Goodbye Vietnam

by mattchesser

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Vietnam.

I thought it would be too crowded, too modern, too foreign.

I was so wrong.

Vietnam scores highly in every subjective category that I can dream up to evaluate a country.

The food is divine. Laura and I have made no secret of our love of pho, the noodle soup that inspired our pun-tastic blog name, but Vietnamese cuisine is so much more than soup and spring rolls. It’s stunning fresh seafood served on concrete benches by the sea or plastic stools in the heart of Saigon. It’s the fattening goodness of bun cha (barbecued pork floating in a sweet soup) and the delicate deliciousness of white rose (steamed shrimp dumplings). It’s edible flowers and banh mi sandwiches that made me forget my obsession with Subway. Above all it’s fresh ingredients, bought earlier that day at the market, and a healthy heaping of herbs and spices, served family style for all to share.

The scenery is stunning. From the seat of a motorbike we saw rice terraces climb up past the clouds in mountainous Sapa and sprawling coffee plantations, strawberry fields, and flower farms in highland Dalat. We kayaked through the surreal karsts of Ha Long Bay, which rise out of the water like thousands of massive stone icebergs, and spent several days lying on the gorgeous white-sand beaches of Nha Trang. I have enough profile-picture material to last for years (it’s just a pity there’s a pasty white guy in the foreground obscuring some of the view).

The history is fascinating. I struggled not to cry at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, which has no need for propaganda to tell the story of the brutal American incursion in Vietnam. The photo galleries are graphic, powerful, and heartbreaking. The images stuck with me for days. But there’s more to Vietnamese history than just one war. I loved exploring the massive ruins of the Imperial Citadel and royal tombs in Hue, while imagining just how awesome a sight they would have been in their day. And Hoi An, where the streets and waterfront are still lined with old French colonial shophouses and there’s nary a modern building in site, is unbelievably picturesque (it’s so perfectly preserved that it feels fake).

And the Vietnamese people are so much friendlier than I expected. I’m generalizing here, so take this with a grain of salt, but the Vietnamese are kind, helpful, and fascinating people. If you’re lucky enough to hear them talk about politics you’ll get a pretty good idea about the average person. There’s a hardened realism about the current communist government and a sense of duty to country and kin. But below that is dissatisfaction with a system that requires that a bribe be paid in order to get a decent job and a belief that things will gradually get better.

I could go on for pages, but I think you get the point. There’s something for everyone in Vietnam.

Book a ticket, go to Vietnam, you won’t regret it.

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