Vietnam

Another trip, another country. Not exactly a holiday.

I went to Vietnam to solve a problem and to celebrate a birthday.

Vietnam didn’t feel like a holiday so much as an escape. I felt so trapped in Taipei, I can’t even understand it myself. My life here was “fine”, I made friends, I was getting an education, it’s safe… but this place was getting to me.

After spring break, I’ve experienced a few bad months and there was not much I could do to make it better, although I tried. I’ve started resenting the city and the traffic and the noise and it felt extremely frustrating to be here. I’m much better now. I have left Taiwan on July 7, and just knowing that I was leaving was a relief for me.

But now let me tell you about my trip to Vietnam.

When I arrived in HCMC, Ders picked me up at the airport, strapped my suitcase to his badass black motorcycle and took me to his friend’s place (yes, I was wearing a -borrowed- helmet).DSC03958

Here is a lovely view from their balcony:

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Franzi went to high school with him and lives in Saigon with her Vietnamese boyfriend now. They were kind enough to let us stay with them for a few nights. Thanks again you guys!

Saigon is big, chaotic, loud and home to even more scooters than Taipei. It’s an insanity.

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The first day was mostly spent catching up, shopping for a better helmet and looking around the local Chinese market. I got my first taste of Vietnamese rain (ok, drizzle compared to what came later).

Look at this place!

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And all this stuff!

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The evening was spent drinking LaRue beer with Franzi, swapping travel and living abroad stories and for dinner we went to a vegetarian place just around the corner. They serve delicious meals for about 1,20 Euro, which is already considered a bit pricey by Vietnamese standards.

The next day we went to see a cathedral

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and the post office

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before setting out for the Mekong Delta.

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Driving was a bit uncomfortable at first, because 2 people and a suitcase on a motorcycle is a bit cramped (by European standards, I should add, in most places in Asia I’ve been to it’s perfectly acceptable). But you get used to it.

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Also there are these cafes that have hammocks, really amazing coffee and really tasty food for next to nothing.

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We spent 3 nights in Vinh Long and had dinner on a boat that first evening.

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Sounds cool, was a really weird experience. We were already late, most places close around 9, but they kept the place open for us and the entire staff around. We only noticed when we left, or we would have hurried up a bit. The place was beautiful, though a bit of a ghost ship.

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And there was a ton of mint with our spring rolls and fried rice.

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The city itself is very unremarkable and I realized I took no pictures of it. Rest assured, you’re not really missing anything.

The next day we drove to Can Tho, which is a bit bigger and a bit more interesting.

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On the way we went into a supermarket. Apparently, June 1st is Children’s Day, so they had these amazing little cooks make amazing little sandwiches (it was a competition and to make that clear, they played heavy techno music).

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We also went to Pizza Hut (Ders had a craving and we considered it his birthday dinner) Apparently this is available now: Sausage crust.

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We also found a nice park with nice views,

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a market,

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a temple,

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and delicious iced coffee.

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Vietnam coffee is really, really good: fresh coffee, tons of ice and sweetened condensed milk. I usually don’t drink sweet coffee, but this is an amazing pick-me-up after a few hours of driving.

Did you see the storm clouds in the photos? Well, that night, I got a real taste of the Vietnamese rain. The kind that requires you wear this:

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According to Ders, I have rain-preventing properties, because this was the only time we were caught in a downpour while I was there, but it was a regular occurrence while he was traveling alone. Strange compliment, but I take it.

Back in Vinh Long, we went to a bar. They had Karaoke, so… it was loud and… interesting.

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June 2nd was Ders’ birthday. I made him a hand-stitched present a while ago, and he seemed to really like his new pet.

We spent the day in Cai Be, where we went looking for nothing in particular, but found the most beautiful spot near a river arm.

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Apparently, a few (ancient) houses are being remodeled and converted into homestays and are open to visit. Although we were the only ones there and Mr. Kiet’s houses’s garden was still very much a construction site, but is listed on TripAdvisor as the top restaurant in Cai Be.

We saw 3 houses in total and a few local fruit trees on our stroll:

Mr. Kiet’s

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Mr. Ba’s

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Dragonfruit (grows on a cactus, was news to me)

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Durian fruit (still haven’t tried it, but they are MASSIVE and can weigh up to 7kg)

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And the always popular Hibiscus.

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It was a lovely afternoon and it concluded with coffee again.

On the way home we stopped at this bridge:

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At night there we found a little visitor in our room, and he seemed to have taken a liking to Ders’ feet.

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In case you didn’t know (I didn’t before… the Philippines, I think), geckos make noises. They sound like the word “gecko” as if uttered by a broken rubber duckie. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it.

