Good morning Vietnam!!!!!!
Is what I yelled to my parents when I told them that I was in Vietnam. Vietnam grew on me. At first I was bewildered by it, but then it started to grow on me due to the charm of the countryside, food, people and culture.
I would start my stay in the busy thousand year old capital of Hanoi. The old city is crowded and filled with motorcycles. Dodging motorcycles becomes a lot of fun and odd as you simply walk everywhere you want and the motorcycles will dodge you. There are a lot of skilled craftsmen in Hanoi, so feel free to get handmade wares. Hanoi also had plenty of Confucianism temples which are usually one story and not filled with Buddhas or a lot of ornate decorates. Usually Confucius and some animals are found around it. The Temple of Literature is definitely the highlight here. I also had a good time driving by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - I've heard the stories about all-white guards with mummified Minh. The water puppet show is also quite creative and skilled with traditional Vietnamese singing and even a puppet smoking the herb.
I had a food tour to taste all the exquisite tastes of Northern Vietnam (different than the other regions). Bunh cha (pork and nodle) along with banh xeo (rice crepes) were delicious with some coconut milk, red bean and fruit mix (many names, cendol in Malaysia, ais cacing in Indonesia too, and with fruit in Vietnam). Yes, I had a Pho which doesn't have the same seasoning as down south. We also had a walk through the bia hoi central of Hanoi which they say is like Bangkok - beer girls and really cheap ($2) home brewed beer Our tour guide also told us to stay together like sticky rice which was hilarious.
During this trip, I did take a long cramped bus ride to Ha Long Bay with some marines. We had a nice boat ride with a Vietnamese guy named Alan who gave us a tour of the caves, some kayaking, or small boats with ladies with the hats (yes there were plenty of people with those hats selling trinkets), and the many miraculous views of the bay - the sky cleared up in time. After Ha Long Bay, I rolled through the strange bars of Hanoi after midnight (the bars that pay the cops and shutter the doors) with complementary prostitutes in some of them. Strange seen overall, similar to the barber shows where fellatio is allowed. But Vietnam is more conservative overall than many of the countries throughout Southeast Asia, so this stands out.
The people of Hanoi were intriguing, kind people on motorcycles going into every nook and cranny along with the egg white coffee (distinct and strong taste). Though I got swindled by a lady selling donuts who walked away with my change, most of the people in the night market kept it cheap. Though the kind people of Northern Vietnam wouldn't sell me on the country until I hit Saigon.