Whilst sat at Breakfast Mrs. Long asked what our plans for the day were. I explained we were headed for the Zoo. She suggested we go to a water park about 40 mins away on the bus – Dam San Park. Well, first of all it did take 40 minutes on the bus, but had there been no traffic it’d have probably taken 15 mins.
The park was surprisingly good and big. About 10 big slides, wave pool, Jacuzzi etc… The kids loved it and despite the keen lifeguards who were insistent that I was not capable of holding Abi in water 1.2m deep we did have a good time. It was actually great to relax in the cool water in the red hot heat.
That pretty much filled the day – I don’t have a photo because I didn’t take either camera. But Charlie assures me that me on the 20ft aero slide above the water hanging on for dear life would have been a great one!
Now, my little analysis of Vietnam.
the countryside/scenery – As beautiful as I could have ever imagined.
The people = Amazing, hard working people who settle for the pittance they have been dealt yet live a life as happy as is possible.
Prices – When we arrived I had a million dong in my wallet which was about 30 quid, but the reality is with a bit of common sense you really can live way beyond your means in Vietnam. But at the same time you can get shafted.
Freedom – In a way someone cannot imagine who hasn’t experienced Vietnam, you really are free, free from interference, rules, and regulations.
The experience – From the nightmare that was Hanoi, the lush tropical scenery of Nha Trang, the mountainous border crossing, picturesque Hoi An, biking through mountains and getting well and truly lost in Central Vietnam, the international city that is Saigon. Seeing people with nothing working in the searing heat for a few dollars per day if they are lucky. People so desperate they have lost every ounce of self respect. On more than a few occasions I have felt a kind of sorrow I have never experienced. You probably wonder how this is in the good points, it is because realisation has had a huge impact on the kids and I. There are not words to describe what we have experienced. But they are experiences that will hopefully have a lasting effect on the kids – I know they will on me.
the people – I included people in good points, but also in bad. At times we just felt like going back to the hotel and staying there, they were so insistent that it became very tiresome very quickly. I have spoken to people who have booked flights home earlier because they had enough. It is full on, in a huge way. I’ll bet I got asked at least 100 times daily whether I wanted anything from my shoes shining to a taxi. But the problem is, most of them start off with “hi, where are you from…” Then once they have your attention they launch their attack. So what happens is when someone is genuinely interested in a chat you simply do not know, instead you just say “no thanks” Which is a real shame, and is definitely a blot on Vietnam.
Money – Whilst I didn’t mind having to bargain for absolutely everything, it was annoying at times. Sometimes you just want to grab a quick drink and it’s the same every time “How much for this water” – “20,000 Dong” And it’s the assumption that Westerners are thick. That we know nothing about money or what things cost. It does get very insulting. Ultimately you gain a distrust of everyone who is selling something. I would say 99% of the time I was tried to be overcharged. The reality is if the shop keepers/taxi drivers etc actually put a brain cell together they would realise the hugely negative impact this has on tourists to Vietnam. If they charged fairly they would get so much more business. Im serious, come to Vietnam, set up a shop and put realistic prices on things – You’ll make a fortune from tourists.
The US Dollar – Im in Vietnam, why are prices in $$ Oh, I know, you think that when I ask for it in Dong I wont realise that you have given me a rate at 25,000 to the $ when its actually 17,000. The Dollar is accepted almost as much as the dong – Particularly in hotels/restaurants.
Traffic – Shocking. Absolutely shocking that a so called developed country has no rules of the road.
Taxi drivers – Know how to deal with them and you will be fine. But the ride they ALL try to take you on is far more than the ride to your destination.
Like I said in Hanoi, you will either love or hate Vietnam. I loved it, but it was very difficult to keep smiling at times. I only once got angry with someone – A tuk Tuk driver was hounding me and I was saying “No Thanks” over and over again, he kept on at me, then said “You a bad father, you make your babies walk in this heat” Obviously I reacted to that and he was quick to ride off. Looking back I shouldn’t have reacted. But during our time in Vietnam there was more than a few times I bit my tongue. Never did I feel threatened or intimidated though. The Vietnamese people certainly do not give the impression they are aggressive or confrontational. It does happen I know, but I never saw anything.
That said I would return to Vietnam, but I wouldn’t really bother with either Saigon or Hanoi. In terms of entry then Saigon is better than Hanoi. But I would head for real Vietnam, the coastal cities and countryside.
In answer to the question of whether Vietnam is good for kids, yes. It is an amazing eye opener and an amazing country. We traveled off the beaten path and those were the better times and memories. Just pack loads of sun cream because it’s difficult to buy in Vietnam and after sun which is near impossible to find. Prepare for the Vietnamese to launch a ‘love offensive’ on the kids and you will have the time of your life – We did.
Next stop a day in Kuala Lumpur, a night in Singapore and then Borneo…