Good morning Vietnam

My latest jaunt has taken me to the land of Pho and Tiger beer.

Vietnam is an incredible confluence of imagery, culture and cuisine. First and foremost are the people. I have never encountered such a gracious and hospitable welcome at every encounter. 

Drivers, hotel staff, janitors, vendors - each and every person goes out of their way to make you feel the hospitality. They want you to love their country, they want you to go home and tell everyone what a wonderful time you’ve had. They simply can’t do enough for you.

Simple requests for extra towels or more coffee were expedited with incredible alacrity.  Turn-down service was done by none other than three individual housemaids, each with broom, scented candles, and fresh flowers. 

I was welcomed with smiling faces each morning, along with helpful tips on how to spend my day. Truly a safe and welcoming environment for a single female traveller.

An interesting sidebar is the directness. It is not uncommon for a shop girl or masseuse to launch into a very direct interrogation. The fact that my girlfriend and I were travelling together was a source of interest, it seems. 

“How old are you?” 

“Are you married?”  

“Why you not have boyfriend?”  

“You like girls better?” 

. . . All this in the scope of a 10-minute conversation. 

I was initially flabbergasted, but came to appreciate their frankness and no-nonsense approach. It was a refreshing change from our culture’s more stilted and politically correct conversations.

In past travels to SE Asia, I’ve been disturbed by the obvious sexual market which offers ‘rent a girlfriend by the week’ options, and worse, virtual child exploitation. This is especially prevalent in both Thailand and Cambodia. In Vietnam, it is not an obvious situation - I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but it certainly is not in your face. Perhaps it has something to do with the influence of the Communist government?

We started our journey in Hanoi, the capital and gateway to the world-renowned Halong Bay.  Sadly, due to record-breaking cold temperatures and unrelenting rain, all Halong Bay cruises were cancelled during our stay. 

Reality was, I had severely underestimated the weather potential here, and arrived wearing capris and a Lululemon running jacket suited for 8C temperatures. Thankfully I am made of hardy Canuck stock, so braved the miserable weather for a lengthy walkabout to some of the city sites.

Our home was the Oriental Suites, a sweet little hideaway located in the Old Quarter. A fabulous in-house restaurant, and the exquisite service of the front desk staff, made our two day stop as nice as possible under the circumstances. 

If you come to Hanoi, arrange for airport arrival transfer services wherever possible, as dickering for a taxi at the airport is an excruciating task. Most hotels will gladly arrange, at fair market value, for a driver to meet you.

We then headed on to Hoi An. A truly picturesque and historic village, Hoi An was a wonderful blend of architecture, village life, shopping mecca, and cuisine. 

This is the place for tailor-made clothes. Come prepared with magazine pics of the latest couture, and the seamstresses of Hoi An can draft a copy in 24 hours. Excellent quality, choice of fabric, and finishing can be found at Yali Couture

We also enjoyed the hilarious monologue of Chef Tan of the Red Bridge Restaurant. Informative (yummy means horny in Vietnamese!), fun, and hands-on, this ½ day cooking class was the highlight of our stay. 

Favourite restaurant was Morning Glory. Massive menu, good-size portions, and fair prices. Our home away from home was the Hoi An Garden Palace. Perfect on every level.

I’ve found the sun now, here in Phu Quoc, and plan to go native for the next couple weeks.  Beachside living, Saigon beers for a buck, and seafood BBQ for $3. 

I think I’ve found my new home! 

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About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

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