Vietnam: Hanoi and Saigon

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By Will

First, an update on our travels: Before leaving for Vietnam, we received an email from AirAsia telling us that our flight to Nepal was cancelled. We should have been there this past week, but due to issues with rescheduling, we had to scrap it from our trip. We were disappointed, but it gave us a chance to visit Saigon, as well as fly to Singapore to meet Amy’s cousin who lives there and spend a few nights checking out that amazing city. Tomorrow we leave for Myanmar for six days and then we’ll return to Kuala Lumpur for our last week before heading home.

Two weeks ago we arrived in Hanoi. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it was essentially the epitome of chaos. A 1,000 year old city, swamped in motorcycles and cars on streets that were designed well-before the invention of either. It was overwhelming at first, but we really grew to appreciate its character.

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A less crowded street, but you can get an idea of the size of the streets from the two cars trying to pass each other.

We stayed in the Old Quarter of the city where the streets still follow the same layout that they’ve followed throughout the city’s history. Certain streets sell certain things. So, if you are looking for clothes, you head to that street. Fabric? That’s another street. It was cool to walk around a bit lost on those streets and take in the sights, sounds and smells…all of which usually involved delicious pork.

We took a city tour, which was really great. The heat was oppressive in Hanoi, so without the tour, I don’t know that we would have ever gotten out during the mornings or afternoons to see the sights. We saw some of the city’s more famous pagodas, the grounds of what is (arguably) the world’s first university, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and the government complex that included the houses he lived in while he served as president of the North Vietnamese. On the note of Ho Chi Minh, obviously the history of Vietnam and the United States was impossible to ignore, and we heard several references to it, but we never had any interactions that were less than friendly. Most people who heard we were Americans would just say something along the lines of, “Oh, we are friends now!”

Aside from our day around the city and roaming around the Old Quarter, the other notable thing about Hanoi was the beer. Everyday, beer is brewed fresh and in the evenings it is sold for 25 cents a glass! The already crowded streets become absolutely packed as stools are taken into the road to accommodate all of the socializing that seemed to take place every night.

Following two nights in Hanoi, we took trips to Halong Bay and Sapa, which will be detailed in the next post. After Sapa we returned to Hanoi for another night before flying to Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City.

Saigon is very different from Hanoi in that it is more of a bustling metropolis with wide streets and tall buildings. Our time there was a bit more relaxed as we enjoyed the more modern city, taking in a movie and drinks at a cool bar on top of the city’s tallest building.

You can see there is actually a sidewalk here in Ho Chi Minh City!

You can see there is actually a sidewalk here in Ho Chi Minh City!

We had so much success with the city tour in Hanoi, we decided to arrange one in Saigon as well. There aren’t quite the same number of sights, but we saw some interesting places like a cathedral that had all of its materials shipped from Europe in the 1800’s and a post office designed by Gustav Eiffel.

Next we saw what definitely ranks highly on the sights of our entire trip, the Reunification Palace. This was the palace of the President of the South Vietnamese and remains in the exact same shape as it was when Ho Chi Minh’s armies busted through the gates in 1975. Other than cleaning and renovation for tourists, nothing else has been updated. Its like a time capsule and we kept expecting to see Don Draper walk through one of the rooms at any moment.

Next we visited the War Remnants museum, which was a tough place to visit. It is about the Vietnam War with a fair amount of bias to the displays. Regardless, it was interesting to learn about the war through that perspective and to revisit many of the sad atrocities that occurred during the war.

On the same day we took this tour, we had a number of interactions with Kentucky! While touring the Reunification Palace, I saw a couple walking in front of us that caught my eye. The man was wearing a t-shirt that had John’s Running Shop on the back and he was carrying a bag imprinted with the word “y’all”. We asked if they were from Kentucky and they said that they had been living in Lexington for the last year. We exchanged email addresses and hope to catch up with them again once we’re all back home. While at the War Remnants museum, there was an exhibit about war photographers that had been donated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Later that night, as we were touring a market full of knock-off goods, we came across some UK shirts. As the end of our trip nears, we are becoming more excited about our next move back home!

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