We were a bit in a hurry to see as many highlights as possible in the 3 week visit of our Belgian friends, in which both Vietnam & Cambodia were on the itinerary. Maybe we have given Vietnam less time & attention than it deserves, but still had a great time.
– Exploring Tam Coc area by boat & motorcycle. The scenery is stunning: big rocks pop out of the river & rice fields, that is why it is often called “Halong Bay in the rice paddies”. Great to escape the busy city life & hectic traffic. Village people stop what they are doing to wave at you while you are passing by. Huge contrast with the persistent vendors & begging children that you meet in the main touristic attractions.
Did you know?
Common conversations when renting a motorcycle (this is actually a scooter):
– Vendor: “Have you ever driven a motorcycle in Vietnam?“
– Benjamin: “No, but I drive a motorcycle at home”
– Vendor: “But here it is special”
– Benjamin: “What do you mean, special?”
– Vendor: “No insurance”.
Note: this is actually not special, as it is the same in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, …
Another interesting conversation when renting a motorcycle in Cambodia:
– Vendor: “When police stops you, give 1 or 2 dollar. When they ask more, tell them that you are going to call your embassy to ask for the price and ask for the policeman’s name. Then they will let you go.”
– Benjamin: “If we see policemen, we don’t stop.”
– Vendor: “Yes, ok”
Note: “Yes, ok” is the favourite answer when asking any kind of question to Vietnamese people (because they don’t understand your question or don’t know the answer).
– Homestay in Sapa. Sapa is famous for its scenery: green hills with rice terraces. Unfortunately, we did not get the widespread views because of fog & rain, but the homestay made it worthwhile. We learned more about the lifestyle and beliefs of the ethnic minorities that live there. We don’t have to say that we were astonished by the fact we were also having dinner with a 16-year-old couple that apparently just got married.
– Escaping the crowds and tour groups of Halong Bay by taking a local bus & ferry to Quan Lan island. The boat ride offered us the Halong Bay views and the island itself has given us a white-sand beach completely to ourselves. After a holiday of 1,5 months being on the beach for the first time felt great!
Did you know?
It is perfectly normal in Vietnam when you order something from the menu that they jump on their motor cycle to go and buy half of the ingredients, before they can cook your meal or serve your drinks.
– Street food in Hanoi. This is literally eating on the street, on small plastic stools that are gathered next to a cooking pot or around an improvised “fridge” which is nothing more than an Styrofoam box and ice (if you’re lucky ).
Did you know?
Vietnam is famous for its delicious food and we couldn’t agree more.
– Exploring the Mekong River delta, including a homestay in the countryside. We got closer to the local people when seeing them during their daily life while cruising the small canals or playing around with the kids at a local school. The meals the family prepared for us tasted extremely good. Luckily, we didn’t depend on the fish that we tried to catch ourselves, as we did not catch a single fish, or at least not an edible one.
Next to these beautiful experiences, we also took the time to learn more about the Vietnam war and the cruelties that happened in this country at the following sights around Ho Chi Minh city:
– Cu Chi tunnels: a network of narrow tunnels (3 levels underground) used during the Vietnam war. Seeing the booby-traps & “walking” 40 metres one of these tunnels (in a part that is already widened for tourists) made us realize how crazy & cruel this war was.
– War Remnants museum: seeing the photos & reading the stories made even the loudest of us very quiet for a while.
WHO TRAVELLED WITH US?
Even when riding a bicycle, her photo camera stays close to her side, quadrupling the amount of photos we have for this country (which makes the selection process even harder ). Not scared to try something new, she always orders the most extraordinary or exotic dish on the menu like the time she had delicious fried frog skin chips.
Cutting loose his umbilical cord, he turned from a boy into a man by letting his chin hair grow, mastering a 2-day trekking with 20 blisters or so on his feet without blinking and conquering the crazy Cambodian traffic on a motorcycle without losing his cool. What he couldn’t, was stopping his body from sweating in the 30+ degrees climate but luckily he had over 10 T-shirts in his backpack.
Johnny “Ho Chi” Duerinck, having read so much about the Vietnamese war he couldn’t resist to teach our Vietnamese guides a thing or two about their own history. The guy who never takes a nap, is eager to always win every game we play (if it depended on him, we would still be playing Time’s up until he finally wins). Man enough to work during his holiday (giving a doctors consult and scoring a free dinner for us in return), but oh… don’t leave him behind when he is wandering around book shops!
The girl who almost broke her personal record of 16 sneezes in a row (oh she was close, with her 15 sneezes on the train to Sapa. Maybe she is allergic to being packed in a 3 square meter sleeping train cabin with the 6 of us). The day-to-day itinerary that she made upfront guided us smoothly through the country. Along the way, she introduced many exotic fruits to us, of which she knew how to eat them (because “Yes, ok” would be the most advanced answer if you ask it to the local vendors).
It was nice to spend more than 2 weeks with them (also in Cambodia, but we will tell more about that later) but after a lovely dinner at our host Lieven in Phnom Penh, our paths separated.
They went to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and we are going to check out a motorcycle in Sihanoukville (at the coast) that we would like to buy for our further adventures in Cambodia & Laos.