Posts tagged ‘vietnam’

photos Vietnam (Oct 19 – Nov 11)

Hmong (ethnic minority group) girl in Sa Pa

Cute dog in Sa Pa

Me and an older Hmong woman i bought something from
after she followed me and my friend for 20 min in Sa Pa

Bac Ha market

Holloween in Hue

flooded rice fields north of Nha Trang

Stacks of fake lonely planet copies in Saigon

Mekong Delta cat

Mekong Delta

Hoi An

South China Sea


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November 12, 2008 at 4:37 pm 2 comments

Vietnam, i don’t like you

Yesterday i took a bus to Hoi An, Vietnam. It occured to me why i am spending so much. I keep taking the train despite the bus being almost 3/4 cheaper. However, the sleepers on the train are more comfortable and i will continue (trying to) travel by train. I’m attempting to be more thrifty with money though, because i calculated my spending on my 10th day here and it was nearly equivalent to my expenses after a month in Laos. Not cool to spend so much in a country i’m not enjoying…

Nearly everything in Vietnam is more expensive. There are no guest houses with dormatories or rooms meant for backpackers. Vietnamese hotels want families, couples, and other similar travelers, who they assume want privacy and televisions. Here in Hoi An, i found a room for $7. It is stuffy and hot, with a tiny window, a toilet with a hot shower, a tv, a fan and a big bed. I only really need the window and the bed (1/2 size would suffice). But i arrived after sundown yesterday and wanted to avoid the Vietnmese assholes* who gathered around the bus soliciting for customers to their hotels…

*One of the difficulties i have is coming to terms with my attitude towards the peddlers who try to sell you their taxi and other services on the streets. I find them invasive and rude. I find myself looking at them as leeches, vermin, something that must be gotten rid off…  I forget that they too have feelings and needs and families. It is their way of approaching me as an object (a wallet to be juiced) has made me treat them like this… so when they call out to me in that insincere tone encouraging me to go into their shop or use their transport, i ignore them during my better moods, and openly insult them during my poor ones.

I realize that they too need to work. But then i think, why choose this work? Or this dehuminizing approach? Fuck you, i think to myself and try not to feel sorry for them or guilty about detesting them so much. Fuck you for treating me as a thing to be exploited or fucked.** Even children have adopted this tactic when they want to sell you something. “Where are you from?” they ask, just before they ask for your native money for their “coin collection” and try to sell you whatever… but i can maintain “face” with the children and women…. it’s only with men that i let myself be rude.

**Imagine walking down the street as young men stand there gawking at you. First, they will offer you their taxi services and when you ignore them they will start yapping about fucking you…

No i don’t like Vietnam.

I would summarize the country like this: Beautiful mountainous region inhabitited by mean people.


On another note, i visited the DMZ (demilitarized zone) the other day. I went with a tour group. I would have preferred to go on my own, but it was quite far and by this time in Hue i hadn’t met anyone to go with. The tour guide’s summary of the war was superficial and the tour was limited. There were 30+ people in the group and one guide…

Other comical aspect of the ordeal was that they advertise an included breakfast ..which turned out to be a menu with options like “bread and cheese” “bread and butter” “omlette and bread” … (and it was stressed “only one per person”, coffee was extra, and everyone was hungry within an hour) So stupid and cheap! I hate dealing with people who do the minimum. Furthermore, the bus was hot and the ac system could only work when the engine didn’t (like when we were riding down a slope).

My favorite exhibitions were in the museums, but even here i couldn’t spend as much time as i wanted because the group took off into another direction and i had to follow. These two images are from one of the museums, they were taken by journalists who were present during the war.

northern vietnamese gorilla women..

wounded american soldier

And this is a caption from the Khe Sanh site, where the Americans were defeted by the Vietcong, showing to the world explicitly how futile their efforts were in the war at controling communist forces.

Even though i didn’t take part in the war, and know only one person who did, i feel a kind of sad nostalgia towards towards it… when i look at the pictures of the young american soldiers i feel a deep empathy. Maybe it’s because i imagine how cruel the Vietnamese gorillas could have been to them (now that i’ve witnessed the Vietnamese attitude towards foriegners)… or because of the knowledge that this war had such a profound affect on the American generation before me. It’s seeing these pictures that makes me feel American, somehow. I’ve even picked up O’Brian’s The Things They Carried, which i highly recommend.

Ironically, in Hoi An, they play American songs from the 70s about the war… In Hue, i heard “Paint it Black” (from Full Metal Jacket, movie about the war) in a bar… never did i imagine when i saw this movie and heard this song (for the first time) last year that i’d be in Vietnam listening to it again..

Anyway, there are many other thoughts i have but i’ll post them later. Sorry for being such a pessimist!

