Vietnam: A Fun Chaos
Exploring Vietnam is certainly an overwhelming experience, even for a seasoned traveller. I have longed to visit this country for years, ever since reading Graham Greene’s The Quiet American for an English Literature course at university. I went there on the supposition that this distant foreign country had a ubiquitous air of both mystery and disarray… As soon as I arrived, I was instantaneously submerged in the fast pace of local life, the dynamism of its people, and the excessive hubbub of its cities. The energy of Vietnam is at first inordinate, then infectious. All you need to do is to allow yourself to absorb it and enjoy every single mad hour that you are spending there.
Ho Chi Minh City – I prefer to call it by its older more beautiful name Saigon – is a chaotic metropolis that can literally knock you off your feet if you do not embrace it. Saigon cannot be described as beautiful, yet it is a fascinating place to explore on both foot and a motorcycle. The city is a juxtaposition of opposing elements: old shabby narrow streets and brand new skyscrapers, expensive hotels and endless cheap hostels, fine dining restaurants and countless street stalls offering tasty looking produce, designer boutiques and market stalls selling clothes for a penny. However, for me the most memorable thing about Saigon was an incalculable number of motorcycles. There are hundreds, even thousands, of them no matter where you look. Vietnamese people use motorcycles for all sorts of purposes: a family vehicle, a makeshift van, a private taxi. Here, they number in millions, and I do wonder if anyone knows their exact number. Standing on the side of the road, they are absolutely fascinating to watch, speeding by within inches of each other, their flow never-ending. Some motorcycles carry families up to four people, consisting of the parents and two children. From time to time, you come across as motorcycle “taxi” parked on the pavement, its driver relaxing on top of his vehicle, slowly puffing on a cigarette. When attempting to cross the road, a truly terrifying experience for a novice, we were told: “Walk slowly. Do NOT run”. This seemingly simple advice is surprisingly difficult to follow, as one’s reflex reaction in the face of oncoming heavy traffic of thousands of motorcycles is to basically “leg it”. And yet, if you follow these simple instructions, you will be safe, it just takes a little of bit of courage.
Vietnam has a lot more to offer besides the madness of its cities. Halong Bay, a splendid World Heritage site, is an expanse of glinting waters interspersed with towering peaks of krast limestone. The bay is a top choice destination with many visitors to Vietnam, so in places it can feel a little crowded. However it is very easy to get away from others as there is the expanse of wonderful scenery seems never-ending. If you are looking for a beach holiday, then Nha Trang is the place to go with its long stretches of sandy beaches and beautiful weather.
However, the place that I loved the most in Vietnam was Hue, former imperial capital of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 and a complete antithesis to Hoh Chi Minh City. Hue is situated inland on the banks of the beautiful Perfume River and with ample majestic architecture to discover: imposing Hue Citadel, impressive royal tombs and stunning pagodas. This city allowed me to travel back in time to long forgotten imperial era of this nation.
My final thoughts on Vietnam is that it is undoubtedly fun and exceptionally diverse place, the people slightly mad yet welcoming, the scenery stunning and the cuisine fresh and mouth-watering. And of course, I forgot to mention my little obsession with Vietnamese iced coffee, coffee served in a way completely different way that I am used to. It is thick and strong, and adding condensed milk – a certain weakness of mine – renders pleasantly sweet and almost chocolatey in taste…
Scroll down for many more beautiful snapshots of this exceptionally photogenic country…