Scarlett’s Letters – (Volume 3)

by Guest Writer, Scarlett Bailes

“Letters from Vietnam”
(Volume 3)

Scarlett Bailes

Traveling Vietnam has been a rewarding experience. The people here are a little less friendly than have been in my other travels but I have come upon a few small towns greeted by smiling faces and all the warmth that would be expected of a tiny village.

I began my journey through Vietnam in Hanoi, a bustling city far north, full of life, vivid colors, the roar of motorbikes and the humming of neon signs. The streets are heavy with food stalls and lively markets selling everything from fabric to dog parts.

I did some necessary shopping here and began eating my way through town…starting with goat udders, as mentioned in my last letter, then moved on to pigeon, duck embryo, snake wine and chicken feet, once satisfying the epicurious side of me I turned to more traditional dishes…mainly…Pho bo, this has become my favorite food, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner, just a simple noodle dish garnished with basil, sprouts, lime, chili and thinly sliced beef. Anyways…I am eating normal again.

After pounding the streets of Hanoi I was in dire need of a more tranquil environment so I booked a junk boat to take me through Halong Bay. Immediately I could see why this place has been sacred to so many generations. Limestone formations jet out of the emerald green waters in every direction making for one of the most beautiful and serene surroundings I have ever witnessed. All I could hear was the sails in the wind and the occasional splash of water against the side of the junk cruiser. The only thing that could have made this place any nicer would have been perhaps a bit of warm weather and less wind. I spent my last day in Halong Bay kayaking and visiting some incredible caves.

After Halong Bay I was dropped back in Hanoi and booked a bus that would take me south. My first stop was Hue, this town was just brimming with history so I tried to get a bit of it in and visit some of the larger landmarks. I visited The Citadel, The Imperial Closure and The Forbidden Purple City, where I took part in a few forbidden activities.

First I snuck over an enclosure and around a gate to visit this beautiful bull elephant and then I snuck in the palace and tried on all the imperial clothing, it was stunning, and I was even able to get a few pictures before I got caught!

I had another day in Hue so I took a city bus to the DMZ where I was able to see some incredible tunnels that were built during the war as well as the Rock Pile and a few old military bases and camps. Some of the mountain tops here are barren, although once covered in dense vegetation, from the use of Napalm and Agent Orange, standing there now, listening to the birds and wind it’s hard to imagine that only a few short decades ago so many lives were lost here.

That evening I made my way to a town called Hoi An and wished I hadn’t. This town is serious trouble for any budget traveler, especially one who likes clothes. For a mile on both sides you are surrounded by expert tailors, you might be able to pass the first few without looking, but eventually you will concede. I bought dresses, shirts and even a beautiful pair of custom leather boots.

Once I got my shopping fix I was able to actually enjoy this quaint little city. Cobblestone streets wind through the town and the silk lanterns hung everywhere reflected a warm light against the roads then dampened by the steady afternoon drizzle. The main street leads to a nice river adorned with a beautiful covered bridge, a nice old man that looked like Mr. Miagi gave me a row boat ride for an hour for about 20 cent. This to me was the most charming town in Vietnam.

My next stop was Nha Trang, a beach town at last! I spent the first couple of hours lying lazily on the beach trying to get back the tan I had lost and then treated myself to a mineral mud bath, followed by a hot mineral soak and finally a hot mineral waterfall all leaving me super soft. The next morning I booked a trip to the nearby islands and the freak shows they offered. First was a show where the dressed some goats as newlyweds and had them pulled around by Dalmatians with a monkey for the driver. Then I got to ride an ostrich, which was a load of fun. Afterwards I went to Monkey Island where a bear in a tutu jumped rope and after all the excitement I saw the monkeys of the island. They were everywhere, in the trees, on the signs, to your left and right on the roads, all a little reminiscent of “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock, I was happy to leave this place.

I boarded my bus once again to head further south, My next stop was Mui Ne, I only had a day here so I used it up sledding down the giant red sand dunes, which in the rain, looked just like a giant pile of Georgia red clay. It was a lot of fun outside of the children who were in fact eager salesman and pick pockets. I paid them what I felt was fair for the use of their sleds and then headed back to the bus for a long trip to Saigon.

Saigon, not unlike Hanoi, was a busy city scene. The streets were packed and after all the peace I found in the other towns this was a little unsettling, still, it was just a jumping off point to get to the mighty Mekong Delta so I knew I wouldn’t have to endure too much of it. Just as in Hanoi, the street vendors constantly harass you…sunglasses? massage? pedicure? NO !NO !NO!

Once off the main streets, that are trimmed with Prada and Gucci shops, and down the alley ways you can still find old Saigon alive and well; Women tending to their elders, children playing, locals cooking food for their families and the constant hum of sewing machines, This was more of what I had envisioned.

Only a few hours up the road was the Mekong and it was exactly as I had hoped, floating markets were everywhere and the villages were all busy making whatever product they specialized in. I stopped in at one who made rice paper, rice wine , coconut candy and Honey…all delicious I would like to add. After sampling the local goods I went further up the river for lunch, it was almost an eerie kind of silence on the water, I half expected Colonel Kurtz to jump out at any minute , but it stayed peaceful and so did I. After my trip to the Mekong I went back to Hanoi and back to my terrible rat infested hostile where loud Europeans blasted techno till 5 am, the next day however I was treated by my boyfriend, on the other side of the world ,to a super posh night at a very exclusive hotel…I was able to bathe with warm water and actually really sleep for the first time in a month…thank you again baby!

The following morning I spent a few hours by the pool and then booked another leg of my trip to Rach Gia by bus and continuing by boat to Phu Quoc. This island is hands down the best spot in all of Vietnam. It’s a small, quiet island, surrounded by crystal blue water and white sandy beaches. It’s incredibly quiet and all the lodging in my area consist of small thatched bungalows, with hammocks outside and best of all they are right on the water. I’m a little sad I did not find this oasis earlier on in my trip but I suppose I would not appreciate it as much otherwise. So here I sit, with nothing but the sound of crickets and the ocean at my door, planning my next adventure and writing home. I can’t wait to see all of you again. I’ll write you from the Philippines.


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One Response to “Scarlett’s Letters – (Volume 3)”
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