Back in Nam'

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 10, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

With the journey to China thwarted by government regulations on my French girlfriend, we headed for Vietnam, the next closest and cheapest location not struck with political turmoil (cough, Thailand).

Vietnam was supposed our easy solution, but we were suprised to find out at the airport that it wasn't exactly. With our pre-applied visas (from Hong Kong) in our passport, we checked in for our flight. For whatever reason, the bastard at the check-in counter asked us for proof of a return or onward ticket out of the country. Of course, budget travelers never book tickets a month in advance because of the obvious restrictions of having a set return date and destination. Failing to provide this, he went to talk to some manager, and then promptly came back to tell us that this is non-negotiable and our best option is to buy a refundable ticket from the Cathay Pacific ticketing counter in the airport and then refund it later (with some obvious fees).

We were pissed. We had been diligent in our prior research and we have never found this policy that required a return/onward ticket. South East Asia is supposed to be one of the most backpacker friendly places to travel through. But they had us in a chokehold - they wouldn't let us pass and we were forced to comply. We later went online and confirmed to the best of our ability that we indeed did NOT need these tickets. We are now dealing with Cathay Pacific's customer relations to return the ridiculous costs of these tickets. (I had to already pay an unnecessary $60 fee on my HK-Vietnam ticket, because I accidentally booked our tickets for the wrong day and had to change them... stupid me).

That aside, how is Vietnam? Well, I came to this country on a spur and with very little knowledge of this country and its people. Heck, I didn't even know what the Vietnam War was all about! All I knew was everything I learned in Vancouver. Vietnamese people, or Nammers as we call them, are hardcore, tattoo-ridden, smoking gangsters who will rip you apart if you look at them the wrong way. Moreover, they all eat Pho, or beef noodle soup. And as any Vancouverite will tell you, the pronounciation of this dish is 'Phe,' not 'Pho'.

Well, actually being in Vietnam right now, I need to correct all you Vancouverites yet again. It's not pronounced 'Pho,' or 'Phe,' but 'Pha.' And in Vietnam, it is cheap and delicious :)

How cheap? Well one bowl of Pho costs only 25,000 dong!

Oh, I suppose I forgot to mention that Vietnamese currency is absolutely ridiculous! Ever since the war, Vietnam has suffered from serious cyclical inflation. To give you an idea, when I went to the ATM to take out some cash, I had to took out 2 million dong... which only equaled to $110 CDN. $1CDN equals about 18,000 dong, and 1 dong equals 5.3x10^-5 CDN. I'm starting to get used to it now, but at first, it was pretty hard to stop myself from laughing when I had bills that were well over 100,000 dong.

Also, the people in Vietnam are nothing like the immigrant stereotype we hear about in Vancouver. The people here are an interesting mix of being gentle and harsh at the same time. By their nature, they speak rather fast and harsh in their tone, but content-wise, they have been very friendly, warm, and respectful. The Vietnam Lonely Planet had many warnings on the scammers and hasslers in Vietnam, but I suppose after coming from India, I actually feel like the people here, even the hasslers, have been easy to deal with, and overall, quite friendly. Apparently, Vietnam is not the country full of gangsters, as I had previously imagined...

I am currently in the Old Quarters of capital city of Hanoi. We haven't done all that much for the 4 days that I've been here. Honestly, the weather is too hot and humid to be walking around mid-day!

Yesterday however, we waited an hour and half in a queue to visit the the embalmed body of national hero "Uncle Ho." The line did move fairly quickly considering that it was more than 1km long! It was definitely the longest line-up I have ever seen in my life - longer than the hour 3 queue for the Indiana Jones ride in DisneyLand when I was a kid. It stretched all the way around the entire museum and park complex. Talking to the people here, it is not hard to understand why. Uncle Ho is a national hero and symbol of this nation - he was a revolutionary leader and the liberator of its people during colonial rule. As one lady described it, Uncle Ho is in everybody's hearts, and have been since they were a kid. What he has done for this country is unmistakable and it was quite a profound moment to see thousands of Vietnamese people line up and visit his pale, yet peaceful corpse lying behind a glass case. Adults walk by with solemn faces of deep respect, while kids glee at the opportunity to see the man they sing about in their elementary classes.

I had no expectations coming into Vietnam, but to say the least, I have been pleasantly suprised. As we get ready to head for beautiful Halong Bay (a UNESCO heritage site) tomorrow to spend a night on a Junk boat and then be dropped off on a beautiful island for a week, I am filled with joy and excitement. It's time to pack my bags yet again!

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wilmer on

lawrence, i been to vietnam too. it's awesome. so far it's top on my list of countries in asia. Vietnamese people were in general friendly, and i had a great time. Wish I could move there!

AA on

Sweet man! Dude everyone knew it was PHA, thats how we all say it LOL noob :P

Richard on

Crazy meng, I loooooove Pho!!!!!!
How does the original taste differ from the Pho 99 chain shop here? :D

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