We arrived in Vietnam with the perception it would be a very communist, touristy and scooterized country, and that its people would be cold, greedy and not very welcoming. But 30 days in Vietnam were enough to change our minds. We felt in love with the people, the food, the scenery, the outdoorsy way of living… and even with the iconic Vietnamese hats, but not with the traffic!
Vietnam’s recent history is marked by the 100 years of French colonialism, the first Indochina War (which led the country into separation) and the cruelty of Vietnam’s war (which translated into the country’s reunification). The country’s economy, which mainly relied on agriculture, got very badly damaged, specially after the US bombings. In the aftermath of the wars the country suffered and was unable to move forward due to strong communist policies. But the introduction of Doi Moi in the late 80s was probably what saved its economy and what put the country on the road to recovery. We feel that in a short time, and unlike Lao and Cambodia, the country has been able to recuperate from the violent wars and it is now looking ahead into a bright future.
After leaving behind the Mekong river, we finally arrived to the bustling Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam’s largest and fastest growing city. As we had been told, the first thing that struck us was the traffic and the millions of motorbikes. Crossing the street is an adventure by itself, and an adrenaline shot! Waiting for the motorbikes to stop at a pedestrian cross or at the traffic lights is a lost cause, one can grow old… Our tactic: Breathe in deeply, start walking slowly but with determination towards the other side and hope for the best! We are still in one piece so I guess we didn’t do that bad.
Leaving aside the crazy traffic, the wide boulevards and the many parks make wandering around the city very enjoyable. The parks are full of locals exercising: walking, running, playing badminton, aerobic… who says that gyms need to be indoors! It specially caught our attention to see many people playing with something they call in Vietnamese “cau”, something similar to the badminton feather shuttlecock. Locals are seriously addicted! They gather in pairs or in groups and pass the cau from one to another by kicking it with their foot as if it was a football. We couldn’t resist buying one of them, and after playing with it we understood why they are so addicted. Isma got the hang of it very quickly but I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit more practice…
My backpack arrived! It was definitely a relieve to see it back at the hotel. A bit more relaxed I was now able to start getting ready to face the busy streets of Delhi.
We decided to take our first day in Delhi quietly, we just wanted to walk around a little bit, to have something to eat and do a bit of sightseeing. My first impression after just 10 minutest was that Delhi is a complete chaos, the unmanageable traffic, the large amount of people in the streets, the extreme poverty, the cheeky tuk tuk and rikshaws drivers offering their services every two steps, the constant horns of the cars and motorbikes, the heat, the intense smell of the streets, the innumerable scammers trying to get your money,…
We visited Bazar Road (busy hotel and market district), Connaugh Place (center of New Delhi) and the India Gate. We even decided to adventure ourselves into what had been described to us like an “unforgettable” experience: the Metro. While getting in was easy and almost peaceful… getting out was at least a challenge As soon as we arrived to our stop, and we tried to get out people kicked us out and I almost lost a shoe! We finished our first day with a rikshaw ride and enjoying a lovely dinner at the rooftop restaurant of Vivek Hotel with a Kingfisher (thanks Ibai for the recommendation!).
On our day 2 in Delhi we dared to take a tuk tuk to go to Old Delhi, where we visited the Red Fort (famous sandstone fort) and Jama Masjid (biggest mosque in India) and Chandni Chowk (busy bazaar in Old Delhi).
Overall I have to say that visiting Delhi has been a fantastic experience. It has definitely been eye opening and we are looking forward to coming back to India in about a month to continue exploring this incredible country and its people! Next time in Delhi we are hoping to see Rajesh (Isma’s friend) and his family.