Vietnam is like Thailand’s slightly less cool, less popular and less experienced cousin, but with just as many good qualities that you want to hang with her too. Make sense? Let me elaborate –
Before we spent 10 days in Thailand, we spent 6 days in Vietnam and it was such a good time. Because the country as a whole is less developed than Thailand, it made for a sometimes more relaxing experience and at other times a more hectic environment. For example, you generally don’t get the crowds that you do in most places in Thailand so if you have a view of the beach, it tends to be totally secluded and “yours” = relaxing (and beautiful!!). On the other hand, because it’s less touristy, many locals don’t know english and many hotels cater to mostly locals so communication can be tricky and a little trying at times = not so relaxing. That said, it’s all good, and of course, sometimes the beauty of travel is not knowing exactly what is going on, taking it all in, and learning from it.
We started out our trip in the capital of Hanoi and stayed at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel. Hanoi is a mix of rough and tumble (third world) buildings and detailed, elegant historical buildings mostly from the French colony period. The Sofitel is one of those beautiful old elegant buildings and was a real treat to stay in. The fresh macarons waiting for us in our hotel room were a reason in and of itself to stay there. Another benefit to staying there is the concierge is very helpful in suggesting day trips and nearby places to explore.
The Sofitel also happens to be right around the corner from a local joint that I feel embodies Vietnam’s vibe – quirky and a bit off, but welcoming and enjoyable nonetheless. It’s called Nha Hang Lan Chin and it’s a space right off the main road in the city, with small child size plastic chairs and mainly grown men sitting on these chairs drinking the local beer and sampling on platters of … sliced cucumbers! Yes! You heard me right! Maggie and I sat down and simply looked around us and ordered what everyone else was having – cold crisp beer and cucumbers. And it was great 🙂
The next day we woke up bright and early to head to the famous Ha Long Bay. By the time we drove there (car arranged by the hotel), spent a good 4 hours in Ha Long Bay and drove back, it was a good 9 hour day. There are a bunch of tours you can book so the best bet is to ask your hotel’s concierge to set it up for you. Make sure your tour takes you through the caves by boat. Even though it’s touristy, it’s a sight to see. We lunched on lobster, shrimp and white wine while taking in the famous peaks and it really wasn’t overly pricey. However, be ready for them to try to sell you on local jewelry. It’s an easy way to come home with a souvenir, but as always with traveling, don’t be afraid to say no.
After our full day of Ha Long Bay and our brief exploration of downtown Hanoi, we hopped in a car to the airport to take our short flight to the seaside town of Nha Trang.
The taxi ride from the small airport to the port where we were to take a water taxi was bizarre. The area is quite desolate and rough looking, but there are a ton of billboards announcing new condo developments and family vacation type business’. This all make sense of course since Vietnam is a “developing” country. That said, what we experienced next was a stay at a beach hotel with gorgeous sunsets, so there is definitely room for this town to grow.
Our stay at Mer Perle Hon Tam was relaxing and interesting – interesting mostly because it turned out to be a resort that caters to mostly to local Vietnamese, so the majority of our communication with the staff was our version of sign language.
A true learning moment happened when we checked in. My friend and I are not only north american, but both Type A’s, so as per usual, we came into the lobby area, all ready to check in and get to our rooms quickly and efficiently. However – in the Vietnamese culture (Thai culture also but it seemed especially the Vietnamese), we discovered that the concepts of “rushing” “efficiency” and “multi-tasking” are either not known or at least not widely used or prioritized. In a nutshell, the check in process took a verrrry long time, but we realized after settling in that we needed to just go with the flow and assimilate to the culture. Once we reminded ourselves of this, communication with staff and the locals was of course, easier.
The villas are somewhat older but well kept for Vietnamese standards, they serve fresh fruit every day, and the views were some of best villa views I’ve seen anywhere in the world. That’s what you come to this place for – the remote beach and the technicolour sunrises and sunsets day after day. It’s worth a stay for these views and to get a good feel of the country while still having some creature comforts. Every day we sunned, we worked out on the beach, we explored what seemed a never ending menu and we slept well.
On the fourth morning, we woke up, said goodbye to the friendly staff and received this hilarious bill –
To this day, we’re not totally sure what the charge for the “potato” was, but by process of elimination and many laughs, we deduced that it was for the tin of cashews we had eaten from our room one evening. With these memories of beer, caves, beaches and potatoes, we hopped on another plane happy and satisfied and continued our adventure to Thailand (previous blog post).