Southern Vietnam (aka excitable expats and beers with a view)

The final part of our jaunt down Vietnam was going to take us sun seeking to the beach resort of Nha Trang and onward to the Vietnamese commercial capital of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

After the previous rain soaked days, we were hoping (albeit optimistically) that the storms would not follow us and we would at least have an afternoon on the sandy beaches of Nha Trang. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. Maybe this alone dented our view of the city a little – it certainly wouldn’t be called our favourite place we had been in Vietnam. Although, despite it being akin to the Russian version of Benidorm, Nha Trang did have a few little gems.

Behind the garish, high rise hotels, in the alleys that weave around the blindingly florescent main streets, numerous Europeans have set up little guesthouses and cafes. Many are so chilled and easy going – we went into one place for a coffee and ended up staying a few hours chatting with the owner. This was a guy who left Belgium 25 years ago and ever since spends each morning diving and each afternoon running a small bar where he makes hardly any profit simply to socialise and chat with people.

On the other hand, a few of the long term expats living here also seemed to have maintained some “views of their era”, for want of a better phrase. In all our travels over the years, Giles and I have never (as far as we are aware) experienced any anti-gay sentiment directed towards us – until Nha Trang of all places!

Setting the scene – Giles and I sitting chatting at a bar. Older English bloke staring weirdly at us. Me about to intersect and explain, “No, we are not the Proclaimers” (after hearing 500 Miles played a number of times over the past few days), but before I could he starts mumbling stuff like “Queers out”. I cant remember what I said but it must have been caustically witty as he looked like he didn’t quite know how to respond and just got up and left.

If Nha Trang is where older expats have settled, it is Ho Chi Minh City where the new crowd can be found – with little independent coffee shops and craft beer bars lining many street corners and trendy street food offerings. Unlike Hanoi which still had much of its traditional character in the Old Quarter, reconstruction and redevelopment gives Ho Chi Minh City a much more modern cityscape.

In the afternoon we arrived, we went to the Bitexco Tower, until last year the tallest building in the city, where you can get a fantastic view of the scope and scale of Saigon. Pay $2 more, and you get access to the Heinekein Vietnam Experience. We’re not usually a fan of these type of things, but it was quite impressive as it got us even higher up the tower and a few beers – a really good way to watch the sunset.

There is so much to do in Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding area, but as we only had a limited time before our visa ran out and we had to dash out of the country we had to prioritise. For our first full day we stayed in the city and visited the Independence Palace and the War Remnants Museum. The latter documents and displays the Vietnamese narrative on the long lasting war from the struggle for independence from the French through to the American involvement and the still ongoing effects on the population, including that of Agent Orange. The following day we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels which were used by members of the Viet Cong to avoid land based attacks and manage a guerrilla campaign during the two wars in Vietnam. Despite recent widening to make the tunnels more “tourist friendly” these were a tight fit to say the least, so I struggled through one and left Giles to do the rest.

After four brilliant weeks, it was then time to leave Vietnam, board our bus and head over the border to Cambodia. We’ve truly been surprised by Vietnam – it has beautiful scenery, history at every stop, delicious food and such friendly people. We would definitely take an opportunity to visit again, not least to explore some of the more rural parts we just didn’t have time to experience.

Just hoping that rain stops – we’ve got a bleeding tree house booked in Cambodia now…

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