The next day we went back towards Saigon, where we decided to stay for the night, due to mechanical problems: A flat tire (minor) and a broken frame (major), all expertly fixed. We also repacked and took two smaller bags instead of the bulky suitcase. And had more beers and vegetarian food with Franzi.

The next day saw us heading towards the coast, to Vung Tau, to be exact. It was quite the contrast from everything else I’ve seen so far. It’s a holiday resort town, and it felt incredibly artificial.

Leading into the city on a small peninsula, there is a 20 km long road, where you won’t see (m)any houses or hotels or anything, but it is perfectly groomed, cleaned and the bushes are cut into dolphins. I kid you not.

Here are a few impressions:

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Arriving at the overflowing main beach, I felt like leaving again. Ders, more used to the country and its peculiarities, argued for a tour around the town and we found some places that were a lot less weird and decided to stay a while.

We had fancy Italian (again, not my craving) and saw a lighthouse with a lovely view over the city lights.

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I also had the worst case of food-poisoning I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even keep water down. I’ll spare you the colorful details, but I’ll say I needed a day of bed rest after an awful night. I can’t even pinpoint what might have caused it, because Ders and I always had the same food at the same places. Maybe he’s just used to the food and I’m not.

After a day of rest I was barely fit enough to see the sunset and google boat types (But we did! We learned a lot about Schlepper and whatnot).

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A day later, when I was able to sit on the bike again, we went towards Mui Ne, but only made it to Phan Tiet, where we were forced to stay the night, because the bike was acting up again.

DSC03844 DSC03839 DSC03827 DSC03848 After sitting next to the mechanic for 4 hours (luckily, we had dinner before and a few beers during the repairs, which the mechanic’s grandfather seemed to approve of), the guy sent us away to stay at a hotel for the night.

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Ders went to see him work on the bike again for another 2 hours the next morning. When we got it back, it was still not quite back to normal, but better and we went to Mui Ne, supposed beach resort.

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The room at the Duc Thao Guest House was the best we had during the entire stay in Vietnam. There is a quiet little garden that allows for some excellent sitting and talking and relaxing.

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The effect is my camera fogging up with intense humidity.

Ders and I had a truly excellent conversation over beer there the first night. It reminded me a bit of the early days, when we were hanging out on a couch on his balcony in Bayreuth.

The beach was… awful. I’ve never seen that much garbage floating around in the ocean. You have to cross a few plastic bags before you even get to the water, which is slimy brownish green and has more plastic bags, bottles and scraps of undefinable material in it. We didn’t stay long.

Instead we drove around some more and saw another, nicer beach that is popular with the locals (and much better).DSC03859 DSC03880 DSC03864

There was an amazing (empty) Vietnamese restaurant we went to for dinner, where we had lemongrass tofu, rice noodles, and fried veggies with garlic.

The next day, we went to see the famous sand dune of Mui Ne. For about 10 minutes, 6 of which were spent climbing up that sandy hill.

It was nice, but a bit underwhelming.

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In the afternoon we went to another pretty, but empty cafe (off season here really means OFF, nothing, no guests anywhere).

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The next morning we went back to Saigon.  At our lunch break, something weird happened, I got insanely tired all of a sudden. I had to lie down on a stone bench.

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And then Ders dragged me away and I had to barter with him about stopping a cafe with a hammock (“The next one?” – “No, let’s drive maybe 50km” – “…are we there yet?”).

At the cafe, where I was happily chillaxing/almost passing out in my hammock, we got a message from Franzi saying she would go to the pool later. Since we were only an hour away from Saigon, Ders decided we would join her and dragged me away from my little piece of heaven yet again.

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The pool was worth it, though. We liked it so much, we came back the next day.

And we had some more Pizza (in that case, I advocated for it too). Do you know what Burrata is? If you do, you know to which magical realm of food we are venturing, if you don’t, be prepared for something truly amazing.

The Pizzeria is called 4 P’s and they make one very special thing: Pizza with a whole ball of Burrata on top.

The thing is basically a pizza bread baked while lightly dusted with Parmesan cheese, topped with fresh tomatoes, rocket salad and garlic oil. In the middle is the cheesy ball filled with cream and deliciousness. You slice it open, spread it out across your pizza and enjoy. It’s utterly and completely amazing, especially for the thoroughly cheese-starved European.

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Even though we drove quite a bit, I still feel that I haven’t seen much of the country. I know it’s diverse and the North must look completely different. But I also have the feeling that beauty is quite hard to find and you need a lot of time and patience to travel around. In general, I found Vietnam a bit hard to like.

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However, I don’t regret going there and seeing something new. I sill had a wonderful time with great people. And I celebrated that birthday.

The next post will be coming from Thailand!

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