November 2, 2008 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

back in Hanoi

Spent nearly 3 days in Hanoi. The moto taxi drivers, depression, and eye trouble prevented me from doing very much. I can admit, to trying a lot of touristy restuarant fare though. The best of the lot was Little Hanoi in the Old Quarter, while the vegetarian restaurant named after the Vietnamese Cinderella comes second. It’s unfortunate i can’t actually eat at the food stalls where all the locals eat. If it’s not meat than it’s cooked in meat broth, and that’s just not appetizing.

After Hanoi, i went to Sa Pa, which is a hill city in the north, not far from China. I spent about a week there. My friend Ming is there, working at a restaurant. He ran out of money, hichhiked to Sapa, and found a job in exchange for room & board. Fortunately for him, he’s blessed with a passport from Singapore so he has no trouble with visa fees and he doesn’t stand out as i would if i were in his situation. He’s clever, resourceful, and beside the problem of Sapa’s cold climate and his lack of adequate clothes, i think he’ll be fine.

Sapa is small and quite compared to Hanoi. But even in Sapa the pressure to buy doesn’t cease. However, the sellers are sweet village women, mostly from the Hmong tribes, who follow you saying “buy from me.” The girls and younger women (<30) speak English, and when asked how they learned it, they reply “from tourists.” With their antique customs (early marriage, early pregnancy, minimal travel from home) and traditional dress they remind me of the homely Amish, and yet their ability to speak English is so much more advanced than the average Vietnamese… and they can be so witty you forget that they are simple village folk…

I will post pictures from Sapa later.

Tomorrow i’m heading to Huế. It’s actually pronounced “hoouy” which is akin to a Russian term that respectable (lol) girls don’t say (in public) and makes me blush when i say it here. I hear Huế is more European and relaxed than every other Vietnamese city…

After Vietnam i am considering flying to Bali to meet Asya and then traveling through Indonesia. Every one i have met who has been to Indonesia loved it and wants to return. Whether i go now or later depends on whether Asya can find a cheap ticket from Australia. I already found one, circa $250 one way. This makes sense for me because after Indonesia i’ll work my way up through Malasia back to Thailand. I was looking for NGO work in Cambodia, but i’ll put it on hold if Asya can find a ticket! Back in Australia she’s having the same trouble as me- finding a suitable travel partner. There are just things that are not practical or fun doing alone….

Unlike Thailand and Laos, Vietnam is full of tour groups. Mostly older folk who travel by the dozen, families with young children, and couples. I’m not the only traveler who’se having difficulty finding travel companions…

I’ve met several people who’s next destination is Laos. After a week in Vietnam, i have grown even more affection for Laos and Lao people. I thoroughly encourage everyone to visit Laos! I’d like to return for a week or two towards the end of my time in S.E. asia and do some trekking and homestay in the north… I’ll definetely need a companion for this. :)

October 29, 2008 at 10:38 am 2 comments


Last night i took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, from where i took a bus to Sapa. Since i booked my ticket hours (rather than days) before departure, i could only buy a seat not a sleeper. Not a problem, i thought. I’ve done enough sleeping sitting down and i didn’t mind doing it again…

I was pleasantly surprised when i came aboard. The seats leaned a good way back and my seat was near the window. The train took off and the lights went off. And then i saw the foot.

The woman behind me had slid her dirty foot to my arm rest, taking away any possibility of my leaning my head against the window to sleep. It was appaling. The man next to me was dosing off. Between her foot, his snoring and his various body parts in my personal space, i tried to breath deeply. The train was full, quite, and i was only one of three foreigners.

I slid back in the chair to avoid her foot. Then a thumping began and echoed all the way into my head. I sat up, turned around, and looked at her. She was hitting her knee which was resting against the back of my seat.

“Can you please stop?” i asked her firmly, but courteously.

There was no reaction.

I didn’t repeat myself again, just kept still and looked at her puzzled as she continued to beat her knee. A minute later one of the passengers behind her said something and she stopped.

I resumed my seat. Checked the left side to see if her foot had returned. Fortunately, it hadn’t. Relieved, i placed my right arm on the arm rest only to find something in my way. To my dismay, it was a foot. The woman’s companion’s foot. As i turned around to watch them i noticed that the first woman had found another location for her foot: above my head.

It was a lot to bear. Complete with the fact that i had felt so isolated and depressed in Hanoi, i could hardly stand it. I jumped past the snoring man and went to the toilet.

There wasn’t much i could do. I returned to my seat, pushed it all the way up so as to limit the woman’s chances of putting her foot above my head again, leaned my hands on the seat in front of me and slept on them. It was bearable.

