March 1 marked the beginning of our summer vacation, or what we in the Salaya Club have dubbed our “Great Southeast Asian Sojourn.” We had a few bumps on the way (missed flight, lost baggage, lost credit cards), but somehow we made it to Hanoi. And what a city! I seriously love that place. The vibe is totally different than Thailand, and more what I was looking for when I moved to Asia. I could feel a certain buzz and energy in the air that I don’t sense when I’m in Bangkok, or even Chiang Mai really. The people were super friendly; more friendly I think than in Thailand. Land of Smiles, Schmand of Schmiles! Also, I enjoyed the food a lot more. Maybe I’ll move to Vietnam in October??
Since this is Vietnam, the city has a bit of a French influence which you can see in the architecture, which is very pretty, and the presence of bread! The cool rainy weather was a nice break from the insufferable Thai heat, though our feet were pretty disgusting after walking around in flip flops all day. Vietnam is also cheaper than Thailand (hooray communism?!), though using the Vietnamese dong makes for some good jokes. 20,000 dong is about one dollar. Seriously, the jokes write themselves. Since it is communist, you will see that red color all around (the Vietnamese flag is red with a yellow star), propaganda souvenirs, and bars shut down at midnight, or rather the whole city seems to, but there’s underground bars and clubs that rage all night, if you know where to find them.
Also, the cultural drinking experience in Hanoi is the “bia hoi,” which is local beer that they brew daily. There’s a small street/corner in the city that has all of these little streetside bars (bar meaning a 10×10 patch of sidewalk) that brew their own cheap beer (maybe 5,000 VND per drink) each day. The batch is new everyday, and has to be drunk that day. It was an awesome way to experience Hanoi nightlife, and mingle with locals. I only wish that I had made it there more than once.
What it all comes down to is that I love Hanoi, and would live there in a heartbeat. Do I really have to go back to Thailand? Thankfully not yet…
After Hanoi, we overnight bused it to Hoi An, a sleepy beach town. It was cute and quaint, but I didn’t find much there to entertain me. I think it’s going to be hard for each successive place to live up to the standard that Hanoi set. After two nights in Hoi An, and another overnight bus, we are currently in Nha Trang, where my grandaddy Lillard was stationed in the war, and near where Autumn’s dad was at Cam Ranh Bay. Tomorrow we will leave for Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, where we will spend a couple days before heading for Cambodia. One country (almost) down, three more to go!