Vietnam Part 1- So Phở, so good

Cruising down the Thu Bon river in Hoi An (wearing our flash new prescription sunglasses from Hoi An)

Ho chi minh city

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at night (Saigon depending on who you talk to) after more than 24 hours of travel from Auckland. Being on a budget this trip we had enthusiastically booked our first few nights in a 10 bed room in a party hostel. Naturally, we managed to be awkward in more than 3 languages to our new roommates on our first night in the shared quarters.

On our first day in the city we couldn’t believe how hectic is was (apparently there are more motorbikes in this city than people in New Zealand!). We stood for literally 10 minutes on the side of the road waiting for a gap in the traffic whilst elderly women and children crossed with clearly no care for their own mortality. Our favourite motorbiker that day was an amazing gentleman who zoomed past us carrying a tray and two full bowls of pho (noodle soup). Unfortunately he zoomed past too quick for us to get a photo, right is my accurate artistic rendition of this.

We did a walking tour of Ho Chi Mihn seeing the highlights of city (including a big statue of the man himself), and tasting for the first time Vietnamese coffee- which has since started an obsession for us of strong coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk over ice (trust me it’s good, this coming from someone who would normally consider a coffee ruined if any one added sugar to it).

Chris was treated to his first (mini) tourist scam: we met a lovely man carrying some coconuts in a chilly bin across his back about town, he jovially put the stick he was using to carry it on Chris so he would carry it down the road for him. Chris being the polite gentleman he is, awkwardly carried the stick and coconuts for a few hundred metres. The coconut man gave Chris a coconut to drink for his hard work and then asked for 100, 000 dong for this (about 4 times what a coconut was worth we later learned). What could we do but pay this clever man?

I tried to take a picture when we were crouch/walking through the tunnels, basically its a cramped tunnel

The next day we went on a tour to Cu Chi tunnels, just south of the city, which was a pretty crazy place. During the Vietnam war the VietCong (Vietnamese Communists, the ones fighting against the US) were being attacked by the US and had regular carpet bombing of the area- to try and survive they built a secret underground tunnel network of more than 250km where they ate, slept, cooked, had families etc. At this complex they showed you the tunnels and let you walk through them (they are tiny!), if you want you can shoot a gun for a small fee! A Rambo which is a machine gun mounted to the back of a jeep, M16 rifles, etc it was pretty crazy. And the best shot wins a soft toy prize- really.

Our hostel room remained a bit of a weird place while we stayed there- with no windows and half of the inhabitants hung over it was a dark and smelly sleep and the lack of light made it difficult to say if it was 4 pm or 4am waking in my jet lagged state. It was an easy decision that the next stop we were getting our own room.

hoi an

We flew to Hoi An via Da Nang (I know, we should have taken some terrible overnight bus as a rite of passage into our new lives as full-time travellers but whatever it was cheap and those buses are pretty average).

And we stayed in this place for $20/night, with our own air-conditioned room and a pool in this hot weather it was too good to miss!

We spent 6 days of chilling and exploring this little tourist town.

In Hoi An our food adventure really began- we ate so many Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich in a small baguette) I lost count, bun cha, cau lau, pho, rice and vegetables cooked in banana leaves, fresh beer (at 20 cents a glass) and of course more Vietnamese coffee.

Chris enjoying a pot of fresh beer
Hoi An ancient town sits along the river

Since 1999 in Hoi An, when UNESCO status was awarded to the beautiful ancient town on the river, there has been a massive increase in tourism – with the result that most houses that made this place famous have been sold by the community to shop owners to be used to sell trinkets, clothes, art and food. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An- we didn’t go into knowing it would be impossible to carry a newly tailored suit around the world. However we did find a very reasonably price optometrist that we had some prescription “ray bans” made for us (see the first picture of this post to see how flash they are)!

The ancient town at night is lit up with lanterns and markets, and is exceptionally beautiful.

Apparently Hoi An’s obsession with lanterns began in the 16th and 17th century, when the town was home to one of southeast Asias biggest ports. Japanese merchants often hung tube and cage-shaped lanterns along the poles in front of their houses, which lit up the commercial quarters at night. Locals soon began hanging lanterns out as well, with hopes of bringing good luck to the town. Turns out we would become obsessed with lanterns too.

We found out that you could make your own lantern with “The Lantern lady” in a workshop in town. We love arts and crafts so this was right up our alley- we spent more than 2 hours assembling our lanterns with thin bamboo, wire, and silk. This was one of our highlights of our time in Hoi An! Check out the finished product:

We still have our lanterns hanging on the side of our big travel backpacks!

One day was spent at the nearby beach, filled with overweight french men and local fisherman. It was ok, but the beach didn’t hold up against the New Zealand beaches we are used to, I guess we are spoiled there.

We went on a day tour out to Mỹ Sơn.

This is a set of ruins from the ancient Cham Empire in the central coast of Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Hindu temple complex built by the Champa who ruled South and Central Vietnam from the 3rd century until 1832. Upon their succession, Champa kings would build temple complexes at Mỹ Sơn. The name Mỹ Sơn means beautiful mountain in Vietnamese. The temple complex is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains, the sides of which are covered in thick jungle.

An old bomb crater at Mỹ Sơn

It was used a base for the VietCong during the war- as a result of the US military bombings during the War, a lot of the temples were destroyed- there were bullet holes in tomb walls and several bomb craters still visible within the complex.

We travelled back from the site along the Hoi An river which was a highlight of the tour.  

Our next leg of our trip will take place on these bad boys, stay tuned for the next adventure…

2 thoughts on “Vietnam Part 1- So Phở, so good

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