but the countryside is still a bit behind. And it was awful and terrible to see how some people had to live there.
And again I was surprised on how green and lush the area looked. Again we had a lot of Forests around us and also some Mangrove swamps. There was a small island in the middle of the Mekong which we visited were we went on Canoes through these Swamps. Also a nice experience. And it was wonderful to watch the changing scenery while cruising on this huge River.
We spent our last night in Vietnam in Chau Doc a nice city in the Delta which is sort of an tranport point to Cambodia, as one way to get to Cambodia is by boat via the Mekong. Which is what we did on the next morning as we took a speed boat to Phnom Penh. But the last evening was reserved for a wonderful Dinner in a really fancy Hotel. But the most beautiful moment was the Sunrise on the next morning. Sort of Magical.
And it was a good time to think about the last few days. I have only been in this Country for a couple of days but that was enough to fall in love with it. I just have positive memories of my time there. The landscapes were amazing, the people were more then friendly and welcoming and the culture is really impressing and interesting when you open up to it. And of course the food is an delight there.
I still have it on my Bucket list to get back there as I still want to see the rest of the country. I wished that I had more time there back then as I was totally surprised by the beauty of this country. Of course it is different to Europe and you might not get the comfort you are used to getting here, even though we couldn't complain. But for me travelling isnt about comfort. It is about making new experiences and getting new impressions. And I brought back a lot of them from that trip. I think it really made me more humble and grateful for what I have and left me with a lot of respect for the country and its people.
If you have the chance go there. You wont regret it.