October 23, 2008 at 11:03 pm 2 comments

Laos to Vietnam

I arrived in Vietnam 3 days ago after a 6 hour bus journey from Savanahket (in Laos) to the border, plus 2 hours to the city of Dong Ha by taxi where i cought the 13 hour night train to Hanoi. Coming towards the border on the bus i was glad to leave Laos.


Here i am at the border…


Laos is a peculiar country. Guide books describe it as a very laid back and friendly place… and this is true… in a way. I never once witnessed an act of hostility or violence. I was never robbed (unless you count that one time on the slow boat with the kid who took too much) and i never felt unsafe. The Lao treat each other with respect (ex: men will help women with belongings on busses, busses will actually stop for passengers on the street) and openness (people who don’t know each other talk instead of sitting together in silence). All this was very nice.

However, the Lao people (as a group) can also be rude. Very often, when i’d pass a group of women or girls and they would start talking about me. (The word for foriegner is ‘falang‘ and it’s not always very nice. Kind of like the word nigger in the USA. Imagine being black and passing a group of people who break out into laughter and yelp ‘nigger nigger’ in every sentence amongs themselves as you pass? It’s not pleasant.) I just don’t understand how a whole group of people can do this without being mindful of the tactlessness of it. Sometimes i’d turn my head and stare at them, hoping to remind them that i understand that they’re talking about me. They would always pause when i did this, then laugh. As an anthropology student i feel strange to be so perturbed by this.

I also hated the indifference with which many Lao people handle practical matters. They don’t care if you buy from them or not if to make the sale they have to struggle to understand you. If there’s “work” involved, they’d rather make no sale. Another issue was the lack of rational thinking. (Lack of adequete schooling is a possible cause.) Being a vegetarian, i carried a paper with me that said “I’d like to eat. But i don’t eat meat. Can you make vegetables?” Most of the time i showed this paper i was met with very confused faces, followed by smiling and a head shaking no (even if the food in question was meatless). Isn’t it rational to assume that if you’re holding a bougette and i’m pointing at it and then to my paper back and forth that i’m asking if one agrees with the other? In many situations, the Lao failed to make this connection.

edit:  I hope i didn’t give a negative impression of the Lao people. Being in Vietnam, i’m really missing the warm Lao aura. Some examples i didn’t mention were how welcoming the young Lao people were (whether they spoke any English or not) when they saw westerners in bars and night clubs. They would actively encourage us to join them, pull us to their table, and dance with us. They always smiled and wanted to talk.

So i hoped to find something more familiar to me in Vietnam. I had decided not to stay in Dong Ha because i wanted to get to Hanoi as soon as possible. I felt tired of provincial places. I had hired a taxi who took me to the train station where i bought my ticket and then he suggested i come over his home since i had several hours before the train’s departure. I had many reservations at first, but when i learned that his wife and children were home i decided it would be nice to spend time with a Vietnamese family.

In essense, what happened was this: I ate with his family and played with his young children. When i used the toilet i didn’t take my bag with me and during this time he or someone in the family removed 500,000dong from my wallet. Before this he had helped me change one of my bills into a smaller ones and had given me a 200,000dong bill which later i learned was fake. So by the time i reached Hanoi, i felt betrayed and depressed.

Hanoi is full of taxis – motorcycle taxis, pedicabs, car taxis. They are most abundant in the old quarter (where i live), to the extent where i am propositioned at every other step. On other streets, i am propositioned every 5 meters instead. All these taxi drivers look the same (in my eyes) and they all use the same method to call attention to themselves. In a voice reminiscent of an old friend, they’ll yell out “hello.” Since my arrival in Hanoi i’ve been very hostile towards them, ignoring them and cursing them silently or shooing them away with my hand. I realize now that it’s this tone of friendship they assume that disturbs me so much. Unconsciously it reminds me of the driver from Dong Ha who acted as a friend and then robbed me. I wish they would make it illegal for the taxis to sollicit.

Nor are the people i’ve met on the streets in Hanoi very friendly. I sense a dislike for foreigners from the Vietnamese who have nothing to gain by talking to you. They only talk to you if there’s something you have that they want. It wasn’t like this in Lao. It’s like i was floating down a peaceful stream (Lao) when all of a sudden i came upon turbulent rapids and sharks (Vietnam). I’m adjusting…

ps. I’ve shared this with several friends and some have had (or know others who did) similar first experiences in Vietnam. So i suppose it’s like an initiation, a vaccination…

I should feel lucky that i was only robbed of 700,000 (16,500dong = 1$ so it’s not a lot of money) and not my whole wallet or passport.


Oh and here are some pictures of Hanoi traffic at night…

chaos: motorcycles ride on the side-walk when they feel like it, 
few traffic lights (for cars, not pedestrians)


And for those who like dogs or meat or both….


October 22, 2008 at 4:43 pm 2 comments

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