Vietnam

If you’re reading this, it means I wasn’t killed trying to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City.

I thought the traffic in Bangkok was bad, but this really was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.  Pedestrians do not have the right of way, even at crosswalks or on sidewalks. And the traffic is a constant sea of honking cars and speeding motocycles (and the occassional giant cockroach). It’s so bad that around major attractions, there are officials just to help tourists cross the street.

HCMC Traffic
Just a normal intersection. For reals.

As many people advised us, the technique for crossing is to look forward and walk at a steady pace. Traffic will (hopefully) veer around you. We tried to find a local to shadow whenever possible… at the first major intersection we shamelessly used an 85 year old woman as a human shield, positioning her between us and the oncoming cars.

HCMC Traffic
You’re just supposed to say a prayer and step into the street. Seriously.

We got pretty good at it after a few times, but I still found myself holding my breath when the scooters veered particularly close. The German said we “levelled up” when other tourists followed us across the street.

Walking is treacherous and the city is, quite frankly, not that attractive.  However, the people are very nice and the food is great. Vietnam is relatively vegetarian friendly, and Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of great restaurants at very reasonable prices. We had some of the best Indian food I’ve had anywhere, the Vietnamese Iced Coffee was delicious, and we went to a vegetarian spot that made their own tofu and had an overwhelming selection of local specialties made without meat. And the “milk bar” had excellent coconut shakes made with farm fresh milk.


Taking the Train

We had plans to meet some Finnish friends in the beach town of Mui Ne. We opted to do the 4 hour journey by train, which worked out to be less than $20 round trip for both of us. I now understand why it was so cheap.

Trains in Vietnam tend to be old Russian cars. We booked the “soft seats in A/C coach” – the only nicer option was a sleeper bearth, which was unnecessary for a 4 hour trip and tends to be uncomfortable for The German, who is very tall.

It looked ok from the outside… not exactly modern, but ok.
We arrived extra-early, assuming we would get lost at the station. As it turned out, there were only 4 platforms so this wasn’t a problem. We had plenty of time to heave our bags onto overhead racks, which was the only possible place for luggage.

While the large metal seats did have a cushion on them, the car looked like it was from the 60’s and hadn’t been cleaned since then. Everything was dirty and rusty, some of the windows didn’t close so it’s hard to say if there was actually any AC in there, and some seats were stuck in a reclining position.

Not exactly designed for tall people…

Best of all, The German discovered some large, cockroach-like insect living in the armrest of one of our assigned seats. (The train was full, so there was no option to sit elsewhere.) He bravely offered to take that seat, hoping we could all avoid a major scene with me screaming and generally spazzing out about the bug. (And they say chivalry is dead!) We spent the next four hours constantly checking for the bug, or jumping each time something brushed against us as the train rattled south.

This seat had a bug in it, and a reclining child in front of it.

Mui Ne

Suffice to say we were thrilled to finally arrive at Mui Ne, a beach town especially popular with kite surfers.

Almost every day the horizon line was filled with sails

Our hotel was right on the beach, and just as lovely as we had hoped:


They also had surprisingly fantastic food… in addition to Vietnamese dishes, I also enjoyed the best tacos I have had since leaving California:

It was no Tacolicious, but they were still tasty!

Every day they held a photo contest for guests where the prize was two drinks at the bar. We won several times… mostly likely because we were the only ones entering, but whatever.
It was especially nice to spend time with Teemu, who we know through Apple relationships, and his girlfriend Mimmi. They were happy to trade the cold slush of Helsinki for the warm nights of Vietnam, and we spent many evenings with them enjoying cocktails and watching the sun set over the ocean.

We found a bar with beds overlooking the ocean…

Dragon Beach
The same bar had a step-and-repeat for no reason. (And not a bottle of Tattinger in sight, sadly.0

In addition to being a talented game developer, Teemu is also a fantastic photographer. Just assume any of the good photos in this post were shot by him:

 

Mui Ne’s main attraction was the ocean, but we felt compelled to try and see something more of the town. The most popular spots were the “Fairy Stream” and some sand dunes.

We hired a local driver who spoke little English and threw us in a ragtop jeep with 4 other tourists. So that means we were 9 people (including him). He actually tried to squeeze in a tenth but we all refused – the only possible way to fit him would’ve been on someone’s lap.

There are 4 people squeezed in behind us…
Teemu & Mimmi show off our fine vehicle…

The Fairy Stream was a shallow stream surrounded by red dirt and white stone and ended in a small waterfall. We were sent on our own to walk up and back (in the actual water), passing all sorts of random things along the way… like a place selling ostrich rides (?), stalls selling coconuts to drink, or you could even have a small meal while seated in the stream. It wasn’t as scenic as we had hoped, but definitely unusual and much cooler to walk in the flowing water than in the hot town.


Next up were the sand dunes… it was surprising to see such huge dunes in the middle of the tropics. It made for great photos (especially if Teemu took them), though we certainly came back filthy and sweaty from walking through all the sand.

Another excellent photo by Teemu

Time flew by, which was especially surprising given that we spent most of it lounging on the beach or in the water.

Thankfully, the train ride back was half empty, and the car was slightly nicer.  However, as we were approaching the end of the journey, some cockroach came climbing along the wall next to me. We can’t have nice things!


The German’s Birthday!

We arrived back in Ho Chi Min City (aka Saigon) to an incredible storm… streets were filled with water and traffic was worse than usual.  Our taxi accidentally dropped us at the wrong hotel, half a block away. Our 2 minute walk down the street left us soaked – it looked like we went swimming in all of our clothing.

Every time you check into a hotel make take a copy of your passport.  Our hotel noticed it was The German’s birthday the following morning and surprised him by bringing cake to the room:

Cake

We were flying back to Bangkok in the afternoon (his choice), so we spent the morning checking out all the best coffee spots in Saigon. The German loves a good latte the way I love good champagne, so this was pretty much his ideal start to the day.

We made it back to Bangkok easily but late in the day, so we are having a birthday do-over for him tomorrow. And then in a couple of nights, it’s off to Melbourne!

3 thoughts on “Vietnam”

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