I’m out of Vietnam, and suddenly I can hear myself think.
My jury is a little out on Vietnam. This morning I was keen as mustard to keep working my way down the coast to Saigon, until we had the inevitable dodgy cab ride which ended up with an unwanted tour of Hanoi and a bill of over 200,000 dong. This was with the meter switched on – the meter itself was dodgy. We gave the cabbie 100,000 dong, more than double what it was worth, and in a flash, he locked on to Paul’s backpack with an iron grip. The nearby cop looked right at us and immediately walked in the opposite direction. We instead had to resort to crowding, employing the assistance of two burly Americans and therefore intentionally creating a ruckus. We walked away 100,000 dong down, visibly shaken but with our pride intact. But we were a little done with Hanoi by then.
So that experience put a bit of a bad taste in our mouths. Which was a shame – we’d had a dandy time at the Army Museum this morning, posing with tanks, fighter planes and the like. We also paid a visit to Uncle Ho and his surreal museum, wandered around the Temple of Literature, taken in a performance at the Water Puppet Theatre (which was actually quite cool) and poked around the impressive Ethnology Museum. Even better was the food – enough pho and spring rolls to sink a ship, and the best beef noodle salad at a restaurant aimed at teaching former street kids hospitality skills.
But there were little things that got to me. Our guide in Ha Long Bay told us, in so many words, that communism really didn’t work so it was loosened up a little. Fair enough. But they loosened up a lot of the things that worked – now, for instance, education is only free and mandatory for primary school. Secondary school is currently optional, and very expensive. And healthcare – what healthcare? It’s pay per use and if you can only pay a little “the nurse will make it hurt a lot”.
At the same time, they’ve realised that the French weren’t that bad and have taken their desserts and architectural styles – each house is unique, even in the countryside. And their cyclos, the Old Quarter and conical hats are all charming. Even the motorbikes are kooky in their own special way.
So I’m not sure if I’ll be speeding back to Vietnam – I’d love to see the centre and the south one day soon, but I’m content for the moment. I liked Vietnam, a lot, but for now I’m concentrating on Cambodia, and after four short hours, I think I’ve already fallen in love.