The 15 Million Dong Shopping Spree
Trip Start Oct 01, 2011
10Trip End Dec 22, 2011
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After a great weekend in Penang, we headed back to Kuala Lumpur to pick up our Visas and board a flight for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Aside from the obvious colonial and war history, Vietnam is one of the three SEA countries that neither of us have visited before so we were especially excited for this leg of the trip.
I am sure many of you are aware of Vietnams history, but we found our short time in Vietnam gave us a much more in depth lesson on Vietnams past, above and beyond what we typically see in movies at home. Indochina was home to what are thought to be some of the most advanced prehistoric societies. Some 2,000+ years ago, China invaded the region starting a century of Chinese influence
We had heard mixed reviews of Vietnam going into our visit and were ready for either end of the spectrum. We arrived late in Ho Chi Minh City and went strait to our guesthouse on Pham Ngu Lao road. The guesthouse (Thanh Thuong) owners welcomed us into their home with huge smiles, cold juice (the purple stuff which Audrey fell in love with), lots of info about the city and a great clean room at a bargain price
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a large, chaotic city filled with more motorbikes than most westerners could ever imagine existed (unless you have already been to Hanoi) and a bulk of historical attractions. Many of the attractions revolve around the independence war (France) and civil war between the north and south (also revered to as "the American war").
Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum which is for the most part dedicated to US war crimes. The information is quite horrific and it is clear that the events during the war were unbelievably tragic for Vietnam as a whole. Unfortunately, the presentation is extremely one sided and comes off more like propaganda than objective history.
Our second Vietnam war history site was the Cu Chi Tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh City where the Viet Cong (North Vietnam Army, VC) were able to maintain control of a large rural area just outside the South Vietnam capital. The VC had over 200 km of underground tunnels at varying levels in the region which proved to be detrimental to the South Vietnamese / USA
As we had limited time in Vietnam and the country is very long, we decided to fly to Danang in the centre region of the country on route to Hoi An. This was a last minute addition to the trip that we figured we couldn't miss as we had heard so many good things about the area. Hoi An is a beautiful small town which was for the most part spared by the recent wars and now houses an abundance of beautiful architecture. It is also home to over 200 tailors and garment makers making it a popular stop for Westerners to have custom tailored clothing made for bargain prices...and so starting our 15,000,000 dong shopping spree (don't worry...much less in Canadian dollars). With the sheer number of tailors in town and hugely varying qualities and costs, it was rather hard to decide on a shop. After some "iron heart" negotiations (as described by our tailor), we ended up being comfortable with Shop 52 in the central market. We each had a suit and shirt made to test the quality with a long list of additional items pending the quality was sufficient
Aside from the great experience of made to measure garment making, Hoi An was all around our favorite place visited in Vietnam. It really does have everything; history, beaches, beautiful architecture, superb food and an overall peaceful atmosphere. We spent our days wandering on foot or by bicycle around the old town and surrounding area just taking in the beautiful old shop houses, riverside and of course, our fair share of cau lao (noodle dish popular to the region) as well as other delicious foods.
After a beautiful bus ride through the mountains to Hue, followed by an 15 hour sleeper bus (bus with three rowns and two level of 5 ft long bunks that don't fit most westerners) we arrived in Hanoi. Based on the short time we spent in Hanoi, it seemed to offer many of the same qualities as Ho Chi Minh City in the south; lots of war history, temples, and of course, cheap roadside beer and street food in undersized plastic chairs. As with many travelers, our visit to Hanoi was manly a jumping off point to Halong City and Halong Bay. Halong bay is a beautiful set of 3,000+ steep limestone cliff islands in north east Vietnam and probably the most visited attraction on Vietnam (and home to a good bulk of the tourist scams)
Vietnam was a wonderful country to visit and although many of the attractions are war history related, we found the most enjoyable aspects were simply absorbing the current culture and atmosphere.
Our highlights were:
- French Inspired Foods - As a French colony, baguettes, pastries and great coffee can be found everywhere!
- Vietnamese Foods - The food in Vietnam is a fresh change from most other curry dominated palates throughout South East Asia. Flavors are quite a bit milder and we loved all of the fresh vegetables and herbs. Our favorites; Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), Cao Lao (Hoi An specialty noodle dish), fresh spring rolls (Steve) and fried spring rolls (Audrey), Hanoi style vermicelli and minced pork, green papaya salad, and banana leaf grilled snapper
- Motorbike Madness - To North Americans, the sheer number of motorbikes in Vietnam is overwhelming (and crossing the street an experience every time). It's easy sit for hours watching the moto traffic chaos which somehow, beyond all odds, just works.
- Worlds Cheapest Beer (Bia Hoi) - At 4,000 dong ($0.19 CAD) a beer, it's not hard to spend hours in a miniature plastic chair on the side of the road watching the chaotic traffic and enjoying some great Pho.
- Hoi An - everything (especially shopping - Audrey)
Today we travel to Luang Prabang for a few relaxing weeks in Laos. Hope everyone is still enjoying the updates and more to come soon!
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Audrey and Steve