Faces of Vietnam


Vietnam, either you like it or you hate it. This sums up what most travel blogs say about the country. As a traveler, I have no pre-conceived notion about the country or city I will be visiting. I keep an open mind and a curious attitude.

I had the opportunity to stay in Vietnam for 21 days. If I can describe the Vietnamese, I say they are hard working people with strong family ties.

The county is multifaceted. In every place I visited, each have their own characteristics. In Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, locals are low-key and very friendly. Smile at them and they’ll certainly smile back at you, and those smiles are genuine. I had a memorable experience exploring the city in a motorbike when a policeman stopped me. I thought I will end up in jail for taking a picture of a government building (this is a Socialist country) and driving without a license. Since I cannot understand a word he was saying, all I can do was laugh! When he realized that I was a tourist, he let me go, yahooooo!

Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh is a popular tourist destination with its clear emerald water and schist islands that comes in all shapes and sizes. Although common in many countries, alternate pricing for foreigners is visible and in your face here. The same cruise ride (2D/1N) that a tourist pays US$130 to 230 for (depends on the color of your skin), finds your Vietnamese citizen neighbor paying US$80. But the worst is the statement from Tourism Department, overcharging foreign tourists is not necessarily a kind of fraud, but part of the “culture”.

However, in Ninh Bihn on the northeast is your typical rural town with vast green paddy field and expanding mountains, I was greeted with warmth and kindness. I was offered green fruits that look like camachile. I don’t know what it is but I ate it and it tasted good. I ate boiled corn with a family cooking along the street with the rooster by my side eating my crumbs. I was invited by a lovely old couple to see their place and to try birds’ nest juice. All throughout my stay in Ninh Bihn, my way of communication is by sign language and laughter. Laughter is indeed the universal language of friendship.

I went further north to Sa Pa, located in Lao Cai province, 350 km from Hanoi, close to the border with China. It is a land of sloping rice terraces. The scenery of Sa Pa reflects the relationship between the minority people and nature. I expected that my sign language ability will be used to full advantage here. I was wrong. Terribly wrong. The minorities speak fluent English, French and German.

My days in Sa Pa involved walking and trekking into steep slippery slopes and crossing rivers. It was exhausting and I do not want to be the first Filipino to fall down the cliffs of Sa Pa! Every now and then, ladies young and old on their way to town to sell their goods would hold my hand tight and help me balance my steps and my camera bag. I had a wonderful time at Sa Pa, with its people and scenery.

Down south of the country is Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), the business district of the country; people are more trendy, noisy and snob. I realized there’s no space for anyone or anything in this unholy place of traffic misery. I witnessed a motorcycle hooligan snatched the bag of a girl who is a couple of steps ahead of me. Every sidewalk is packed to the brim with vendors and households doubling their street-level floor as a business. This means that pedestrians are forced to walk in the street. Crossing the streets is like risking your life. The city is crazy busy.

At the end of my journey, I praised God for giving me the opportunity to experience His wonders up close and personal. And as a guest to this country, I learned that respecting and taking part in the life around me is an important component to getting the most out of my experience in traveling.