Learning shopping rules in Hoi An

From Ninh Binh I took the night train to Da Nang, and from there a cab to Hoi An. First time for me to sleep in a bed in a train, I was really looking forward to it and it was fun I have to say. Better than the bus for sure, at least I could stretch my legs.18160552_405827193119698_342471122995904512_n

Hoi An was lovely and I wished I could have stayed longer than only for one day. Beautiful, empty beaches and a very cute downtown, especially at night when Chinese lanterns light up the town in all sorts of colours. Hoi An also is the right place to buy souvenirs and more – dozens of shoe and clothing shops that produce on your request and to your size for very few money. Although I had not intended to spend money on clothes, I couldn’t help but bought one Asian style shirt and two pairs of shoes.

This shopping trip taught me a lesson though. Since all the shops have so many competitors, it is quite common to negotiate prices. I was looking for sandals and talked to a couple of sellers to know about their prices.

Finally, I found one who went lower and lower with the price, she absolutely didn’t want me to leave without buying one pair. I negotiated with her without really wanting to and finally accepted her very low offer. I felt that I would have been rude to leave although she made me such a good offer.

However, after leaving the shop I realized that I had just negotiated for a couple of dollars, something less I would have spent on a coffee in Australia. I got so much used to Vietnamese prices that this amount of money seemed a lot to me. Later, when I went back to fetch my shoes, I paid her more than I had to and she offered me a big smile, which was more worth than those few bucks.

Discovering landscapes in Sa Pa and Ninh Binh

Having spent a couple of days in Vietnam’s heat, I decided to take a sleeping bus (beds are in Asian size, not so comfortable for me) further north in the mountains to Sa Pa, which is known as one of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam, with huge rice fields and lots of green spots.

Unfortunately, I was unlucky enough to spent almost all time in rain. No beautiful sights at all, so no reason for me to stay longer than a day and a half. At least I met James from America who had been travelling for four years and who knew Vietnam very well. He showed me some nice corners in town and shared with me his sad ending love story with a Vietnamese girl who apparently was particularly interested in his money. Later, Dong told me that this sort of story is not the only one she had heard of.

Because of the bad weather I decided to leave Sa Pa earlier and had one day more, which I spent in Ninh Binh. Beautiful little city!

And also the first time for me to try to ride a motorbike by myself. I was quite nervous before I started, since traffic rules do not exactly work as I am used to. But soon I realized there was nothing to worry about as long as you know how to beep the horn.

I think this day was probably one of the best: Even though I got to know a very nice group of French guys and we took a canoe together to discover the cliffs and caves in Tam Coc, 9km from Ninh Binh, I couldn’t wait to be alone on my bike again and just drive without any destination. I didn’t want to follow big streets but rather enter in small lanes, where local life took place. Again, people welcomed me with a big smile and a “hello” on every corner.

At some point I saw a big tunnel and although I was on my way home I changed plans and entered. Behind I spotted a big lake and steps to something that looked like a temple. I climbed the steps and discovered a big cave illuminated with golden lights. Inside there was an altar decorated with Buddha statues and jags, all in gold. The temple smelled great thanks to joss sticks someone had lightened. I was really impressed by its beauty. In front of the cave, from the building I had seen downstairs, I had an amazing view all over the lake and the mountains next to it. I was almost the only person, and it felt great.

Hanoi – About Vietnamese culture and communism

After Saigon, I headed up to the country’s capital, Hanoi, by plane. Famous for its Old Town, the city is, just as Saigon, quite busy, full of motorbikes all the time, which scared me a bit sometimes.

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I very much appreciated the fact that I could stay at a local’s place, Dong, who is a journalist, too. We talked about French (the presidential elections were close!) and Vietnamese politics and she explained me to what extend Vietnam still is a communist country. In fact, I had been looking for signs of communism, but it didn’t really feel different to any other country I had been to so far. Everywhere you go people ask you to buy something from them, negotiation is quite common and of course there are different sort of social classes – some people only earn one dollar per hours or even less, some much more. However, according to Dong, you cannot say or write at all what you want to: the media is controlled or owned by the government. Reason enough for her to stop working for them and starting her career as a freelancer.

Getting to know true Vietnamese life

The best part of living in her area was the fact that I was the only tourist everywhere I went. People were often smiling at me, waving and telling me things in Vietnamese or trying to communicate with hands and feet. Some pointed at me to their friends, and children, who often spoke better English than their parents, sometimes walked next to me and told me their few words they could say. I don’t think I have ever said “hello” more often in such a short time. Once two men showed me their camera and I thought they wanted me to take a photo of them, but I soon understood that they wanted a photo with me – I just laughed and accepted. Soon I’ll be probably known as somebody like “Julia, my American friend” within their Facebook friends. 😀

I really started to like Vietnamese people. In the beginning, I was probably more cautious, since I wasn’t too sure if they would take advantage of the fact that I was a foreigner and did not understand their language. And although I am pretty sure they sometimes charged me a bit more than a local, I still feel that they were being caring somehow. When the motorbike driver wasn’t sure if the address I gave him was correct, he called Dong and asked her since he couldn’t communicate with me. Very often a big smile was the only communication possible and that was enough for me to appreciate these people.

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A Vietnamese baby, Bao An, I “found” in the plane from Saigon to Hanoi… sooo cute!
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Street food in Hanoi
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Best fruits ever… I went there every day while staying at Dong’s place, and each time the seller cwelcomed me with a huge smile!
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Typical dinner with Dong. I paid $1… for both of us!