I had 5,000,000 dong in my wallet (roughly equivalent to about $200US) – I was a millionaire in Vietnam. I already loved it but then I learned two things about Vietnam that will forever keep this country in my heart… in this place, sugar and coffee are kings.
Find one of the many street vendors and have them whip up an iced, milk coffee (strong coffee with sweetened condensed milk and chilled on ice) or a freshly squeezed orange juice loaded with scoopfuls of sugar for about $1US. Or just walk around any street and you will find some funky, hip coffee house with all sorts of coffee treats! Vietnam is a coffee culture that puts sugar in everything. Had I found my heaven? Additionally, the street food is delicious. The banana pancakes are fantastic as well as the chip -like-pancakes cookies. One would never guess just looking at the set-up, which doesn’t inspire confidence, but this is one area where you cannot judge a book by its cover.
In Ho Chi Minh City, there is a constant buzz from the scooters. At first it was like, look at all of the scooters. I have about an hour of filming the scooters because it is awe-inspiring. Then it becomes, look at all of the scooters; I just want to cross the street. Some streets are better than others but it’s a bit like living in a hornet’s nest. The amount of noise and activity, especially at night, is astounding. Both Jen and I were overwhelmed by the crush of humanity that surrounded us on an evening stroll. Ho Chi Minh City is alive.
Next we ventured to Phu Quoc Island and I really fell in love with Vietnam. It was like a National Geographic magazine, mostly unspoiled by too much tourism or growth. When I packed for my trip, I didn’t bring my big girl camera. I thought we would just be at the beach and wouldn’t need it. Overall, I wish I would have brought it but then I remembered part of a book I just finished called Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. It’s about their epic motorcycle ride around the world. In the book, McGregor says something about not taking as many photos the farther they got into their trip because his life had become the journey and I thought, my life has sort of become that; a journey.
While on my scooter ride, two things popped into my mind regarding the camera situation. It’s tough on the group to stop and take photos when everyone just wants to get moving. And then an even bigger question came to me… was I a photographer or a rider? In that moment, under that glorious sun with the beach to my right and a jungle to my left – I was a rider! I did manage to snap a few photos with my trusty point and shoot but out of the 350,000 photos I saw in my head that day, I probably snapped about 10.
One of my favorite parts of my trip was that scooter adventure. It was Yitzach, Sam, Elliott, and I scootering through the landscape of this beautiful Vietnamese island. But I have to confess; I really had trouble with left hand turns. For some reason, I kept pointing my left knee out, for what reason I don’t know why, to help me with these turns. But Sam was very patient and said I just need to find the right speed and balance to turn – much like balancing a stick shift on a hill. Sam is Yitzach’s 18 year old son who motorcycled across Vietnam before meeting up with us in Phu Quoc. Boy, I wish I had the guts to do that when I was 18. It also reminded me of how much I completely and utterly miss my nephews. I so wished they could have been there with me, riding around. They would have LOVED it. But even more, I would have LOVED to have them with me. God I miss those four, goofy boys.
The great part about the ride was how dirty I was when it was all finished. Suddenly, I was back on Palm Avenue with Bob and Brian, motoring around the dirt hills before any of us knew any better. The roads on the island were a mix of paved, red earth, and gravel. Gravel is the worst for me, just unpredictable and unstable. There were also some steep hills and old, rickety bridges. There was one that I just couldn’t cross but Sam rode it across for me. I felt like such a girl, but a girl without lacerations or contusions! At one point, I was heading down a steep and somewhat slippery slope. Yitzach was at the top, waiting to make sure I got through okay, when suddenly, the bike got away from me. However, for some reason, I managed it. I could see in Yitzach’s face the fear and then surprise that I didn’t crash miserably, it was grand!
Now a warning to anyone traveling through the Vietnam International Airport: before you go through security, there is a very innocent and clean looking place to eat on the third floor called Confettis. DO NOT eat there. Now, if you have ever had food poisoning, you know what it’s like. If something wants to get out of your body when it has a bug, there’s no stopping it. So imagine being in a car for two hours (thanking God you spend the money instead of taking the subway), dealing with food poisoning, with a driver that doesn’t speak English, and absolutely no rest stops along the way. All I am going to say is, it wasn’t pretty. I threw out the clothes I had on that day. Yeah, it was bad. I would go into more details, but this is a family blog and I am sure you can use your imagination! On a positive note, I think I lost about 5 lbs. that night!
A couple of tips for entering Vietnam:
1) Get a Visa letter ahead of time and bring about $30-$40 dollars US to pay for the actual Visa.
2) Bring a passport photo (or they can take one for $5 US)
3) Be ready to wait a bit
A couple of tips when in Vietnam:
1) Try the street food (the banana pancakes… heaven!)
2) Try the drinks – orange juice/passion fruit
3) You MUST try the iced, milk coffee. It will change your life.
Beautiful photos and video, Claire! Those “bridges” you crossed were pretty scary — very impressed you traversed these — not sure I would have.