you don’t know man, you weren’t there

Excuse the terrible title, but it was the best Vietnam related title I could come up with whilst sat on Cenang beach doing what I have been doing best on this wonderful island – chilling out. Langkawi is just as good as I remembered it was. In fact it’s even better, given the extended period of time here not to mention the excellent company Steph has provided. Anyway, more of that at a later date. I promised some scribbles on Vietnam and the latter part of this ‘holiday’ in Langkawi has given me that opportunity to pen something. Other than South Africa and Australia I spent longer in Vietnam than I have done in any other country that I have visited in one hit. As you know from previous entries, I failed in a conquest to get from the south to the north of the country in my four weeks in the ‘Nam (ironically just like the Americans)…….Anyway, despite this I feel pretty well placed to offer an opinion on the country and the people that reside there.

First off I suppose I should go back to why I chose Vietnam as a place to follow the Australia tour. Well, the main reason was because it was a new country to me, and one of many things I have learnt on this adventure is that arriving in a brand new country is always an exciting time. Pretty obvious really. Secondly it was a well located place to stop on the way to India, where I will be in a few days time watching England try and turnaround there rather patchy one day form in the Cricket World Cup. Thirdly, the Indian Embassy in Malaysia, which was my other ‘cheap’ flight option from Sydney, was not keen on issuing Indian visas to foreigners. I’m not sure why, but as ever with Indian bureaucracy, nothing surprises me. Finally and just as importantly for someone that had just been down under for seven weeks, it was a cheap country to live. And I mean really cheap. 30p for a bottle of beer? OK, yes please. Especially after nearly two months of getting excited when you find a bar that charges only £4 for a pint. £10 for a room with a double bed, shower, TV, fridge and free wifi? OK, if I must. Especially after spending over £20 a night in seven bed dorms whilst sharing rather ropey bathroom facilities in parts of Australia.

You get the picture, if Australia was pretty crippling in terms of getting by on a budget then Vietnam was the opposite. I just could not spend my ‘Dong’ if I tried. On that note there is something that never fails to brings out my childish sense of humour whenever I mention the word ‘Dong’ when talking about the local currency. It’s just fantastic. Try it yourself and see if you are just as childish as me.

I liked Vietnam. I didn’t love the place in the way that I love say a Sri Lanka, a Cambodia or even a Langkawi (which really is the dogs private parts) but still, Vietnam was cool enough. Sure, parts of the country that I saw are ridiculously touristy in the same way that weekend break cities across Europe are, but it still seemed to maintain a charm that I appreciated. For instance in Hoi An there seemed to be more tourists than locals, but it still had a nice feel about the place, not spoiled by the high volume of visitors. Ho Chi Minh, which is an obvious start and finishing point of any trip to Vietnam, had a couple of streets that you could akin to the likes of Khao San Road in Bangkok in terms of white faces. All of this could easily cloud a view of Vietnam which would be unfair to the countries natural beauty and in the main, very friendly local people. Lets be fair, when things are as cheap as they are in such a country which is a diverse as Vietnam, there are going to be tourists. Live with it.

So live with it I did. Although for my first fortnight in Vietnam it’s safe to say that I wasn’t a happy bunny. You all know that by now (if you don’t then feel free to read back) so I’m not going to go over old ground. Once I snapped out of that low point I felt I got right into Vietnam, especially recapturing my old love for the long bus journeys between the cities that I squeezed into my itinerary. These were the occasions where I got to spend a bit of ‘quality’ time with a few people that make travelling all that more enjoyable when you are on the road alone. Whether it be Andi, the street wise Irish girl on the bus from Hue to Hoi An, or the young couple who only ate rice, noodles and chicken on the overnight bus to Nha Trang, to American Doug, my excellent companion from Da Lat back to Ho Chi, it gave me a chance to chat with fellow independent travellers again. For sure, I didn’t make much of an effort in that first stint in Ho Chi to get to know anybody new, but it was a common theme throughout Vietnam that finding like minded people to hang out with was hard. Anywhere else I have been has not been an issue, but for a couple of reasons that I think I have sussed out, it was tougher in Vietnam.

For starters I stayed in hotels. I wasn’t the only one, hostels in Vietnam are limited and as such are quite often booked up months in advance. As of such spur of the moment types, like the whole of Vietnam was for me, can only book into hotels. Secondly, when a hotel room is just as cheap as a dorm room, I like most others who are travelling for so long are always going to choose to have that bit of privacy after months of sharing. Not being in dorm style accommodation definitely restricts chances of meeting new people. Another reason for the lack of meaningful companionship was the lack of single travellers I bumped into away from the bus trips that we are placed together on. One of my biggest personal changes on this whole trip away is my newly discovered ability to enjoy going out to eat and drink in my own company. I wrote back in October (interestingly just after I visited Langkawi for the first time) that I found it hard work motivating myself to have a change of clothes, take a shower and go out to find somewhere nice to eat. I’ve changed for the better. I like nothing more than finding a little restaurant such as ‘Mumtaz’ in Ho Chi or the ‘VCafe’ in Da Lat, ordering a good feed, downing couple of beers and observing the world go by. So, it wasn’t as if I was a social recluse. In fact, far from it. I was the one challenging people to games of pool in the bars I frequented in the evenings and I was the one who tried starting a conversation with the odd fellow single traveller I bumped into. The thing that it comes down to is that a high percentage of people that visit Vietnam are couples or tour groups, making it tougher to strike up a relationship with a new person.

Apart from the fantastic food and beer, the fondest memory I will take from my time in Vietnam is the spectacular views the country gave when travelling through the mountains or alongside the rugged coastlines. My favourite thing about travelling is stumbling upon a place of natural beauty that you had no expectation of and Vietnam gave me several of those. The main one was my last scooter ride through the mountains that surrounded Nha Trang. My first couple of rides in and around Hoi An and Danang were good fun, mainly because they were the first times I had been on a bike before. But the one I took later into the Vietnam leg of the trip was mind blowingly brilliant, giving spectacular views of volcanic like mountains on the islands located just off the mainland. Throw in the odd fishing village on the way, a winding road that hugged the coastline plus the lush green vegetation that surrounded you and you have close to perfection on earth. The hills around Da Lat gave some breathtaking views, especially the one I got on a bus journey where we had to pull over thanks to a mudslide that had blocked the mountainside road ahead. If ever there was a place for an unscheduled stop, this was it. We were practically in the clouds, looking down over the valleys while admiring the view that included a brilliantly placed waterfall, gushing freely down the mountain thanks to the close proximity of the rainy season.

The people were friendly, with the only annoyance being the continual hassle from the lazy bastards that act as dug dealers and pimps whilst sitting around on their motorbikes. Come on boys, this isn’t Phuket. You’re giving your country a bad name here so back off a bit. Sure, these kind of offers can be found all over South East Asia, but not in the same quantity as what I found across Vietnam. Just because I am a single western tourist doesn’t automatically make me a drug taker or someone that has to pay someone to have sex.

I recommend you give Vietnam ago someday. And if you do, hire scooters. It’s difficult to explain just how good it is zipping around the untapped Vietnamese countryside on the only mode of transport that matters in the ‘Nam. I suppose I can finish as the title says, ‘you don’t know man, you weren’t there’

Perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible title after all.


4 Responses to “you don’t know man, you weren’t there”

  1. 1 donna
    February 14, 2011 at 10:28 am

    got ya fastest comment winner!!?

  2. February 14, 2011 at 10:31 am

    You have to read the entry first otherwise that is just plain spamming!

  3. 4 donna
    February 17, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Dong! Dong! Dong! I want to have been there man!

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