by Antoaneta Baltadzhieva
This year my boyfriend and I had a tough job deciding on the destination for our holiday. We both love to explore different cultures, preferably those we don’t know a lot about. It seemed to be impossible to choose only one country we both wanted to visit. So instead of discussing a lot, we decided to make a “game” out of it. Both of us had to write our top-4 destinations on a sheet of paper hoping one of them would match. If not, both of us had to back up our choice with convincing arguments. The latter was not necessary because we had a match – Vietnam!
We started our journey in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Hanoi is an ancient city that surges with energy. The Old Quarter of Hanoi is one of the original and most congested sections of town. The quarter is exciting and crowded with countless street restaurants, thousands of stores selling everything imaginable, hotels, and bars. Hanoi people are very proud to have the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader in their city for which we unfortunately had a lack of time to visit. There is also a colossal museum of Uncle Ho, as the local people call him, open for visitors. On the second day, we took an organised trip to breathtaking Halong Bay where we enjoyed amazing scenery and spent the night on a boat. The bay is magical with its limestone islands rising above from the water, thousands of grottos and emerald waters. We also visited floating villages populated by communities of fishermen. It’s amazing to see how the families comfortably live in such a remote village built on the water.
After coming back, we took our next trip to Sapa. Sapa is a small tourist village in the north of Vietnam. Directly after arriving at the hotel we went trekking to one of the local Black H’Mong villages with a local H’Mong guide. The local ladies walk around town in their traditional costumes trying to sell you souvenirs or trekking tours. We looked quite stupid, having difficulties with the terrain despite being equipped with modern hiking shoes and rubber boots, while the local ladies easily walked down the steep and slippery paths through the rice terraces wearing sandals, most of them with babies strapped to their backs. Overnight we stayed with a local family of the Dzhao people.
The next day, we had to go back to Hanoi by sleeper train which takes a long and tiring 9 hours. In the evening, we left for Hoi An. The city is a small and lovely place to just relax and soak up the atmosphere of old Vietnam. Hoi An is an ancient town with many impressive, old architectural buildings. It is famous for its silk lanterns that can be seen on buildings everywhere and for the prolific number of tailoring stores which all offer made-to-measure clothes. In this peaceful city, we were brave enough to rent a motorbike and discovered the Hoi An beaches and the surrounding areas. Nestled just a short distance from Hoi An were the Marble Mountains. The climb to the top is via stairs cut from stone, and on the top you have a spectacular view of Vietnam’s coast and the South China Sea beyond. While climbing the hills we saw pagodas and temples built within marble caves. The rest of our time in Hoi An we spent relaxing on the beautiful beach and enjoying the historic atmosphere.
As we already had a bad experience with a bus delay of 6 hours, we decided to fly to our next destination, Ho Chi Minh City, instead of doing another 16 hours on the train or bus (it was totally worth the money as the plane tickets cost only €10 more than the train tickets). In Ho Chi Minh City, we got to know more about the war history of the country. We visited the Viet Cong tunnels and the war museum, both very moving experiences. We ended our trip enjoying the Vietnamese cuisine, making it even harder to return to the country of boerenkool and hutspot.