Three Weeks in Vietnam
Updated: May 20, 2019
Welcome new subscribers! The website has now been live for three weeks and this is its maiden blog post. Herein I'll give a brief update as to how we've been spending time while we wait for our 4wd to ship from New Zealand to the Russian Far East, which is where the real adventure you've signed on to follow will soon be getting underway!
The ship carrying the 5GoOverland 4wd set sail from New Zealand about the 25th of April, being around the same time as the five of us boarded a plane bound for Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam. Over the past three weeks, whilst our 4wd has been on the water, we've been making our way up Vietnam using trains, planes, buses... and occasionally exploring on a pair of motor scooters! This is a bit of a change from our usual mode of travel, but it's been very interesting all the same. At times we've missed the comfort and convenience of travelling autonomously in our 4wd - probably most of all when we took the train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An; a near 18 hour train ride! But there's been plenty to keep us interested in sweltering hot Vietnam and so much to learn about this fascinating country.
So where is the 5GoOverland 4wd now? I'm not 100% certain! According to tracking details the container was unloaded from the first ship in Pusan, South Korea, on the 10th of May. It was due to be loaded on board a ship that set sail for Vladivostok, Russia, this morning. The online tracking portal confirms that the ship departed South Korea for Vladivostok on schedule, but there's no information to confirm whether my container made it on board! This information is simply missing from the portal, which is not confidence inspiring. Everything that happens on this trip is all part of the adventure, even if that includes my container/4wd getting misplaced somewhere. I have to view it in this light because certain things are simply outside my control, regardless how much planning and preparation I have put into this expedition. The most likely worst case scenario, assuming my container didn't get loaded, is we'll have a week or so delay awaiting another ship between South Korea and Russia.
And where are we now? I'll let the photos below tell most of the story. Having explored south and mid Vietnam we're now in the north of the country. We've enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, even if it does get somewhat overbearing at times; especially as the heat can be exhausting in itself. We then spent five days on Cat Ba Island, taking things at a more leisurely pace. For the remainder of our time in Vietnam we're located in a lush green area outside Ninh Binh, a couple of hours south of Hanoi. The kids have had enough of sightseeing in the heat, so for the remaining few days we've settled into a nice place with a swimming pool. The kids can catch up on school work and I can get up to date too. There's still much to see around this area, which we've been accessing independently on motor scooters.
But I recognise that most of you didn't subscribe to read too much on this part of our trip... This part of the trip is the only bit that will be similar to a 'family holiday'. We're just utilising the time whilst our 4wd is in shipping - the real adventure that most of you signed on to follow gets underway soon, when the family reunites with our 4wd in the Russian Far East.
I will keep our impressions of Vietnam brief:
Once you get used to the hustle and bustle of the 'old quarter' in the big densely populated Vietnamese cities you can start to really enjoy the vibe and pace. Hanoi was green and quite beautiful, despite being so population dense and 'dirty'. Crossing the street can seem daunting with a thousand scooters all coming at you - and they won't stop for you. But you just cross the street regardless, one step at a time, and those scooters will glide around you - maybe just inches away, but we haven't been hit yet. It's not altogether different from what I'm accustomed to in Italy, other than the sheer number of scooters here - like a swarm of mosquitoes!
I had no idea Vietnam was so big on coffee and cafes. Almost every 5th store in cities like Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi is a 24/7 cafe! Some are several stories tall. Most are local chains or independents, but there are a few Starbucks around also. A coffee from Starbucks costs 3 or 4 times as much as a similar coffee from a Vietnamese chain - as much as a restaurant meal in fact. Vietnamese coffee beans are bitter, hence coffee here is often served with sweetened condensed milk - this is a winning combination! And because the climate is so hot they often drink their coffee iced. Iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk on a 35 degree day is heavenly!
Ultimately, Vietnam is a contrast between its stunning green beauty and its terrible pollution. Even the locals don't drink the water in most places, which although treated is often found to be toxic when tested. We haven't gotten sick, but we've been super cautious about drinking only bottled/filtered water and ensuring ice in drinks is suitably sourced. We've carefully balanced our desire to explore the local cuisine, including street/market food, with an assessment of hygiene.
Whilst riding on our rented scooters yesterday (the girls with me and Marcel with Sylwia) we had to contend with a car travelling the wrong way - heading towards us on a dual carriage road. He was 'driving carefully' by Vietnamese standards. He wanted to get to the petrol station that was on our side of the dual carriage road, and this required him to go a few hundred metres on the wrong side of the road. Careful driving by Vietnamese standards is quite different from Western standards. Must of us might think that driving on the wrong side of a dual carriage road was anything but careful driving... but these 'careful' drivers are not rare here.
My daughters are the centre of attraction everywhere we go it seems! Vietnamese women and men alike are drawn to their fair skin and blonde hair. Although a bit overbearing at times the attention has always appeared well intentioned, genuine and harmless - else we wouldn't permit it. The kids are never out of sight. One of the photos below shows the girls amidst a crowd of Vietnamese women with their cameras ready.
Hopefully the next blog post will be to confirm that the 5GoOverland 4wd is successfully on the road in Russia, on schedule, ready to make its way to Mongolia! I'll provide more detail concerning the first part of the intended route then. In the meantime photos from our three weeks in Vietnam follow.