Four Times To Vietnam

Yeah, I have been to Vietnam four times. Not that I loved it so much that I kept going there… it’s just that… I will explain it here.

The first time I went there was with my colleague. She and I had some expiring mileage that was enough to get ourselves return tickets to Vietnam. Both of us had never been there so we decided to travel together. She’d go to Ho Chi Minh City with her family first and then I’d meet up with her in Hanoi.

Our itinerary in Hanoi was very simple – we’d just visit the most famous spot Ha Long Bay there. We’d take a one-day boat ride and that’s it. For the rest of the days, we planned to walk around in the city and eat some authentic Vietnamese food. We both like the food.

I also found a tour organized by a microfinance NGO there. My colleague wasn’t interested so I went there by myself. The cost of the tour was quite high compared to the local standard. However, as I did the research, I found out that the tour fees were used to finance the local people. Given that there were many beneficiaries and they used the money wisely and I had a full-time job, I didn’t mind paying that much to support the families in need.

A one-day tour organized by the microfinance NGO. We went into the countryside.
We walked through a forest.
The NGO lends money to farmers to help them start their business. Most of them choose to raise chicken because it’s easy to do and the cost is low, hence, the profit margin is higher than producing other products. From raising chicken, they earn enough money to start some other businesses. The farmers also shared their plans with us. The girl in red was the interpreter.
Our lunch at the village. It was authentic Vietnamese food.
We walked through their farmland.
The villages were beautiful. I am not a city person but after staying in a remote village in Cambodia, I guess I have changed a bit. I think my concept of a village is not the typical Cambodian village. Rather, it’s more like a modern one like you can see in my other blog.

When I met up with my colleague in Hanoi, she had already been to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). The first thing she told me was, ‘you didn’t miss much. It was boring there.’ I couldn’t imagine how boring it could be but I trusted her. She thought Hanoi was much better than HCMC when in fact, there wasn’t much to see in Hanoi… Sorry, Vietnam and my Vietnamese friends.

The opera house. It was a busy night when we arrived. A staff explained to us what was going on that night – a famous Vietnamese celebrity / artist was performing in the theatre.

The food was great though. I have always loved Vietnamese food – very healthy and delicious.

This was just one of the Vietnamese dishes we had on one night. It was a fine restaurant situated in the heart of the city. Yes, we had fine dining but it wasn’t expensive at all.

The traffic in Vietnam was chaotic though. There were many motorcycles and the motorcyclists don’t follow the traffic lights. I honestly didn’t know how to cross the road. My colleague said, ‘don’t worry. Just walk. They’ll stop. If you stop, they won’t know what to do and that will be even more dangerous. Trust me. I have stayed in HCMC and it is like this there too.’ She was right.

The Ha Long Bay tour took us to some souvenir shops before we went onboard.
A beautiful art piece. It wasn’t a painting. Can you see the threads?
Ha Long Bay. My colleague commented, ‘it looks like Guilin in China.’ In fact, this place is also called Little Guilin when it is advertised in China. We were not that impressed, honestly. Both of us thought the place was overrated.

My colleague said, ‘I won’t come back to Vietnam again.’ I agreed.

(A few years later…)

HCMC was even more disappointing. It was terribly hot. Hanoi was much cooler. I didn’t want to go to Vietnam again but my friends from university wanted to meet up in Asia and one of them suggested Vietnam (actually, she insisted), ‘if we don’t go to Vietnam, I will not come.’ That was what she said in our chat group. The organizer said, ‘ok. I’d love to visit the museums about Vietnam War. So, let’s go there.’ I said, ‘ok. I have some mileage left and they are due to expire. Can someone confirm the dates?’ Then, everything was confirmed. I redeemed my mileage.

A few months after that, the organizer said, ‘sorry, I can’t go. My freelance business isn’t doing well. I will pull out.’ The girl who insisted on going to Vietnam responded immediately, ‘I will pull out also’ and then left the chat group. GREAT! Now, I was stuck! Thanks for that. And the whole chat group was dead quiet after this.

A few days after this, I talked to a girl whom I hosted when she travelled to Hong Kong about my trip to HCMC. She was in Taiwan back then. She said she was interested in going to HCMC so she decided to join me. Wow! I didn’t expect that. What a pleasant surprise! She even helped to book an Airbnb. That was so kind of her.

I arrived one day earlier than she did so I explored the city by myself. I found a few places we could visit together. But like what my ex-colleague (I had left that company) said, it was boring. There wasn’t much to see except a few museums.

The famous Catholic church in HCMC, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
This place used to be a railway station but now it’s the Central Post Office.
The parliament house
It was December when I went there so you can see some decoration on the buildings in the city centre in this photo.
Very European. After all, Vietnam was once a French colony.
The parliament house

While I was waiting for my friend, I found a clean and nice restaurant near our Airbnb so I went in. They served pho, the famous Vietnamese noodles. This and Ban Cuon (the latter is also my favourite) are dishes you can eat in the streets. But if your delicate and sensitive intestines like clean food, you can also find restaurants that serve them. I was glad to see this clean and bright restaurant serving both western and Vietnamese food. I was even served by uniformed waiters / waitresses who could speak English (good enough to understand what I was ordering and good enough to make recommendations).

