MESSAGE: Vietnam – South & Central *Video*

Here’s a tasty tidbit for you—40% of Vietnamese people are named Nguyen, after the last Vietnamese dynasty in 1802. Every time a new dynasty came to power, many people changed their name, hoping to capitalize on the association with the royal family. More times than not, the famous surname brought preferential treatment.

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Hands down the best place to hang out in South Vietnam is the outdoor bar Oasis in the beach resort town of Nha Trang. This place was so fun I went two nights in the row. The first night I sampled the coconut shisha, while watching English soccer and avoiding a table full of drunk Danish kids.

The second night was more chill with Tropical Fruit shisha enjoyed in a tree-house cabana looking at the while Christmas tree lights twinkling from between the leaves. I could sense a bad habit forming and I elected to leave Nha Trang. But I took the happy memories with me!

EAT (Tasty Eats) – My favorite would have to be the Banh Mi that we ate as a picnic during mountain bike riding in the central highlands near Dalat. Something about the fresh mountain air and dining al fresco after riding your little legs off. And that crunchy French bread doesn’t hurt either. True heaven!

Vietnamese coffee is also really great (the country is the biggest coffee producer outside of Brazil), and Vietnam is famous for weasel coffee. For this special blend, weasels consume the ripe coffee beans, ingest them, then shit them out.

Farmers then collect the shat out (Is that correct grammar?) beans, clean and process them and produce a much sought after and expensive blend of weasel coffee. I fully intended to try the stuff, even at a whopping $5 a cup, but it never seemed like the right time. Although when is the right time to drink a steaming cup of weasel shit-flavored joe?

SEE (Must-see Sights) – The colors of Hoi An. I think Hoi An may just be the prettiest city in the world. IN THE WORLD. Especially at sunrise with the mist wafting off the Thu Bon River, conical hat-clad women hawking wares from their tiny wooden boats, and the 16th c. architecture forming a surreal backdrop. Truly breathtaking.

Hoi An’s sunrise is only surpassed by the vision of the old town at night. Multi-colored silk lanterns festoon the bridge, the pedestrian walk ways are sparkling with lights like jewels hanging from the trees. And there’s even brightly colored origami-shaped candle holders floating down the dark river. Simply magical.

SHOP (Gotta Have) – What aren’t I buying Vietnam? Seriously I can’t seem to stop snatching up must-have items like “lucky Buddha” bracelets, hair combs made from carved buffalo horn, small $2 painting of tribal women in traditional dress, and the piéce de résistance – harem pants!!!

You know you’ve hit a low point when you buy silk harem pants and then on top of it all, you decide to “go for” the red ones. Really? Harem pants aren’t flattering on anyone and red ones are just pushing the clown factor. Although I have to say, I’ve worn them several times already and I REALLY like them a lot. There goes my sense of fashion.

Of course I had my first Vietnam shopping snafus back in 1992 during my first trip to Saigon when I picked up Rolex watches. So innocent at the time, (remember this is the trip where I got kidnapped) I actually thought they were real and even asked the shopkeeper to take off the back so I could inspect the Rolex stamp. I was so elated at my find, I bought 4. I still have my hot pink Rolex. I consider it a collector’s item.

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Abseiling Marble Mountain. Wow – so much fun! I nearly gave Marble Mountain, a miss, until I got lost and came across a tour company providing day trips repelling down the massive marble face. I convinced them to run the tour the next day and boy did I have fun!

My guides Theo and Than were fabulous and I took an awesome video – unfortunately I accidently erased it – Doh! Ah well — For a full article on this experience and some killer pictures, check out my April 17 article, “Living Dangerously in Vietnam.”

GIVE (Greatest Need) –  Supposedly Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is home to 20% of those living with HIV / AIDS in Vietnam. This number actually seems a bit low to me, given that Saigon is the country largest city. Vietnam also reports only about 160,000 people living with HIV and 35,000 citizens with AIDS. Again, these numbers seem low to me given the population of Vietnam is nearing 90 million and especially given the prostitution that is so obvious in the southern cities.

Officially the government blames the rise in HIV / AIDS in the last 20 years (the first diagnosis in Vietnam was in 1993) on the opening of the economy. Evidently one of the repercussions of Vietnam’s Doi Moi (opening of the market economy) is the introduction of foreigners to Vietnam’s populace and the spreading of HIV / AIDS via injectable drugs and unprotected sex as a consequence.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Mountain bike riding Vietnam’s central highlands outside of Dalat takes the cake here. I visited Dalat because I wanted to see some of the country’s mountain terrain and was richly rewarded with a 35k mountain bike ride over Long Bian Mountain to the tribal village of Lat. Check out the scenery from the video. It was my first time mountain bike riding and certainly one to remember!

Watch the video!

 Top 5 Favorite Country

Vietnam has everything I’m looking for when traveling to a new country:  diversity (beaches, temples, mountains, cities), great food, and friendly people. Not to mention the ability to engage in a few adventure sports. And the shopping! Need I go on? Get here already!

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 19th, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific, Messages by Country.

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