1. Culture shock is real, even if you only stay in a country for ten days.
2. Ten days is not nearly enough time to appreciate all that Vietnam has to offer.
3. Vietnam is diverse. The south is hot and humid, much like Bangkok. Yet the North feels cleaner, calmer, and crisper. It certainly was colder! I never left the hotel without a sweater, a jacket, and two scarves. But then again I’m used to the 80 degree (F) winter in Bangkok 🙂
4. The landscape is incredibly diverse as well. The south is full of dense, tropical forests and muddy river deltas. The center boasts pristine mountain peaks with some truly exquisite views, and more coffee plantations than I have ever laid eyes on in my life!
|Some of the many hills lined with coffee plants.|
5. The capital, Hanoi, has a “petit Paris” feel (due to a century of French colonialism), but the abundance of motorbikes and confusing street names will not let you forget that you are, indeed, in Southeast Asia.
|Getting a chuckle out of linguistic diversity.|
6. Vietnam is industrial, noisy, hectic and yet somehow still charming in an unintentional sort of way. I think most of the charm, at least what attracted me, came from the fact that a lot of people live exactly as they always have before opening up to the West, and so you don’t feel the insane effects of commercialization that you get in Bangkok. Most locals seemed to have little regard for regulations or standards and simply went about their business as they pleased. Charming, and yet frustrating, especially if you are the one trying to do business with someone.
7. Things are authentically inauthentic, like the little “Italian” restaurant where I ate my Christmas eve dinner. The food was questionable, and I’ve never had a caprese salad with olives in it before, but still I loved it for its unintentional charm. The old, gray haired Vietnamese man carried the little wine glasses with such pride, and the old maps and Etruscan pictures on the walls relayed a true passion for all things Italiano…even if he didn’t actually serve the promised gelato.
|Enjoying a new recipe for caprese salad.|
8. Christmas is not Christmas like I had ever experienced it. To most people in Vietnam, Christmas is just an excuse to party, kind of like Americans do on New Years eve, Halloween, St. Patty’s Day and virtually all non-religiously mandated holidays.
9. Foreigners are almost always charged twice the normal price, because everyone assumes that you are rich, even if you are not. Still, according to Vietnamese standards, you probably are.
10. I have never been anywhere like Vietnam. Even Cambodia and Thailand, its close neighbors, differ so much in spirit, charm, history and life-force. I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it back. But I am really glad I went.
|Hanoi, the capital city.|