Sunday, December 1, 2013

Vietnam surprise!

The Hanoi Flag Tower that's part of the UNESCO
World Heritage-listed Hanoi Citadel,  and located within 
the Military History Museum (aka Army Museum)

 Puppet Ponyo hanging out in Ha Long Bay,
sites that she and I recently visited ;)

Hanoi's Temple of Literature is beloved by Vietnamese
and non-Vietnamese photographers alike :)

Yes, I'm back from a vacation -- and believe it or not, my destination this time was not Japan -- for a change!  More specifically, for the first time since 2010, I spent time holidaying in other than Japan, Malaysia or Macau!  

I'll be honest: I decided to visit Vietnam partly as an experiment -- because I really would like to visit Cambodia and Angkor Wat some day but have been worried about whether the travel experience would be too unpleasant.  Put another way: Vietnam sounds less intimidating to visit, even though it also has its share of detractors; so I figured to give Vietnam a try and if I didn't like it, decide that Cambodia would be too troublesome to check out.

On a more positive note, Vietnam also is one of those parts in the world which I'd like to see for myself since it's so much a part of the global imagination.  Of course, it tends to be associated with terrible conflict -- in particular, what the Vietnamese call the American War but also such as the battle of Dien Bien Phu which saw the Vietnamese forces triumphing over the French colonialists.  But I also have ideas of what Vietnam is like courtesy of having viewed Tomorrow Never Dies, even though that James Bond film's Vietnam scenes were actually shot in Thailand!

For my first visit to this Southeast Asian country whose per capita GDP is a lowly 167th in the world, I opted to visit its capital city of Hanoi, and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay.  Even while I knew there would be plenty of interesting historic sites to visit and natural wonders to behold on my itinerary, I also worried that my travel experiences would be marred by pickpockets, bag snatchers, touts, beggars, shopkeepers out to cheat me and such.  

Post visit, I have to wonder whether the people who wrote such as Wikitravel's Hanoi travel guide either are the kind of folks who tend to make mountains out of molehills, are truly inexperienced world travelers, or both.  

Put another way, my Vietnam experiences didn't involve a single pickpocket or bag snatcher, I found the sprinkling of touts I encountered to be pleasantly unaggressive (so all it took was a "no, thank you" to have them go away), only saw one beggar in five days in the country -- frankly, fewer than I regularly see in Hong Kong, never mind Beijing, Bangkok or Tanzania -- and the only salespeople I felt were asking for too much money were at the souvenir stores in Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport (where a box of lotus seeds that I had bought earlier in the day for 85,000 Dong was going for more than twice that price!).

Looking back, I have the happy students I saw posing for graduation photos on the lawn in front of the Hanoi Citadel's South Gate on my first day in the country to majorly thank for making me realize that Vietnamese people are, well, people too -- rather than violent Viet Cong or aggressive folks out to fleece foreign tourists.  In addition, there was the amazing Ha Long Bay cruise guide who, after I found that one of my cloth bags had a tear, came to the cabin with needle and thread and proceeded to stitch the tear!  And the hotel receptionist who asked me if Hong Kong was a scary place to live in since he's seen so much violence in Hong Kong movies!!

In short then, I did have good times in Vietnam -- and for the record, not only did Puppet Ponyo accompany me on this trip but I met up with my mother in Hanoi and we spent a few days together both in that city and, also, Ha Long Bay.  And lest there be any doubt, of course there will be more Vietnam-centric blog posts to come in the next few days. :) 


StephenC said...

I am in Saigon right now, and plan to be go to Hanoi on Wednesday. Thanks for the tip. I am here to work but do hope to have a bit of time to walk around. Thanks for the tips.

YTSL said...

Hi StephenC --

You're welcome re the tips. And I look forward to reading your impressions of Hanoi, especially vis a vis Saigon.

Brian Naas said...

Hmmm, Angkor Wat unpleasant? Pray tell what put that idea in your head! It's wonderful. From what friends have told me who have visited both Hanoi and HCMC, Hanoi is much more laid back. Unless Saigon has changed a lot, it can be a complete hassle with people trying to sell you something every step of the way. Think the Indians selling watches on Nathan Road x 50.

eliza bennet said...

Just as I was thinking of a trip to Vietnam and solely because I have found that I do love Vietnamese food (discovered after I have visited USA since we do not have any in Istanbul). I can't wait to read more of your observations and see the photos you selected for the blog.

Angkor Wat cannot be unpleasant, there is no way. Even if you won't like other things (I was lucky in that regard since I had a great time there from accomodations to food to company :) ) the temples have a certain energy that will boost you up.

Goodbye HK, Hello YVR said...

Looks like Ponyo enjoyed herself on the cruise!

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

I don't think Angkor Wat itself would be unpleasant -- rather, it's the super aggressive touts, etc. that I worry will mar my experience of the place.

Based on what your friends have told you of Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City, it sounds like I made the right decision to visit Hanoi!

Hi "eliza bennet" --

I did have good food in Vietnam... but have to admit I have preferred some of the pho I've had in the US, London and Hong Kong to that which I hate in Hanoi! :O

OTOH, I had good banh mi in Hanoi, and the best bun cha I've ever had as well there! :)

As for Angkor Wat: I would hate to have the experience that the blogger who wrote on the following had there:

Hi The Fragrant Harbour --

Yep, Puppet Ponyo did enjoy the Ha Long Bay cruise. It was one of the few places in Vietnam where she was able to leave the room or my backpack! ;b

Bill said...

Hi Yvonne,

Glad to hear your trip went smoothly, free of aggressive touts. (Years ago, the touts on Bali drove me crazy and I vowed never to go back there).

Great to see a photo of your veteran traveling companion, Puppet Ponyo. This photo captures her in one of her most blissful and awestricken poses, against the dramatic backdrop of Ha Long Bay. I Hope you include another photo of her in a future Vietnam blog. (I hope an early case of bird flu in Hong Kong doesn't spread).


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

Sorry to hear about your having encountered aggressive touts in Bali. The worst I've encountered have been in Tanzania -- in particular, the gigolos of Zanzibar did threatened to drive me crazy!

And no fear, Puppet Ponyo will appear in at least one more Vietnam-centric blog post! ;b

Brian Naas said...

Funny but I don't recall being harassed at all by touts in any of my trips to Angkor Wat other than by tiny children with near perfect English selling you postcards and such. Maybe I have blanked it out. No doubt the place has changed incredibly since my first visit in the early 90's when there were hardly any tourists and my last time a few years ago when there were busloads of tour groups. With tourists come touts, no doubt about it.

YTSL said...

Hi again Brian --

Did you check out the blog post that I linked to on this thread? Quite the horror, right?

And hmmm... re your comments of "with tourists come touts" since I've never encountered any in, say, Japan or South Korea.

In any case, lucky you for not having bad memories of your trips to Angkor Wat!

Trekcapri said...

Hi YTSL, great post and wonderful seeing Puppet Ponyo again. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I'll have to catch up with your posts. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your trip to Vietnam. A co-worker of mine visited and enjoyed herself a lot.

Thanks so much for sharing.

YTSL said...

Hi Trekcapri --

Thanks for appreciating the post and being another fan of Puppet Ponyo. I had a good Vietnam visit, and definitely have much to write about and show photos of. :)