Friday, 13 February 2015


At first I really liked Hanoi. I was staying in the middle of the Old District, a frenetic maze of small winding streets lined with markets, vendors with their wares spread out on bamboo mats, and constantly clogged by tourists and motorbikes. The French District near the lake is also very pretty, and worth a good wander round. When I was sitting by the lake a Vietnamese guy came and sat next to me and talked to me for about half an hour, I assume to practise his English. Although he did ask if I wanted a free motorbike tour of the city, or to visit his cousin's restaurant. Unsurprisingly I declined. 

I enjoyed Hanoi for the day I was there, but by the evening it was wearing me down. It's nowhere near as full on as Saigon, but there's the same motorbike madness and constant heckling from people selling things on the street that you get all over Vietnam, just in a more confined space. The atmosphere is electric, but more like an electric chair than a pleasant buzz. 

I was glad to be out of the city for my trip to Halong Bay. 

But while I'm on the subject of complaining, let me explain why I'm just not feeling Vietnam. 

It may well be because I was travelling with two of my best friends for a month, and they went home just before I entered Vietnam; and my friends who have been here before built it up so much I was really excited about coming here. So I'm well aware there are factors influencing my opinion. 

But this is what I feel at the moment: Vietnamese people are pushy, unfriendly and the most dishonest people I've ever come across, I feel constantly ripped off (much more so than elsewhere in Asia), the language is irritating, the sights are underwhelming and not as special as elsewhere I've visited, the food is mediocre, the traffic is horrendous and makes walking anywhere a marathon, and the cities feel unsafe and pickpocketing and mugging are more common than in its neighbours. And it's expensive to boot. 

Now I've vented those feelings, it's not all bad. 

It's a relatively easy country to get around, and has a good infrastructure of buses and trains (although the quality of roads is often poor), and the fact that it uses the Roman alphabet like English makes getting around and asking for directions much easier. There are also good metered taxis. Mai Linh and Vinasun are normally quoted as the most reputable, although I've heard of people being asked for tips - I was asked for a tip when I'd prepaid my hostel for the taxi ride (I did not give a tip) - and tourists being told that when the meter reads 50.0, that means 500,000 when you actually multiply it by 1,000, so it's 50,000. I've also had Mai Linh drivers refuse to use the meter and made me agree to a price double what it should've been. 

It's a tiring country to be in, when vendors won't take no for an answer and see you as walking ATMs. I was once told by a motorbike driver that the hostel I was looking for (and was about a 30-second walk down the road) was far away and he'd take me there. Thankfully I'd been in Vietnam long enough to know that most of what you hear from people selling things is lies. 

At the end of my year-long trip, I would rather just chill and make the most of my freedom, rather than constantly having to firmly reject people as I walk down the street. Hopefully Luang Prabang will offer me the respite I'm after for my last few days of travelling. 

Maybe it's to do with Vietnam's long history of bad encounters with foreigners - with France's colonisation and then the American War - but it's not only white tourists who get similar treatment. 

It's a pity I feel this way. I'd much rather love every country I visit, and to be honest this is the first country I've actively disliked. But having said all that, my Vietnam highlights have been Hoi An, Halong Bay and Sapa. I'll look back at them with fond memories. 

No comments:

Post a Comment