The Hidden Gem of Vietnam
Vietnam was a dream. A humid, hazy, and coffee filled dream. For a country I knew fairly little about, I quickly became enthralled by the cities, the culture, and the unbelievable pours of dark caffeinated liquid swirling with condensed milk rings and satisfaction.
Saigon was our first base in this modern-historic metropolis. Filled with street carts of pho and a river encircling the main district, Saigon gave an abiding impression of what was to come. In our days there, we wandered the streets in a lazy, hot stupor, taking shade in chic coffee shops like E-Paso Coffee and Trung Nguyen Coffee House and relaxing with $12 massages at Temple Leaf Spa. We satisfied cravings at Pho 2000 and with bahn mi’s from Nhu Lan, although delicious cheap food could be found by ducking inside any storefront.
The city was full of surprises. By simply looking up, you could find endless amounts of dim-lit rooftop bars and eateries. Each street was lined with shops and stores, $4 manicures and rows of market stalls. We stumbled upon the Benthanh Street Food Market, with various options of local fare. While our Airbnb was over in the calmer District 12, it was just a bridge away from the busy centre streets. There was no need for guides or maps in Saigon, and that was one of my favorite things.
One of the most interesting experiences I had was visiting the War Museum. It was physically shocking to learn about the Vietnam War, and uncover truths that I had never been exposed to. As war is something that is both intriguing and confusing to me, learning about this one in particular took me aback. The war photography exhibits depicted families torn apart, soldiers doing cruel and evil things, and worst of all the birth deformities of Agent Orange and the chemical warfare. It brought most of us to tears. A quote stood out to me from a war photographer regarded the responsibility between their job as a journalists and their moral conscience of doing the right thing. Their job always won. He said it was their duty as a reporter to record and reveal the truth, even if that meant walking away from starving children or a village burned to ashes. I found that very intriguing.
After Saigon, we headed over to Halong Bay. What a gem. The first day, we found a hidden hike that led to the top of one of the coastal mountains. The view from the top was insane, and we laid in the silence watching sunset over the cliffs. It was off season, so the next day we were able to rent an entire 40 person cruiser all to ourselves as us six girls sailed the Pacific. We saw caves, ate an amazing fresh caught seafood lunch, and spent hours on the sun deck surrounded by what one European referred to as “just some rocks in water.”
We decided to leave Halong Bay a day early as there wasn’t much to do besides cruise the water, and ended up in Hanoi for a night. The lively but less contemporary cousin of Saigon proved itself with shopping, microbreweries, and a fun night out on Bia Hoi street (similar to Bui Vien backpackers street in Saigon). Our favorite cafe was Cafe Loading T, where you should definitely try the egg coffee! As we didn’t get to see as much more of Hanoi, I would love to go back to check out the jazz scene and karaoke bars we missed.
So Vietnam, thank you. Although I only scratched the surface of this abundant country, it left me with an itch of curiosity for the many places I have yet to see and I will most definitely be back someday!