first impression of Vietnam

Posted from Can Tho, Can Tho, Vietnam.

During the drive into Can Tho, Vietnam, not even 24 hours ago, I saw eight Catholic churches and nine English words, two of them being coffee. People stared into the bus – packed with foreigners – with wide eyes and baffled expressions, sometimes stopping their motor scooters. Vietnam is not littered with tourists, at least not in the south. Tourists are a curiosity, but I also think at times, and this is mostly due to the looks I catch and knowledge of the history Westerners have inflicted onto Vietnam, we are not really welcome. I say this, but I have had plenty of friendly smiles. Children have said hello to me, possibly practising their English, but they also don’t know about the past. The random person has asked me where I am from and related some story in broken English of a nephew or aunt who lives in Vancouver or Edmonton. But Vietnam is not like Cambodia. Children are not taught English en masse to apease the tourists. Few customer service people speak English and those that do speak very little – just enough to book you a bus or a tour.

People crowd the city streets in search of deals and items for celebratinos.

People crowd the city streets in search of deals and items for celebratinos.

When I got to my hotel, Thanh Thuy, (btw, they hold on to your passports here) right by the river and markets, I walked around for sometime taking in the hectic streets filled with people seeking new things and beautiful adornments for their Tet celebrations. The Vietnam new year is on Feb. 10th and celebrations will last until the 13th. It marks the end of the lunar year and the beginning of the new one. Children get two weeks off from school and basically the whole country shuts down. In the past, so I’ve read, it was difficult to find food if you did not think ahead. That is not really the case anymore, but I’ll figure that out come the 10th. I’ve also read it’s very difficult to travel during this time as everyone has already booked everything up to go home for the holiday. That too will have to be examined.

People often buy yellow apricot trees for Tet in Can Tho to brighten up their home.

People often buy yellow apricot trees for Tet in Can Tho to brighten up their home.

During my walk a lady came up to me and asked me if I was staying at Thanh Thuy. I was leery, but she asked me to come back to the hotel to get me to book a floating market tour. She had been searching the streets for me, only going off what I was wearing. The price was crazy – $40. I know the tour can be done for $16, and in some cases as little as $6, but she sold me on a few things – two floating markets, seeing rice fields, going to a rice noodle factory, going to a local village and spending hours in a boat. I was too tired to haggle having spent nine hours travelling so I gave in and spent the money.

She told me of a nice restaurant down the way to go eat, but warned me to watch my phone and wallet and bag – people steal. So paranoid again off I went, clutching my bag. I got some noodles with vegetables and a lemon juice (no sugar) and headed back to my room to sleep. I had to be up at 5 a.m. for the tour.

The next day, after the tour, I walked through the market and browsed. I had read to not fondle anything you don’t intend to buy and that during Tet it is considered bad luck to not buy something or to back out of a deal. I wandered into a stall and wound up buying a $5 scarf. It is really nice, and I’m heading north where it can get to 15C so I figured why not. But the girl spoke very good English. And I’ve been finding that some people here speak some English, but I don’t think they are always willing to broadcast that, unless they like you, or want your money.

A man trims and prepare an ornamental bonsai tree.

A man trims and prepare an ornamental bonsai tree.

 

I went to find some food again, but this time I wanted to try more street food. I had a pork dumpling on the bus into Can Tho that had me wanting more. It had a boiled egg in the middle of it. I found some amazing food carts, but the locals serving it made mine very different to the other ones they were making. Perhaps they weren’t sure I would like the flavour. When I came back an hour later for another – they smiled and made me one loaded with toppings. Best way to describe it is a rice taco. then I found another pork dumpling – a little different to the previous one, but still tasty.

On my way back I went to buy some beer at a store. The lady wanted to charge me 15,000 VND each. They’re 10,000 at the hotel and earlier I had bought some for 9,000. So after she gave me my change and I realized the price I told her no and gave her back the beer. They were not impressed and I think I just ruined their whole year. Tet is supposed to start off positive. Though the year is only ending, so maybe they can see it in their good fortune that it did not start out that way. Her husband said some things to me in Vietnamese whilst shaking his head and sort of sneering at me. I do not believe I am welcome there anymore. I may have been cursed.

So tomorrow I am off to Ho Chi Minh – better known as Saigon. My bus ticket is 110,000 VND (about $5) to go 3.5 hrs north. I get picked up at my hotel and dropped off who knows where. I have pre-booked a hostel – something I think I will do until Tet is over, and I’m stoked to see this massive city.

I’m liking Vietnam, and like I wrote, it’s only been about 24 hours. There’s a definite feeling of being an outsider here, and I’ve never felt that in my life.

 

 

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