While I was waiting for the food, I looked around. Hang on, this restaurant was run by the church! When I paid the bill, the waiter gave me a leaflet about the restaurant – an NGO that trained homeless young people the skills that the hospitality industry needed. No wonder the standard was so high. As I left, I saw a group of foreigners sitting at a table. I asked them, ‘are you priests?’ One of them laughed. He answered with his Australian accent that he couldn’t be one. Then we started a conversation. He suggested me to try the bread there. The kids could bake really nice croissants, baguettes, and so on. He even invited me and my friend for dinner with his fiancée. I checked the time and found that my friend would have arrived at the bnb so I excused myself, walked back and asked her if she was interested. As CS mates, we were opened to anything.

The Australian guy and his young Vietnamese fiancée took us on their motorbikes to quite a few places including a massage parlour where we had a nice massage and the rich areas in HCMC, and he also recommended a few nice restaurants. He seemed to be a friendly guy. It turned out he was also on CS. 😀

I took my friend around the city centre.
We visited the Vietnam war museum. The entrance fee was extraordinarily low. We wanted to visit the palace too but the entrance fee of the palace was high compared to this Vietnam war museum. Doesn’t it tell you something?

The bnb host suggested us to join the Mekong River tour and visit Vung Tau. She also recommended a good Mekong River tour company so we took her advice.

This is how rice paper is born. 😊 I like rice paper.
Our lunch
At one stage, we took this kind of boat to travel along the river.
She was making coconut candies.

The next day, we took a bus to Vung Tau. It is a resort where people from HCMC go to whenever they want to have a break. It’s less than 2 hours from HCMC. I went there again with my Cambodian students in 2019. Check out my blog here.

Vung Tau. We hiked up the hill in the heat. It was killing us. In 2019 when I came here again with my Cambodian students, it was drizzling but it felt so much better.
That’s me hiking up the hill. Look at the steps!
Jesus asked the woman to give Him some water. I desperately needed water and shades too.
I wonder how we can go there.
The top of the hill
I was told that this statue is even higher than the one in Brazil.

We were melting when we reached the top. Lucky that there were breezes. We couldn’t go inside the statue because it was closed. I was glad that when I went there again with the Cambodian students, it was opened and we could all went inside. Thanks to the Vietnamese Sister too. I think they asked the guard to open the doors for us. She didn’t want to disappoint all the Cambodian students.

The famous scene
My friend and I were glad we came to Vung Tau. We said we should have found this place out earlier and stayed here instead. Too late. She was leaving the next day. Little did I know that I’d really stay here a few years later and spent a night here with the French lay missionary who boasted about French food. 😀
As we walked down the hill, I took a few more photos.
My friend wearing her newly bought Vietnamese hat walked down the hill elegantly.

After we left Vietnam, the Australian guy sent us an email telling us that he was getting married so he invited us to his wedding in 2016. Again, we went there. So, that was my third time to Vietnam.

The wedding was held in Tuy Hoa which was in the countryside where the girl’s family was. Her brother owned a nightclub in that area and the family owned a farm or something.

This was where the wedding banquet was held.

The Australian guy invited his friends from Australia and some other places and the girl invited her family and relatives. On the day the wedding banquet was held, the groom told us some of her distant relatives came uninvited. All of a sudden, he had to pay extra for a few more tables of guests. Then, I was told it was the Vietnamese tradition. In the end, the restaurant had to buy more food for the additional guests. We were supposed to have a plate of fried shrimps / prawns but it was changed to boiled shrimps because of lack of ingredients.

The couple made an entrance.
The bottom few layers of the wedding cake were fake. Only the top layer of the cake was real.
The groom invited all his guests to join his honeymoon around Vietnam after the wedding. He also was busy doing paper work to take his wife to Australia.
A meal I had in Nha Trang.
Nha Trang
Nha Trang
Nha Trang is only nice if you stay in a luxurious 5-star hotel. I didn’t stay here. I walked in to enjoy the view there.
I like Dalat more. The weather was much cooler than HCMC and it looked so much better.

One of the Australian guests fought in the Vietnam War. At first, he was reluctant to come to Vietnam but he managed to do it in the end. When he was in Dalat, he identified the building where he killed four soldiers. It was a terrible experience. But according to the groom, he came to terms with it, finally.

Wars are brutal.

Today, there are still wars going on. People fight for whatever reason. Beliefs. Maybe. Wars shouldn’t exist.

I visited a palace.
I walked along the lake and found a few nice spots and met some backpackers. My plan was to travel to Laos after this trip so I asked those backpackers for advice and then we talked and talked…

Finally, I went back to HCMC. I was so eager to finish this trip. I honestly didn’t want to go to Vietnam again… then in 2019…, gee! But I saw a different side of Vietnam that year. Anyway, Vietnamese food is great but I don’t think I will travel to Vietnam just to eat the food when I can eat that in say Hong Kong or Singapore or the US where I can taste the food from all parts of Vietnam in just one restaurant. I am so pampered… 😛 Leave me a message if you think otherwise and convince me to go to Vietnam again. 😊

2011, 2015, 2016/17, 2019

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