Vietnam has made my senses overdose, which still continue to undergo convalescence. Eyes were treated by beautiful nature of Mekong Delta, jungles in central Vietnam, North hills decorated with green rice terraces. The ears had to become resistant to eternal hoot virtually every vehicle fitted with a horn. Taste buds were pampered to taste a variety of flavors depending on the region and the nose had to smell it all. You can lose your marbles!
What a Saigon!
An hour after sunset we leave the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Together with Marta and Basia we face little crowd of taxi drivers hungry for cash of tourists. Upon arrival to the destination we quickly realized of the etymology of Polish saying what a Saigon! (what a chaos!). Crossing the street is a real challenge. You have to squeeze through the tsunami of scooters that go literally from every side! Drivers there seem to be adhere to the principle of green light – I can go, yellow light – I can go, red light -I still can go.
For the start we went to a world where the boats, homes, restaurants and even markets sail on hundreds of rivers, canals and streams. Indeed we explored the delta of the Mekong, the longest river of Southeast Asia, meandering through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The river for residents of Vietnam is a source of rice and many fish species. Without it live there would be very difficult.
We saw there how to produce coconut shrims, coconut sweets, we ate the meat of a crocodile, listened to the Vietnam traditional live music and of course bought a few souvenirs, but what will stay in ours memories is the exploring channels covert by green, dense lush. It’s a pity that the only rain we have experienced that day fell just during those few minutes of cruise ;]
Pearl of architecture and ancient ruins
It had been just two days and we’re already in central Vietnam to admire the most beautiful city in the country – Hoi An. Although it is a tourist Mecca, of which crowds I usually try to avoid, little town was just simply charming. And after sunset, ancient buildings, lit by flaming lanterns shifting on river, simply amazed.
Today’s look city owes to merchants from Japan and China who had settled permanently in the city. Also through Hoi An Vietnam was reached by the first Christian missionaries (XVII century). Thanks to the agreement of both parties, the city didn’t suffer even during the American Was in 60s of the XX century, which unfortunately didn’t avoid many other historical monuments…
Hungry to see rural life and the ancient ruins of My Son about two hours from the city, we wanted to take advantage of the tours offered by local tourist agencies. But when we saw the prices, we thought that for this type of expedition, almost $ 100 is a robbery! So we wrote down things to see from brochure and rented scooters on our own. And as a guide, for a few bucks served us husband of the owner of the scooters :D
With 68 buildings built between the IV and XIII century, in the Kingdom of Champa, today there were only 20. The rest was razed by Americans during war.
We enjoyed sunset over the South China Sea and we move north, to the capital – Hanoi, where we had to go east to Ha Long Bay, which is supposedly the most beautiful corner of Vietnam. Imagine more than 2,000 small rocky islands emerging from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. We’re going!
Bad luck and forced change of plans
To Hanoi we arrive at night. Short sleep in a hotel, breakfast and ready to be picked up us by the travel agency through which we ordered a two-day cruise in the bay. The desk phone rings. The guy at the reception, with his beginner level English, gives us a solid punch in the face, telling us that due to strong storms, all cruises around the bay are on hold. Dazed after the knock we decided to take a night bus to the mountains, to the region of Sapa, what had planned to do later. And the cruise we rebooked on for 4 days later.
All day in Hanoi … and what I do here? It was after 9 in the morning so all trips to nearby attractions already departed. Willy-nilly, to one of them – Perfume Pagoda, we decided to go on our own. The charming Vietnamese girl showed us the bus and pointed to get off at the last stop. After two hours of driving on plastic stools we got off in a small little town in somewhere north from Hanoi.
Locals, slightly surprised at the sight of tourists, offer us transport on scooters. We recognize it for granted that we’re in the right place. Although there was a lack of tourists, we didn’t care, we like to be off the beaten track. We ride through battered buildings, rice fields surrounded by small mountains and after 15 minutes reach the river.
There, we change scooters to the boats. There’s no way to communicate with our guides. Even one word in English. But we’re happy anyway. Everything that is written in the guide is coherent what we see. Local bus was? Was. The boats are? Are. Buddhist temple is? Is. On our faces are drawn smile and satisfaction. Ha! Instead of paying someone, we reached the place on our own!
We got on the trail. Very stuffy air and high humidity takes its toll. But the stunning views rewards us. Locals show us the way. We go further. One thing just doesn’t give us a peace. If it’s such a tourist attraction, where are the crowds? In addition, according to the guide book we were supposed to pay an entrance fee. And there, a part of the only gate we found and we opened ourselves, there wasn’t single living soul!
As it turned out, we went in a completely different place. Where? So far we do not know, but certainly it was not the Perfume Pagoda :) But what we sweated out is ours ;)
Back to Stonehenge
After all we were satisfied that something we had done and seen. Late in the evening we took the night bus all the way to Sapa.
5 am. The sun lazily leaning out from behind of the mountains. We drag out of the bus. Not a minute passes, and three tiny women, from the tribe of H’mong, approach us. Quickly persuaded to be ours guides, hosts and cooks in one.
We’re trekking 4.5 hour to their village. We’re captivated by the stunning sights of the green valley, rice terraces and charm of Mai and Lam, our Guides. We come to the conclusion that it was a good decision to go with them.
Finally we reached the place. From under thatch of a simple wooden roof, run out to greet us a group of children. Around the small plot of rice and maize, bowls collecting rainwater and latrine, to which, you have to squeeze through the buffaloes, if these are not on the field in that very moment.
With a slight disbelief we ask is it here? Yeah ¬- with a cute smile answers Lam. And shower what about the shower? – There’s a waterfall.
Surprised but fascinated in the same time by the conditions in which we’ll spend 3 days we started laugh :) Baska, throws we’re back to the Stonehenge! And it was hard to disagree. Threshing floor. Two simple wooden banks to sleep, and the next to it fire place to cook food.
Nevertheless, this whole adventure turned out to be our best moment in Vietnam. Hiking with the locals in the villages of H’mong and Red Dzao people, climbing a mountains, whence overlooked a beautiful view of the valley and unforgettable dinners with our hosts. The latter, admittedly, caused me food poisoning, but hey, shit happens.
Never say never again
After returning to Hanoi we found that our superior cruise on Halong Bay, again won’t materialize due to bad weather conditions. I never used to return to the same countries. There’re so many places to see in the world, for which most probably I won’t have enough life anyway. Vietnam, however, due to the lack of a visit of Halong Bay, is probably the exception to that rule…