I made this journey into Vietnam in January 2005 (winter). It was amazing to see the dramatic changes taking place after a devastating Vietnam war. From the airport towards Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), billboards advertisements were my insights into Vietnam’s economic drive. In town, everyone was keen to do business be it books, pencils, food and so on. I did not see a single street beggar. I was pleased. However, the legacy of the war was not far away – in people minds. They are using it to motivate themselves to move forward. I was certainly impressed.
The cities are colorful, both in dressing and food. Yes, amazing food. I traveled from Saigon – Nga Thrang – Hue – Hanoi – Halong Bay and Sapa. Transport was so convenient with the Hop- on and Hop-off bus. The history, architecture, people and landscape are enticing. It was during the Chinese New Year season. Everywhere there were paraphernalia associated with the upcoming festivities. Flowers, paper decorations, potted kumquat plants loaded with fruits, banners, etc..
Saigon was booming with economic development while Hanoi was keeping the past alive, traditional and cultural. Historic Hoi An is a scenic, quaint, laid back and atmospheric while coastal Nga Thrang is upbeat with sea food and beach lovers. Like the waves in Nga Thrang never ceases, the sewing machines in Hoi An spinned through the late night. Halong Bay was a scene of tranquility amongst limestone karst while ethnic and mountainous Sapa was lively welcoming the new year. Hue and Myson are the keepers of the old with ancient architecture and a lost history.
Don’t miss the delicious and memorable local food, basking on a boat in Halong Bay , water journey in Mytho, the iconic Water Puppet Show in Hanoi and relieving history in Hue’s exquisite palaces; haggling in Saigon’s markets and sipping Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. People watching is a bonus, but not while on the road. Look out for the ‘millions’ of motorbikes.
I was in Sapa on New Year day. Everyone in the hotel were invited to participate at around 11 pm. After welcoming the New Year with shouts, greetings and lots of food and alcohol, the contingent went on to neighboring hotels and ushered in the New Year. This went on for a couple of hours and at 2am, they all decided to got the temple for prayers. I did not drink, but most just closed their eyes and tried to stand straight. It was certainly a warm, fun and welcoming experience on a cold night. Chúc Mừng Năm Mới.