Life happened, and I realized it’s been over a year since I last updated the blog. That’s especially egregious because I still have a few photos from Asia to share. After leaving Cambodia Sam and I embarked on what was probably the highlight of the trip: a motorbike adventure through northern Vietnam. This was one of our boldest moves – neither of us were comfortable on the bikes and we rode to places much less developed than where we spent most of the trip – but we were rewarded with truly breathtaking scenery. Photos can’t do it justice, but I’ll try anyways.
Thanks so much to Tom at Vietnam Coracle for the route – this never would have happened without him.
As a bonus, here are a few photos from our last days in Hanoi, where we ate more bun cha and took in some traditional Vietnamese music (by which I mean Japanese punk).
You know the chao ga (chicken porridge) will be good when the ground looks like this.
The bun cha at Bun Cha 34 – maybe one of the single best dishes on the planet.
After we left Saigon, we had one last stop before moving into Cambodia: The Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is a huge network of waterways and islands that makes up the agricultural center of Vietnam. Much of the country’s produce is grown in the area surrounding the river.
The Delta can also be a huge tourist trap. Every guesthouse and travel agency in Saigon offers dirt-cheap tours of the region – you’re bused up to the river, walk around an island, get pushed to buy tacky souvenirs, and can make it back to Saigon with plenty of time to get drunk on beer street.
Sam and I are back in the States and getting settled in Los Angeles, so I suppose now is as good a time as any to get back to sorting through photos from the Asia trip. I’m going to start making these more brief, or else I’ll never finish. Today: Saigon.
After leaving Hoi An, we made our way down to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City; the two names are more-or-less interchangeable). Our initial impressions of the city were very good. Saigon feels a lot like NYC in size, scale, and energy. Our guesthouse was in a great location – just far enough from backpacker central to not be obnoxious, and just off a street with a market in the morning and wonderful street food in the evenings.
After leaving Cat Ba Island, we made our way back to Hanoi to catch a night train to Hue. The train was a lovely experience that I may return to, but let’s move straight to Hue. We spent four nights there, which most people will tell you is a lot of time for the city. They aren’t exactly wrong.
Tourists generally come to Hue for history. The city was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. The centerpiece of Hue is the large Imperial City, and many royal tombs sit on the outskirts of town. We didn’t make it to any tombs this trip, but we did spend a morning in the Imperial City. The complex was heavily damaged by US bombing during the Tet Offensive, and the government is actively working to rebuild. As a result, the Imperial City is a strange mix of old buildings, construction, and new buildings made to look old. It’s tough to fully appreciate, especially without a guide.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in northern Vietnam is Ha Long Bay, an area off the coast filled with thousands of towering limestone karsts. Tourists flock there in droves to spend a couple of nights on junk boats. While the bay is supposed to be beautiful, the experience of visiting is a mixed bag. It’s extremely crowded, and decent tours get expensive fast. In addition, it’s risky booking a tour in advance because of how unpredictable the weather is (it’s often rainy, or at least too foggy to really appreciate the karsts).
Sam and I knew there had to be a better way to see the area. After a little searching, we figured out that you can travel independently to Cat Ba, an island near the bay. From there it’s easy to book day trips into Lan Ha Bay, the less touristy (but just as majestic) southern portion of the bay.
In the summer of 2012, I spent two weeks traveling through Vietnam with a group of Indiana University telecom students. The focus of the trip was filmmaking, but I tried to write as much as I could. I recently polished up an excerpt to use as a writing sample and liked it enough to share.
It’s just past 6am, and I’m enjoying my first morning in Hanoi. I’ve already been up for four hours filming a night market and it’s time for breakfast. I head back to the heart of the city and come across a small collection of chairs along the side of a busy road, where an older woman sits with several pots and thermoses of tea and coffee. Sipping strong green tea and looking out at Hoan Kiem Lake, I try to take in everything I’ve experienced in my first few hours in the city.
As I finish the tea and begin to walk back to my hotel, I remember hearing about a small market nearby. I veer off to search for it and come across another woman with another roadside collection of chairs. She’s selling pho, one of my favorite dishes in the world, and I decide to stop. Taking a seat on a plastic chair maybe eight inches off the ground, I order a bowl and prepare to eat.