Vietnam, Land of the ascending Dragon
Vietnam, or “the Land of the Ascending Dragon” has been high on my personal bucket list for a long time and now I finally got to experience it together with two good friends and our backpacks. From driving scooters through curvy mountain roads, to hiking the rice paddies of the North, eating street food in the buzzing city streets, witnessing its rich culture in the Imperial City of Hue and meeting the kindest locals; I have to say, it did not disappoint.
Exploring the North
Starting our trip in Hanoi, we (or maybe just me) had no idea what to expect. After being greeted by an insane amount of scooters in the street on our way to the city in a taxi, we decided it might be best to explore this city by foot. Luckily the city is not that big and with a hostel in the heart of the Old Quarter we were in the mids of it all. During these couple of days we mostly just wandered around the authentic streets, visited various temples and tasted the local cuisine, a lot of it.. Oh yes, and we made a day trip to the famous Halong Bay which despite being a big tourist attraction was in my opinion still worth the drive because of its stunning natural beauty!
Our desire for adventure led us to take the sleeping bus higher up North to the small village of Sapa, close to the Chinese border. Here we spent one full day hiking the beautiful mountains through green rice paddies and passing small villages where we were greeted by friendly smiles. Our guide for the day was Pai, a 23 year old girl who grew up in these mountains and could tell us all about life in a small village. In fact, she could not imagine living in a busy city with all the noise, smells and hectic and when seeing the beauty of the place she calls home, I can fully understand.
After our first encounter with Vietnam’s diversities and a healthy dose of adventure (and physical work out!) we decided to head South to Hoi An, a town we heard nothing but good things about. It was time to check it out for ourselves. Hoi An did deliver! Walking around the cozy streets with lanterns anywhere you look, little lights on the river and not unimportant, quite a lot of good restaurants! We spent a couple of days taking our time and relaxing while exploring Hoi An’s temples and rented motorbikes to get out of town and discover the surroundings.
First we did a ‘short’ drive to My Son (yes, that is the real name), dubbed, the Angkor Wat of Vietnam. Albeit, being smaller than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex, it was till pretty impressive to see these ancient ruins in the middle of the jungle and we had our first glimpse of Vietnam’s war torn history by the bomb craters that were in between the temples making us realise that this country that we were getting to know for its natural beauty and friendly people is also one of the most bombed countries in the world..
After getting more confident driving our motorbikes we took a leap of faith (many locals did not recommend to drive ourselves) and decided to drive over the infamous Hai Van Pass (it’s says enough that this pass is also starred in a Top Gear episode..). We drove up into the clouds over a wet and curvy road and after some intense moments on the road we decided it was time for a snack. While stopping at what was seemingly a very popular restaurant we met the friendly Mr. Hue who invited us for what turned out to be a family get-together to remember the passing away of his beloved wife one year before. Feeling a bit uncomfortable at first for intruding such a personal gathering, we soon felt at home by the beers, great food and long conversations we had with Hue, who spoke perfect English after acting as an English translator for seven years when he was a young man..
Finally we made our way to Hue (yes, the same name as our new friend) to see its famous Imperial City. At first a bit disappointed by the rainy weather and big groups of tourists we walked around to more secluded areas and were impressed by what once was the Imperial Capital of Vietnam. Was the dangerous drive worth it? Definitely!
Ho Chi Minh City
We ended our trip with spending a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City and exploring its surroundings. Ho Chi Minh is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Anywhere you look you will find scooters filling up the roads and trying to figure out the fastest way to their destination. A little caution (or a lot) is thus needed when navigating the busy streets. We took the time to visit the Cu Chi tunnel network which was dug during the war and used by the locals to stay out of sight and shelter for the many bomb attacks. It was an absolutely humbling experience seeing the narrow small tunnels and underground rooms in which people had to spent years of their life, sometimes only coming above the ground once a month.. The day after, we ventured out to the Mekong Delta to visit some small villages and experience local traditions. After coming back to Ho Chi Ming we fled to higher ground (in the form of a roof top pool) and spent the day poolside in the sun. Not a bad way to end our trip!
In a nutshell, Vietnam truly impressed. Characterised by diversities, the Land of the Ascending Dragon has so much to offer and I suspect I have only seen a glimpse of it. So I am afraid I have to plan another trip to explore even more of this country that just keeps on giving..! Who’s in?This entry was posted in Uncategorized