My Bet is Vietnam!
11 February 2014
North and the South. The two biggest cities in Vietnam lie on opposite sides of the country, played different historical roles relative to where the country stands today, have different cultures, and last but not least enjoy different versions of Pho noodle soup. Most travelers typically choose to start either in Hanoi to the north and travel south or start in Saigon in the south and travel north through Vietnam. We started in Hanoi and spent three weeks traveling to the south. I was eager to see what Vietnam was going to be like because I’ve heard from so many travelers that they either love it or be totally in love with it.
Upon arrival in Hanoi , I was tired but found the most interesting food I ate during my entire time in Vietnam right on the street. I sat down on the standard pre-school designed plastic stool that line sidewalks everywhere next to a woman in a suit who actually spoke some English and helped me order some soup and told me the price since the cook spoke no English. Not only did the soup have pork, duck, and standard pho ingredients (noodles, bean sprouts, green onion), just when I thought the dark red chunks pictured below were chicken liver, I was informed they were dried blood! “Ohh!” I said acting like I was at least slightly excited to consume them but I went ahead and the texture was like jello and the taste was like… surprisingly, it’s great! Hanoi seem to have so much to offer like good street food, $0.24 “Bia Hoi” street beers filled out of kegs on the sidewalk, and the closest proximity to infamous Halong Bay.
Noah and I decided to book a 2 day tour to Halong Bay called “Castaways” through a travel agent. This is a tour where groups of approx. 40 people with an average age of 21 years old are shipped to the private island named Castaways and spend two nights and one day kayaking, rock climbing, wakeboarding or tubing, swimming, playing beach volleyball, and partying. We knew we were getting into a situation that would mimic many of our college like experiences rather than going with a really quiet tour where we would have run the risk of being on a sleeper boat and tour with a bunch of older groups or couples.
Our faithful tour guide was a 27 year old gentle giant Kiwi named Gerald who informed us as the boat disembarked from the harbor that for the next two days, we would all be subjects of the game “Buffalo” where if you are caught drinking with your left hand, you must ‘buffalo’ or down your entire beverage on the spot as well as if you ever say the word “ten” or “mine” you must drop and do T-E-N push-ups! The boat ride between the harbor and the islands was absolutely gorgeous and took about 3 hours including a stop to kayak inside caves and bays and jump off the second deck of the boat.
Upon arrival to Castaways, we were greeted on the beach by the tour group who arrived the previous day and had just spent their first full day on the island. Predictably, they were 110% sober and were not having a good time at all. Okay that is all a lie and each one of them eagerly grabbed one of us and presented a welcome beer on the spot! The two nights consisted of a common dinner between the two groups and an ensuing dance party until the wee hours of the morning.
We stayed on the beach in wooden dorm-style bungalows complete with bug nets. Sleep beyond about 7:30 a.m. on our full day was not possible due to the sweltering heat and common headache syndrome experienced by most people but I actually felt ready to take the day on. We played beach volleyball, threw the frisbee, wakeboarded, and did some rock climbing before it seemed reasonable to have that first beer.
After two days and two nights, the trip back to Hanoi was a long one including a 3.5 hour boat ride and a 4 hour bus. Prior to taking our first night bus south, Noah and I had one more day to kill where we ate our first “Bun Cha” which is grilled pork meat and pork meat balls in a special hot broth, cold rice noodles and vegetables on the side which you dip into the broth and eat with the meat. Delicious! We then went to the Hanoi water park which seemed like a really solid idea and we jumped our excitement away!