I have been in Vietnam for almost 3 weeks, but I am just starting to settle into my day to day life in Da Nang. I started my journey in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, exploring it for a few days before flying south to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the former capital of South Vietnam prior to the reunification of the North and South in 1976. The difference between the two cities was incredibly striking to me. From the layout of the city and its streets, to the people that inhabited them.
While I enjoyed both cities it was very clear that Saigon was more welcoming to tourists, from the service I received in restaurants and taxis, to the interactions I had with people in the streets. Saigon appears to have more money being put into it as it is the commercial and financial hub of Vietnam. It is vibrant, very modern and felt like a thriving city full of life and exciting things to come.
Hanoi was an incredible city to experience as it felt older and somehow more “authentically” Vietnamese. I think Hanoi is exactly what I pictured when hearing everyone’s stories before coming to Vietnam. The streets were absolutely chaotic with motorbikes everywhere, including driving down the wrong way of traffic and on sidewalks. I loved crossing the streets, having to walk out into oncoming traffic and watch the vehicles effortlessly move around me. The food was also a fantastic experience. Everywhere I went I would walk in, point at what I wanted, and food was delivered to me within a minute or two. It was incredible that no verbal communication was required, and that they did that with every customer that came in. I never felt unwelcome anywhere I went, but I definitely felt out of place and sometimes a burden to the people that I interacted with.
While the country is united again there are definite distinctions between the North and South which I mainly experienced through hospitality in the two cities. My tour guides in the South also seemed to be more willing to discuss the war and explain how the war effected and continues to influence daily living in Vietnam. However, that might have been because of the tour guides’ knowledge and not an actual reflection of the views on the war of the North and South. I hope to be able to return to both cities to explore them further and learn more about the people and the culture! Such a great way to start my Vietnam adventure.