Visitors & Vietnam

We had a great time in Cambodia and now it was time to jet off to Vietnam! Gav did forget to document one memorable part of our stay in Siem Reap though. We noticed in Phnom Penh that Cambodia had many different national breweries and we made it our mission to try as many of them as we could get our hands on. There are lots of choices-Angkor, the confusingly similarly named Anchor, Cambodia, Hanuman, you get the drift. They also have the amusingly named Krud Beer. Their tagline? “Good Times, Krud Times.” Maybe that’s what Dickens had written before his copy editor got to the manuscript, who knows. Anyway, obviously that was a must try.

We cracked it open on Christmas Eve. It was quality Krud. It tasted fine. But my tip is to go with Angkor, that was the favourite. Sadly, on the 26th we had to say goodbye to Cambodia and flew into Hanoi for the next leg of our trip. Now, right around here I started checking the weather for Hanoi and I noticed that it was surprisingly cool and…rainy? Honestly, it had not really occurred to me to even check the weather because everyone knows that December and January are the best months to visit SE Asia-nice sunny days that won’t melt you should be on the horizon. But who knew there are little micro climates around? Also around here was when we noticed that Gav had left his only jumper at the crocodile farm back during our harrowing stay on the Rat Ship. I am picturing a crocodile paddling around with it over his scaly shoulders…. With the weather forecast we decided our first stop in Hanoi needed to be to get Gav a new jumper.

Because we were about to spend 3 days on a boat. Whoops. Way back in February of 2020 I booked a last-minuteish trip to Vietnam to go to Halong Bay in our April break. This was AFTER our trip to Beijing had been cancelled due to this new virus spreading around. I thought the best thing to do was to just book a vacation for someplace else because surely this would blow over? Anyway, I found a sweet little houseboat that only fit 2 people to cruise along the famous Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. I was sad that it seemed like we would never actually be able to go on that thing, so I was delighted when they had a few nights that we could book in late December. Guess why they had availability? It is legitimately COLD and foggy in Halong Bay in December! Great time to be on a boat. The scenery was amazing but we were freezing the entire time. Between us we only even had 1 pair of socks (mine, we were determined to travel light!) and those babies were the MVP of that trip. Well that and Gav’s new jumper that we thankfully purchased.

Look at Sporty Gav up there. He complained the whole time we went kayaking, which was really the only time we were warm- From the effort of paddling and because the water was weirdly warm. We saw lots os 20-somethings swimming and actually if you could have stayed in the water forever you would be fine, it was the idea of getting out of the water that really put the fear of god into you. In any case, highly recommended to take this option if you want to explore Halong Bay as you are on your own and not with a million people on a big ship. The boat’s name is Little CatBa and it’s on Airbnb. Just don’t go in December!

We had to hustle back to Hanoi after the boat because we had some special guests arriving for New Year. This did involved trying to catch a shuttle bus alongside a random highway which made me have a mental breakdown when they were late but it all worked out in the end. I will let Gav expand on that if he wants. It was not my finest hour. But we did make it back to Hanoi to our awesome apartment where Simon and Paula were waiting for us, all the way from grey London. (I mean they also landed in grey Hanoi but the temps were warmer),

Brothers reunited for some Bia Hoi! Bia Hoi is a specialty of Hanoi and is basically fresh beer that is sold very cheaply in traditional beer halls. We love it. Even Paula (a non beer drinker) had a try and was not totally repulsed. We spent a few days getting them acclimatised in Hanoi and celebrating the New Year together. Everyone was out on the streets on NYE and at midnight there was a drone show (a first for me) and some frankly lame fireworks, but we had a great time. Special shout out to Si who braved the streets at 11:45 pm to procure the world’s more expensive bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for Paula! New Year’s Day we had the very surreal experience of visiting Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. He’s on full display inside, looking very….waxy. Apparently he has a vacation in Russia every year for a “tune up” to keep him viewable. Like the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, you are shuffled along in a giant crowd and there is no picture taking.

After Hanoi we took a quick flight to Hue, the Disneyland of Vietnam. It is a beautiful little place that did not get bombed during the American War (as we learned it is called in SE Asia) so still has streets and streets of preserved historical buildings. The problem is it is super touristy and all those beautiful buildings are full of absolute tat. It is kind of a must see though and very atmospheric. Spoiler alert, it rained while we were there. Also the hotel I picked had a leaky roof and Simon and Paula spent an uncomfortable night breathing in some stink.

Next up was Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. It rained pretty hard on our way there and did not let up as we wandered around to find our (much nicer, thanks Simon) hotel. Never mind, it didn’t stop up from trying out some of Vietnam’s excellent craft beer culture and even more excellent food. I had not appreciated how regional cuisine is in Vietnam, with each of it’s different areas specialising in different dishes. Here in Hue some of the dishes were not totally self-explanatory but luckily our first night we were in a restaurant where a waiter was comfortable enough to tell us to stop, we were eating things incorrectly, please wait for a demonstration.

The main thing to do in Hue is to visit the ancient citadel and some famous tombs of emperors. All of these sights are amazingly beautiful and well preserved. But it was raining pretty consistently. I wasn’t too annoyed by the weather as we hadn’t seen overcast skies since the start of November, but I did feel pretty bad for Si and Paula who came all the way to Vietnam to have British weather, sorry guys! I really enjoyed Hue though, despite the ancient bits the rest of the city had a very liveable feel to it. It does seem to be on the trail of package tours, but it’s pretty easy to dodge the groups. Lots of Vietnamese people were also visiting and taking photos in traditional dress is a real highlight. See S&P photobombing the poor lady below! One restaurant entertained us by having a system to open 5 bottles of beer at once! Everyone got an opener to take home. The video is pretty impressive-the lady had skills!

Our last stop of the break was to Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike Hanoi, HCMC is a huge, modern city but it is still teeming with history. There are lots of things to see that relate to Vietnam independence and various conflicts throughout its history. I think this was the first time I kind of started to get my head around the events, pressures and fears that lead to the American/Vietnam war. It’s interesting to view history from an entirely different perspective than ones you have been presented with in the past. We got to visit the palace where the North Vietnamese flew the flag of Vietnam when they rolled their tanks into the grounds and liberated Saigon-a real slice of the 1970s! There is also an excellent War museum that is difficult to take in but very helpful in understanding the Vietnamese perspective of its own history. On less somber notes, we stayed in an excellent historic hotel with a rooftop bar providing magnificent views (thanks again Si) and the country’s most expensive cocktails. We also did our best to visit some of the city’s delicious microbreweries. On the whole, I prefer the chaos and historical feel of Hanoi, but I am so glad I got to see HCMC as well. It was still pretty cloudy but not rainy by the way.

And then just like that, the holiday was over and we had to say goodbye to Simon and Paula. Their holiday was not over as they still had a beach stay, Angkor Wat and Singapore to look forward to. We had Nell and our last 5 months in Myanmar to look forward to. I love Cambodia and Vietnam and definitely am not ready to say that I will never visit again. Vietnam comes in strong with some of the best signs in SE Asia. Two that I found particularly compelling…

One a rhetorical question and one theoretically the best mash-up of all time. Too bad that store actually had nothing to do with beer. Such a promising idea!

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