As previously mentioned I have been working my way down south towards Saigon for my last stop in Vietnam. Running away from Hoi An (where I met with Li and Niall btw other helpers from Haiphong) I arrived in Da Nang and was excited to travel around as I only saw it at night from the back of a bike on my journey down to Hoi An.
It’s much more metropolitan, and again it’s becoming more westernised BUT it doesn’t feel like it’s for tourists as much as it is for their own sense of progress. “We have a Baskin Robbins like America” or whatever. Whilst I still don’t like it because it reinforces the idea that we’re moving towards this homogenisation of nations, it’s more acceptable because I reckon that this is more for their own ego and image as a ‘progressive’ country.
With all its lights, bridges, Sun Wheel and wide river, it really reminds me of London at night. The fact it was raining also helped! There’s lots of development going on, taller buildings, shinier buildings, more roads and bridges. Despite this you still get the general feel that this is somewhere people live and work.
After resting up, showering, grabbing some very tasty lunch (Bánh cuốn for those interested), I met up with Li and Niall in search of a particular ice cream. This was to no avail however as we ended up just in a coffeeshop planning our evening. We were headed to Asia Park. Now this really was like Epcot, but at least this time it was intentional. The park is split up into various areas that represent different regions within Asia. Being your standard theme park it hardly instils much of the ‘authentic’ feel, but that’s not what you expect at a theme park. Lots of the rides were out of commission or still being built, but the ones that were available were enjoyable and one even managed to instil mild nausea, the sign of a good ride! We went in the evening to avoid the sweltering sun which was definitely a good move as I get very excited around bright lights and spent a lot of the time running around in circles and dancing to the amazing music that was being blasted out of various dragons mouths.
Not only were the rides fun it’s home to the Sun Wheel. Da Nang’s answer to the London eye and apparently 4th largest in the world (I would figure that’s true as why would you claim to be 4th largest?). From the top of the ride you get some lovely views of Da Nang and all the glitz and glamour of swanky hotels, bridges, and of course the fluorescent sights of the park below.
I know I harped on about Hoi An feeling like a theme park and that’s a bad thing, now I’m saying the theme park in Da Nang is good. It sounds contradictory but I argue that the purpose of each visit is different and that’s where the problem lies. Hoi An is hailed as a cultural town, a historical place of beauty, but I feel like it’s a tourist trap. Asia Park however is a theme park. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t. Its theme just happens to be Asia and sure a little kitch but it’s fun.
Well and truly pooped there was one last thing left to do with the night. See the fire breathing dragon!
Every Saturday and Sunday at 9pm the Dragon Bridge shoots out fireballs and sprays everyone with water, and I just had to see that. Walking across the bridge you can tell this is the place to be (or the only interesting thing that happens in Da Nang). People were littered all over the bridge, temporarily pedestrianised, and along the river bank. The fireballs were impressive, the plumes of black smoke were a little more disconcerting. I managed to snap some good pictures of it all lit up, the fireballs were harder to capture though. That’s Da Nang done (well not really there’s more to see in the vicinity but I haven’t got time) and on to Saigon!
I arrived in Saigon pretty late as my flight, yet again, had a schedule change, was two hours later, and then delayed a further hour (y). However the hostel I’m staying at is very close to the centre, is open 24 hours, and there was a bus that drops me about 100m from it that was running so it’s all gravy.
Saigon has lots of hustle and bustle and has brought a lot of heat with it, simply sitting down to eat I’m breaking out into a sweat. There’s lots to seen in the frantic day to day life of its inhabitants and I plan to visit some of the markets tonight. There are various things on offer in terms of sightseeing and I chose to check out the War Remnants Museum.
That left a bitter taste in my mouth and deterred me from going to some of the other sights that are relating to the hardships (such as the Cu Chi tunnels). The food is much of a likeness to Hanoi, missing a few things but gaining some others. It looks like it could be an interesting city with a little more time but I still feel Hanoi has the edge over Saigon in terms of appeal.
There was lots of drama in my hostel as there seemed to be a lot of miscommunication between night and day staff and people were being put in beds that were already occupied, not getting the rooms they booked. I didn’t have any problems personally but I spent the first 2 hours of my stay, which began at 1am might I add, listening to the ‘horror’ stories others had endured here. They were so ‘scary’ that two other guests chose to leave after one night despite having paid for 5 because they didn’t want any hassle. I think they overreacted as when I was talking to some of the staff they were helpful, pointed out where I might find certain foods I’m looking for, laughed at my attempts to pronounce said foods.
As it was my last few days in Vietnam I decided to treat myself to some peculiarities in the coffee department. Some of you will have heard of Kopi Luwak, for those of you who haven’t it’s basically coffee that has been partially digested by the Palm Civet and the ‘passed out’ of the animal. Whilst I don’t think it was this coffee it was sold on a similar premise as weasel coffee. It was a lot more expensive than their average blend so that being said I chose to have it “den nong”, or black and hot, hopefully preserving the flavour. It was served in the traditional Vietnamese style as a drip filter and once it had finished doing its business I got a whiff and took a sip. It was very smooth, rich and quite nutty. It wasn’t too acidic which would lead me to believe it’s more along the lines of a robusta bean? I know my friends can help correct me there if that’s the case. No sugar, no milk, which is a rarity for me, but it tasted very nice. At 150,000 dong (about £5.40) it’s the single most expensive food or drink purchase I’ve made during my stay in Vietnam. It was worth it just to try it and say I’ve had poop coffee and it actually was pretty tasty. I decided to stay in the coffeeshop as it was nearing 33 degrees outside and I cannot tolerate that level of heat. I moved onto another coffee ‘latte jelly’. It was pretty much a quite weak latte, served with ice, and coffee jelly inside. It was refreshing, a little sweet, and the texture and jelly reminded me of the playfulness of bubble tea.
I feel I should probably give Saigon more of a chance, but due to my short time here unfortunately it won’t get it. My experiences in Hanoi and Haiphong seem to have overshadowed much of the other parts of my journey. Maybe it’s because of the people I was with along with the setting itself but all I can say is that Vietnam as a whole is an interesting place with a rich history, great food and amazing coffee!