Thursday, December 9, 2010


Vietnam is a country blessed by nature. From its Islands and beaches to its lush jungles and misted isles, it has more vivid color and beauty than most.  Vietnam is a country of resilient optimists who’ve survived colonialism, war and communism, and now stand ready for the world of capitalism. More than anything Vietnam is a country on the move with dynamic forces shaping a bright future.


• Eating Pho Ga in Ho Chi Minh City
• Meeting up with Coop and Miles on Phu Quoc Island
• Exploring coffee plantations and villages in the hills surrounding Dalat
• Drinking fresh beer with Coop, Miles, Justin and Janie in Hoi An
• Cruising among limestone islands in Halong Bay for Coops birthday
• Celebrating Thanksgiving dinner in a most unlikely place: Hanoi
• Drinking Weasel coffee with Miles in Ninh Binh

Cities / Areas Traveled to:
Ho Chi Minh City - Ha Tien - Phu Quoc Island - Dalat - Nha Trang - Danang - Hoi An - Hanoi - Halong Bay - Ninh Binh

Southern Vietnam

HMC is a low-lying, traffic congested city of six million. Its’ ageing architecture hints at French roots but the millions of moto’s hint at something more like Bangkok. I stayed in the bustling area of Pham Ngu Lao for three nights, mostly rain free. It was here I tasted my first Vietnamese-made Pho Ga and perused my first American war propaganda store.

From HMC I traveled south through the Mekong Delta to Ha Tien right on the Cambodian border. Not much to write home about, Ha Tien is on the map because it’s a border town and Phu Quoc Island lies southwest of it. After a couple days of light rain I decided to wait for Coop and Miles on Phu Quoc itself. That morning I jumped on the ferry and ran right into them.

Phu Quoc Island is a major domestic draw. Its bathtub-warm water and palm tree’s leaves little imagining why. We stayed for three nights, enjoying the good weather and relaxing by the beach. From Phu Quoc we took a night bus north into HMC. Janie’s flight landed a few hours later. Over the next couple days we toured the Cu Chi tunnels outside HMC, saw the war remnants museum and explored the city.

From HMC we took a bus northwest into Dalat. French colonial-era buildings free of bomb scarring combined with an alpine climate make the city feel more European than Vietnamese.  We spent three nights and enjoyed fairly good weather. During two of those days Coop, Janie and I rented motorbikes and explored the surrounding hills and country sides. Due to its climate, farmers cultivate avocados, strawberries, artichokes and coffee. Vietnam is famous for its strong coffee and we enjoyed many cups at local plantations. After three nights it was time to head northeast to the beach. 

Although the weather was reported to be good in Nha Trang we arrived during a storm that lasted the length of our stay. The town is very popular with backpackers and locals for its clear water and white sand beaches but unfortunately we never got the chance to find that out for ourselves. After a couple nights we threw in the towel and headed north to Danang. 

After reading so much about the role Danang played in the war I was curious what we’d find. A busy city with busier people, Danang seems to be the business capital of central Vietnam. Miles and I even spotted a Ferrari (the party chiefs, we joked). As vacationers in a business-oriented city we had little to do but read and wait for Justin. The night he arrived we took a taxi down to Hoi An and enjoyed fresh beer (made without preservatives) for pennies a glass.  

Northern Vietnam 
The next day we flew out of Danang and into Hanoi. I enjoyed Hanoi more than Ho Chi Minh City.  It has a distinct feel to it, with its wide tree-lined boulevards and French architectural influence.  It has great restaurants, hotels and cultural destinations like Ho Chi Minhs’ Mausoleum. As a major city it suffers from overpopulation and pollution. 

To celebrate Coop’s Birthday we did a one night, two day cruise through Halong Bay which is east of Hanoi by about three hours. The limestone isles shrouded in mist made a great backdrop for the celebration. 

We celebrated Thanksgiving back in Hanoi. The five of us, Coop, Miles, Justin, Janie and myself. A few months earlier I would never have guessed that I’d be having a pork chop for Thanksgiving in Hanoi. The day after Thanksgiving marked the end of the journey together. Coop, Justin and Janie flew to HMC while Miles and I took a bus down to Ninh Binh. Coop and Janie went west into the Mekong Delta and Justin flew back to San Francisco. As for Miles and I, we embarked on an epic marathon read of the Stieg Larsson novels partly induced
by drinking weasel coffee.  On the 28th Miles and I said our goodbyes and I flew south to HMC where I boarded a night bus that took me into Cambodia and Phnom Penh. 

From the southernmost Island of Phu Quoc to Hanoi in the north I spent over three weeks and traveled over 1,800 miles in Vietnam. From simple village meals served on plastic tables to complex dishes served aboard a Junk in Halong Bay I tasted only a modicum of what Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. And that really goes for all things Vietnam, a vibrant country that should be on any traveler’s top five.