Cruising out of the Vietnam tourist trap
11.12.2011 - 11.29.2011 85 °F
Vietnam, we're discovering is full of easy roads. It's an organized tourists paradise. You can see the entire county via air conditioned bus for the "low" price of $(fill in the "special tourist" price here). They will even conveniently accept the US dollar everywhere. We, in fact, had to fight to get a fair exchange rate when we paid for our first night's hotel stay in Ho Chi Min City using the Vietnamese Dong.
We're discovering that it's incredibly difficult to get around if you aren't taking a "tourist" bus to see the cool sights. We booked a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels and we were left wanting more history, an understandable guide, and solitude away from the boisterous demands of several high maintenance, short holiday, travelers. We decided to give it another go with a 2 day/1 night tour of the Mekong Delta. It turned out to be a backpackers nightmare. In addition to a boat ride down the busiest floating market on the Mekong, we were given the "special privilege" of viewing the process of making of rice paper, which turned out to be a souvenir shop in disguise. Other included "special privileges" were: a visit to an fruit orchard, and a souvenir shop, lunch that provided not enough food on an island full of souvenir shops, and learning how to make coconut candy in a souvenir shop. And we can't forget the bus making convenient toilet stops along the way that would not have felt complete without souvenir shops. We slept at a home stay with a local farmer and his family at the end of day 1 with a group of about 10 other frustrated backpackers. We were happy to hear we weren't just being callous and jaded and that others shared our pain. It turned out to be the best part of the entire trip. The farmer taught us to make our own spring rolls, gave us a sunrise tour of his rice fields and fed us lots of "happy" water, aka rice wine, all evening long. Not a gift shop in sight!
Micah and I vowed not to fall into the tourist trap again and decided to move through the rest of Vietnam as independently as possible. So far, we have successfully found our way via motorbike in the cities of Mu Ni, Da Lat, Nha Trang and Hoi An. It's a wonderful freedom to have the luxury of leaving when we want, eating what we want, using a toilet when we want and not having to be herded to a souvenir shop to achieve these simple pleasures. Of course it means instead that we spend a lot of time maneuvering the language barrier and asking locals for directions and driving the wrong way for miles at a time. But it doesn't matter- we are free. In fact, Born to be Wild plays in my head every time we reach a cruising speed of 60km/hr (that's about 37mph) It's worth Micah occasionally tossing us over the handlebars. Don't worry (mom). That only happened once. We weren't going very fast and escaped with minor cuts and bruises. And it only cost us $3.50 to fix the broken break handle!
We're now heading into our last few days in Vietnam. We broke our vow and had to book a tour to see Ha Long Bay. It sounds like we've signed up for a cruise for the next 3 days. Fingers crossed there aren't any souvenir shops on our boat. We'll be sure to let you know how it pans out.
Here are a few pics our last few weeks in Vietnam. (You can reach the captions in the photo gallery.)