As fast as we could blink an eye we were already in our last city of Vietnam. A 30-day visa in Vietnam seemed to be plenty of time when we started planning this trip, but in retrospect, we probably could have spent 90 days. Truthfully, we didn’t really do much research into what we would do past a couple of must see’s in Vietnam. We wanted to tackle it one day at a time instead of mapping everything out. In taking this approach it allowed incredible flexibility, and an often-paralyzing amount of choices. Should we go to see the caves in Phong Nha, or take a hellish bus ride north so we can get to Sa Pa before we leave? Should we take it easy today or do an excursion? Should we stay 3 nights here or is that too long? In the end our South to North path was uniquely our own, yet similar to what other travelers had done, it was…same same, but different. Vietnam was a wild ride that gave us some of the best memories of our lives. From its crazy urban hubs to its remote natural beauty, we left Vietnam with the sense we needed to immediately come back. If Vietnam wasn’t or isn’t on your list, add it.
Our time in Hanoi was unfortunately cut short as aforementioned, we were out of time. In the short 2 days we had, we were able to see some of the highlights of the Northern hub of urban activity. Our first stop was the infamous Beer Street. As we turned up Beer Street, we just wanted to take a lay of the land, but immediately a host of young men were on us. Slapping menus, taking us by the arm, and telling us to take a seat, each one promising beer and food. Having surveyed the different spots as we reached the end of the street, we turned around and walked back into the fray. After some haggling, we found the spot with the cheapest beer and took a seat. The best people watching we had was on Beer Street. As the day went on, and the beer bottles piled up on our table, more people filled in the seats around us. Patrons began to balloon out further into the street, to the point where motorcycles could no longer fit through the road (or should I say they shouldn’t have but c’mon, its Vietnam, they still did).
Once back at our French style apartment, we decided it was time to crack our Heine’s. Pardon? Sorry, needs a little back story. One of the fun things we did in Saigon was go to the Heineken beer “factory” at the top of the Saigon Skydeck. At the end of the tour we received two bottles of Heineken that had our names on them, literally. After lugging them all the way from the South to North we decided our last night in Vietnam we should finally drink them. They tasted like sweet Vietnamese nostalgia and a Heineken.
The next day we were taking off on the night bus out of Vietnam into Laos. We didn’t really have much of a plan aside from seeing another famous landmark in Hanoi where a train literally goes through the middle of the street. Setting a loose walking route, we started with Vegan Bahn Mi’s which were out of this world! After, we started towards the Hanoi Hilton museum, the prison that held American POW in the Vietnam war. For a little over a dollar we learned about the prison complex that had been around since the French occupation of Vietnam. The French at the time were eager to squash any Vietnamese resistance and planted their prison in the center of Hanoi, displacing an entire village of local people. Treatment of prisoners was inhumane with starvation and disease leading to the death of roughly 10% of the prisoners who were held there. The gruesome instrument of death, a guillotine, still can be viewed in the prison. A smaller section of the museum talked of the American POW’s who were held during the Vietnam war, including the late John McCain.
After the heavy content of the Hanoi Hilton, we started towards train street. As we walked Mandy did a double take as she saw the magic words we had been looking for since we arrived in Hanoi, Bia Hoi. We had been looking all around the previous day when we had gone to Beer Street but struck out. Fresh beer is true to its name, brewed fresh every single day. It has no preservatives and roughly 3% alcohol, and well, the price is right at roughly .20 a glass. We learned the hard way in Hoi An that it’s better to drink Bia Hoi earlier the morning instead of the evening as the no preservative attribute can lead to some sketchy vinegar like brew. Yuck. Drink early and you are rewarded with a nice lager that is a bargain.
Train Street was simply awesome. We arrived about 30 minutes before the train went through the street and there were several local folks who had pop up stops offering beers and a seat while you waited for the train to come through. Flower stands and stools lined the center of the tracks. As the train starts to approach, all the business owners clear off the tracks and point you to the comfort of where you can press yourself up against the wall as the train flies by some 3-5 feet away. Although they didn’t speak English, the folks on train street that gave us a spot to sit and beer to drink were incredibly nice. After departing we headed to our bus station and boarded for what we thought would be a 25-hour bus ride.
So long Vietnam, see ya soon.