Leaving China, we took a short flight over to Vietnam. After meeting Cory’s parents in Japan, now it was time to meet mine. We started up north in Hanoi and made our way south through the country, stopping over for a week in Cambodia as well (coming up in the next post). Hanoi was a good intro to Vietnam. We stayed at a resort a little out of town, and it was nice to feel like we were on vacation for a couple days. We did go into town and take a walking tour through the center, so we were able to see local life going on. Some of the markets were interesting to walk through; most animals being sold were alive and they would get them ready for you right there. We were also able to see some of the city’s attractions, such as the Ho Chi Minh museum and his mausoleum which was also nearby.
Next, we took a cruise to the famous Ha Long Bay, which is known for its clear waters and many limestone karsts and isles. This was amazing! We just spent one night on the boat, but we were able to fit so much in. We kayaked, explored a huge cave, learned how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and had dinner in traditional clothing. The views around us the whole time were incredible also.
From the bay we went to the airport and flew to Hue, the Imperial capital of Vietnam. My dad managed to bump us up to first class for the 1-hour flight, and we had a lot of fun taking advantage of the exclusive lounge. We were only in there a couple hours, but we managed to eat all food offered and drink multiple beers. Hue seemed to have a lot more backpackers there, so we had fun walking around and checking out the nightlife and trying out some different restaurants. The first full day in Hue we took a dragon boat down the Perfume River to see Thien Mu Pagoda and the old Imperial City. The pagoda and its surrounding temple complex was pretty cool to see, and it is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city.
Construction began on the Imperial City in 1804 and it was the seat of power for Vietnam until the French obtained control of northern Vietnam in the Sino-French War in the late 19th century. Later, the city of Hue would become the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the Vietnam War, which destroyed large swathes of the city. Right near the Imperial City is the outdoor War Museum, with several tanks, aircraft, and artillery pieces on display.
On our second day we explored some of the famous tombs from past kings. These were interesting to see after learning about the kings in the Imperial City. We visited three and they were all huge and extravagant. Vietnam was going through a heat wave while we were there (highs of 110 F) so every day we were drenched in sweat when we got back to the hotel. To combat this, we of course went straight to the air-conditioned bar for happy hour.
We drove from Hue to Hoi An, going through the Hai Van Pass which was really cool to see. Hoi An ended up being our favorite stop in Vietnam. It is a former port city and as such it is a melting pot of cultures, as evidenced in its architecture. There is a blend of eras and styles mixing together Chinese, French, Vietnamese, and Japanese. The town was so cute to walk through and had a lot of restaurants along the river. The food in general in Vietnam was great and everywhere we went we enjoyed it. Almost every other shop in Hoi An is a tailor shop so of course we had to get some clothes made, and they all came out really good! We also rented bikes one day and rode them down to the beach. We saw some water buffalo along the way which made my mom happy. The ride to the beach was fine, but shortly after getting there it started raining. We still hung out under some cover for a bit and tried to time our ride back when it slowed down. Riding back the traffic was pretty heavy and it was an experience biking through it. It reminded us why we did not do this trip on bicycles! Overall, Hoi An was a very walkable town and was really relaxed so we just enjoyed being there. We also found the cheapest beer of our trip so far here – 13 cents!
Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. This was definitely more of a big city feel compared to the rest of Vietnam. We did some sightseeing here, including seeing Independence Palace, which was the home of the South Vietnam President during the Vietnam War. We also visited the Vietnam War Remnants Museum which was obviously presented from the Vietnam point of view but was still interesting to walk through. The war was known as the American War of Aggression there. The museums depiction of it was hardly objective, and a lot of it landed in propaganda territory. That being said, the war still had severe consequences for civilians in Vietnam, including the terrible legacy of Agent Orange and the fact that unexploded ordnances are still a threat today. It was quite an experience to visit and see the war from the other sides point of view. The rest of our time in Ho Chi Minh City we spent relaxing and getting ready for our next stop. We couldn’t believe that the 3 weeks with my parents were over. We had so much fun with them! Overall, we really liked Vietnam (even with the crazy heat). We all loved the food and everyone we met was great.