I have finally found myself some time to sit down and write the my first blog from my Vietnam adventure! As you might know, I'm doing a University course in development in Vietnam and this course is starting on Monday Aug. 26. The course is only for 10 weeks though. This means that I'm feeding my ever-hungry traveling heart both before and after the course. In this blog I will tell you about the exeriences I have had in the first 9 days that I have been in Vietnam and I will try to keep it short but some people know that I might have trouble doing just that... ;)
Right now I'm pretty high on traveling fever - I'm currently situated in a city called Buon Ma Thuot. Not a particulary interesting place considering sights - actually there are almost none - but I just came back from a spontaneous visit into a Vietnamese living quarter or whatever one might call it. I literally only walked half a block and Vietnamese girl started talking to me clearly showing me some interest. Her English was near non-existing so she had her neighbor of 12 years translating the best he could. There wasn't really much to it, but it is an example of how I think I have managed to keep the worst backpacking culture behind and it is in situations like these that my anthropological heart skips a beat.
Anyways, from the top: I flew in to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and spent my first jet-lag-plauged day wandering around seeing touristy must-sees of the place. I won't get much into these. Before I left Denmark I had been in contact with a lot of couchsurfers from HCMC who wanted to host or meet me. I had decided to stay with this guy Casey who I had met in New Orleans three years earlier on my first couchsurfing experience. Since then he had married and moved to HCMC where he is now working as a German teacher. Strange how small the world is! I had a lot of fun staying at his place. He was working a lot of the time but he did find to for a few dinners with e.g. with his husband's Vietnamese family (his hushand is doing his degree in Sweden soon). I generally found great hospitality and I spent a lot of time with couchsurfers while in HCMC going to an English party/workshop at a small café and hanging out with a Vietnamese girl named Yennie who showed me around the city on her motorbike. In general, there are a huge amount of motorbikes and the traffic is one of the biggest experiences of this ever-noisy-and-busy city.
From the first day on, I have tried to eat as much Vietnamese food as possible which obviously isn't too hard. There are street stalls everywhere and they are selling food for ridicolously low prices. Casey told me he usually could get by spenting 2 dollars on food a day eating his lunch at the school. Even if Vietnamese food is known to be some of the best food in the world, it has still taken some getting-used-to. The Vietnamese menu card has a an incredible variety so you will always find something you like and I really have had some amazing meals. But I soon stumpled upon an ingredient regularly used known as green chili. It's not that it's is spicy (which it also is) but to be honest my taste buds find the taste utterly nauseating! I like most other things but my system turns around a little everytime I find that they have put it in my food.
Anyways, leaving HCMC I had only spent time with other travelers on one-day tours to nearby attractions like the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai temple and the Mekong Delta. Sidenote: Don't do a day-tour to the Mekong Delta - it's as far from being authentic as anything can be. I imagine going yourself is much more rewarding. Before leaving Denmark I thought I would get myself a motorbike but seeing how traffic is in HCMC I got terrified of the thought. My insurance doesn't cover but most importantly I wouldn't want to find my way around Vietnam on a motorbike alone. That being said, I have spent most of my traveling time on motorbikes e.g. traveling the Central Highlands with a so-called Easy Rider (motorbike-guide) currently. This was also part of the way I got to Cat Tien National Park in the jungle which was highly rated in Lonely Planet. My experience: very over-rated. The hiking trails where highly inaccessible since you simply don't walk into the jungle by yourself and I was almost the only one there. While that can be refreshing being used to American national parks this wasn't. I did have some nice experiences though. I saw a monkey in the trees which apparently was very lucky and I visited the wild-life sanctuary which was very interesting. I don't regret I went there since the journey was rather unique due to different transportation circumstances. I even had to spent 3 hours to go to the nearest ATM on the back of a motorbike. But it is expensive and there are not that many things to see - not even tourists so once again I was isolated from backpacking culture.
After having waited 4 hours for a bus passing by in the street I finally got on a bus to the mountain town of Da Lat. I barely spent a day there before I was hijacked by an Easy Rider named Xuan. He offered me a three day tour doing the Central Highlands getting an off-the-beaten-track experience of Vietnam. Easy Riders are well-known motorbike guides who take you around the countryside and show you different places of significance along the way in mostly very scenically beautiful areas. After reading his long lists of great references I decided to give it a go eve n if the price was a bit high. And while it is only partly off-the-beaten-track (I met more backpackers in a village in Lak Lake than I had met on the whole tour), I have not regretted taking that decision. Xuan has taken me to truly beautiful areas of the country that I never would have been able to explore by myself. Even if I had a motorbike and could go as I pleased, I would probably get lost. Also he knows what he is doing, I'm feeling very safe, and I'm meeting a lot of locals on the way. Some places are not that off-the-beaten-track as said and these places they are used to foreigners but other places you can walk in the street and everybody would look strangely at you. I have had some of those experiences. The Vietnamese in the more remote places are all waving at me and saying 'hello' especially the children. It is evident that I'm very exotic to them. Most Vietnamese don't travel out of Vietnam, not even the ones speaking English so it's really no surprise to me. I just try my best to meet everybody with a smile and try to talk with people the best way I can - and so far this has brought me to a state where I'm really enjoying my way I have been exploring Vietnam so far: a bit off the backpacker trail but on a nearby side road - that's what I feel comfortable with!
But this is soon over! Sunday I will be in Hoi An and get introduced to the town and Monday Uni life starts again! I just have tomorrow with a 220 km motorbike ride in front of me going to the beach of Nha Thrang and then a night bus for Hoi An. It's busy, but I'm happy :)
It got a bit long, I guess, but believe me, I have a lot of stories and sentiments that I have spared you for but these will have to wait to I come back to Denmark.
I hope you are all doing well, my family and friends! I miss all of you!
I will upload lots of photos soon. I haven't been able to access facebook since HCMC so I might be a bit harder to get in contact with. In any case my gmail works: [email protected]
Michael, over and out.