Going from The Peoples Republic of China to The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was like going to an entirely new country because… well it was a new country. Warm weather, fresh home brew for 20 cents and countless people hassling me to buy stuff, eat at their restaurant or go places on their motor bike. Entering Hà Nôi was a shock at first but after some time I became accustomed to the new sights, smells and sounds of the city. I missed the fantastic public transport of China and I felt a little trapped in our area because I wasn’t in the mood for exhausting negotiations with moto drivers to go around town at a fair price. Rather than go around town and see all of the tourist sights like the American War Crimes Museum (now called the War Remnants Museum) or what remains of the Hanoi Hilton (I heard has a very different spin on it than what US servicemen had to say) we decided to hang out the Old Quarter and soak up Vietnam life, from a tiny plastic chair at a little vendor selling bia hói, that is where I was first able to stop and watch the world go by, it was great to sit still and watch the city go on in front of my eyes.
While Toby was enjoying free beer at the hostle I had my eye on a little street vendor that always seemed to have a packed house of locals so I went for it and was rewarded with a memorable dining experience. I ordered somehow by pointing all around at what was cooking and I took my seat at a tiny red table and matching chair soon after I was lucky to be joined by five local women. When my food arrived and I started eating the dipping sauce like a soup the women quickly intervened by showing me how to grab some meat then veggies and dip it in the sauce. We laughed and smiled as I tried every thing on the tiny menu with no clue of what it was and when my plate was empty the women were quick to fill it back up with more fried treats from their shared plate. The following day since the weather was dreary with scattered showers Toby and I decided to call off our visit to Ha Long Bay and take a sleeper train south to Huê.
Once in Huê (pronunced Hwey) we got a glimpse at a more calm side of things where there were more bicycles and pedestrians out on the roads but there were still plenty of moto and cyclo riders vying for our business. Our plan continued to be soak up the local life so we rented motor scooters and toured the city. Our first stop was a little cafe away from all of the tourist haunts, I was espically excited to to try the coffee here after hearing of the Travelmeisters account of Vietnam where they describe it as jet fuel. The cafe staff was nice enough to show us how to drink it because you do not just get a cup of joe, it’s prepaired and arrives to your table while still dripping through the little metal pot and you enjoy it slowly. Once done brewing we had our first sips and wowzers that stuff is strong, a cup of coffee is only about 3 ounces and that is all you need.
Later on our adventures we decided to pass on the beach and take on a much more unique task of seeking out a traditional doctor to treat Toby’s chronic heartburn, we went to the address and found a locked gat but some locals helped us and led us to a local clinic. Once at the clinic all eyes were on us in the waiting room. Our number was called in Vietmanese and someone nicely pointed out that it was Toby’s turn and sent us off to the diagnostic doctor. Using my iPhone I showed the doctor the translations for heartburn and sour stomach as Toby mimed heartburn to him, with a simple nod he moved on to his diagnosis. The doctor placed three fingers on Toby’s wrist and with a look of focus he stayed there determining how to treat Toby’s affliction then after a moment he wrote down a prescription and sent us to the pharmacy. The pharmacy is just what I hoped for, a big room full of dried plants and such and a little room where Toby turned in his form and paid 10,000 dong (45 cents) for a little piece of folded paper and an acupuncture needle in a steril looking package. Now upstairs Toby put his paper on the pile with the others and we waited. Everyone was watching us and a sweet old woman showed me that her ears were once gauged like mine and she kept coming up to me and touching my ears and smiling, I think she had a thing for me and her husband got a kick out of it too. In the acupuncture room were three beds and three doctors, each treating their own patient. Toby took his place and the doctor proceded to open the folded paper to show seven tiny tiny pencil lead looking things that the doctor put into Toby’s stomach and near his knees with the acupuncture needle. That was it and ever since he has not had heartburn, granted as of writing this it has only been about seven days but I call that a success.
That was it for Huê, we left on a one way motor scooter tour around 65km to Hoi An. We rode through pouring rain where Toby and I had to hold back our smiles to keep from getting water in our mouths, over a mountain pass 1000m high and down to the sun and warmth along the beaches of the South China Sea. It was a great time and our guide was great. Hoi An was too sleepy a town so we quickly booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and from there we again quickly booked travel on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. More on that next time. Overall I was not too stoked on Vietnam, I think that coming from China where I felt more relaxed and comfortable made Vietnam all the more shocking to me. I loved the fresh spring rolls, pho and tiny red chairs and I would like to return and to visit Ha Long Bay and go south of Ho Chi Minh to explore the towns in the lower Mekong delta more. I figure that I will be back again eventually so there is no need to fit in every sight in just one trip. More on Cambodia next post.