Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's so...Vietnam-y - Vietnam Summary

Vietnam was a mixed bag. We got to meet up with Mirabel, Min and Josh, 3 IDS-ers based in Hanoi. We motorbiked through the north-centre of the country, getting to meet very kind people and witness incredible views. My friend Valerie from Ottawa met up with us. I celebrated my birthday in style, two nights in a row. And we made some new friends along the way, as always. Plus, it has the cheapest beer in Southeast Asia, including free beer Sundays (aka my first and probably only birthday kegger) at the hostel where we stayed. Museums are extremely cheap; I got to enjoy the beautiful Temple of Literature at the student rate of 25 cents!
Student cardless Ania had to pay a whole 50 cents
Vietnam also started to get to us after a while, and not just by being bored with the endless pho and an 11:30 pm curfew. Hanoi is full of cabs that have trick metres where they jump to a ridiculous rate, despite starting off at the proper base rate and rate/km.  As outlined in a previous post, T was getting ripped off left and right. Valerie had her bag cut into and cash stolen at the night market in Hanoi. Ania had a couple of tense experiences with hotel management; one where they quoted one rate and then charged another (shades of T’s bag fiasco in the north) and another where the owner had a fit because she hung around Val’s hotel room after she checked out. (The woman had mistakenly believed Ania was still taking up a bed at the dorm and proceeded to remove the occupant’s items who had replaced Ania, while yelling at her, saying she would have to pay for an extra night. All was resolved after much shouting and excitement.)

Plus, we just had bad luck. T and I were sick with some cold/flu for most of the bike trip. I had severe migraines throughout the first few days in the country. I sprained my foot on the morning of my birthday, not inebriated, but by standing up after my foot had fallen asleep and tumbling over. (Yes, falling injuries. Apparently I’m ageing at a more rapid pace than expected.) I had insomnia for 10 days. Ania and Val took a fall while motorbiking in the south.

What was most interesting about Vietnam was how...Vietnam-y it was. It was the only country really that we showed up in and it was exactly how we imagined it. I suppose enough Hollywood movies have probably impregnated themselves in our minds to give us a good idea. The country, the cities, the feeling...It's hard to explain but Vietnam was as Vietnam as it gets.

Best moments in Vietnam:
-Ania and I went sight-seeing on our first day in Hanoi. At the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a young blond woman walked out in a red, white and blue Ohio State t-shirt. Seriously?! I hate people.

-When asking for directions on our way to Sapa, we apparently interrupted Happy Hour at a bar at a fork in the road. When Ania asked which way to Sapa, the 10 or so people at the bar all pointed in different directions. Back the way we came, inside the bar, left, right, straight into a was almost like they’d planned it. We went with the one woman’s pick and ended up on the right path.
Step 1: lactose pill, Step 2: beer, Step 3: delicious poutine eating!
 -I spent my last day as a 22 year old eating poutine. Not quite a proper one, but the fries were good, gravy was amazing and the cheese was at least mozzarella; i.e. it was better than almost all poutine in Toronto.

-On the way to get said poutine, I realized I had used my last lactase enzyme pill at the fantastic vegetarian restaurant Josh picked out for dinner. (Best spring rolls I have ever had in my life, hands down. And did I mention beer in Vietnam is the cheapest in SE Asia?) Rather than go back to the hostel to venture through my stash, we figured that in lactose intolerant Asia, there must be a remedy at the pharmacy. Despite Josh’s best efforts at explaining what we were looking for in Vietnamese, the pharmacist took one look at my insomniac face (8 days and counting) and passed us PMS pills. We wandered over to a bookstore, where Josh slyly looked up the words for enzyme (which is enzyme) and lactose. We went to another pharmacist who took one look at my insomniac face and passed me more PMS pills.

-On my actual birthday, we got delicious Vietnamese take out and had a picnic in a park. My first birthday picnic! And after the picnic, we paid about 40 cents each to ride a carousel. A kegger and  a carousel. My birthday was better than yours!

-At the hostel later that night, I met an Australian guy who had been visiting Ottawa during the 2009 Superbowl. Not only had we been at the same bar, but we literally had spoken briefly as he replaced my friend in the Lazy Boy that you could sit in if your name was drawn, changed after each touchdown. Small world!

Overheard on the Radio by T: Congratulations Vietnam! You seem to have successfully developed the vaccine to Bieber Fever! Yes, folks, Vietnam has so far been not only the single country to not have a Justin Bieber song at #1, but also the only country where Justin Bieber had not been heard at all on the radio! That said, Vietnam had it’s own music flavour. With traditional Vietnamese songs being played loud and proud, there was little room for Western music to take over. Respect!

Food for Thought:
Hot pot - our first dinner in Vietnam courtesy of the IDS 3! Delicious.
Vietnamese food had much to offer besides the traditional Pho (a noodle soup with meat pieces and lots of cilantro). Thanks to French colonization, fresh baguettes, succulent chocolate tarts, and other tasty pastries were readily available. Hot pots were also popular, where a boiling grill with soup base was placed at the table with accompanying meats, vegetables, and noodles, which were cooked to your liking. And when we didn’t have our Vietnamese speaking friend with us, we basically ate whatever was available, fried rice, chewy tasteless chicken and leafy greens were often the only things we could make out as eatable.
Winter melon tastes like watered down maple syrup!

South Vietnam highlights with Ania:
With Ange moving on to Hong Kong and Tiana to Cambodia, Val and I decided to make use of the time we had left in Vietnam and travel southwards. We bought an open bus ticket with five stops and were soon on our way! Here are some highlights:

- In Hue, we visited the royal tomb of Emperor of Tu Duc and the old royal palace, now almost levelled after being heavily bombed during the war. Hue was the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated and a communist government was set up in Hanoi.
Val in Hoi An

Hoi An is a must-see when travelling south. The town is so charming with narrow cobblestone streets and cafes lining the river. Val and I got some clothes tailor-made for us. It’s better to know what you want beforehand, however! A short hour trip outside of town and we got to visit the old ruins of the 7th century ruins of My Son.

- In Nha Trang, we lounged all day on beach chairs and experienced some of it’s nightlife and food. Val and I ate the most delicious Indian food, especially delicious because it was not Vietnamese food.
 - If you go anywhere in the south, go to Muine. This is possibly the nicest beach in the country, and great if you are a kite-surfing enthusiast.
Squeezing in the Cu Chi tunnels, which have been widened since the war

- In Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, we caught the day tour of the fascinating Cai Dai religion temple in Tay Ninh and visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, illuminating some of the harsh realities of the Vietnam war.

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