FINALLY, I've had a chance to knock this post together. It's been a long time coming! Our Vietnam trip was six weeks ago, and I'm still only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to going through pictures, so I'm going to do these posts one city at a time!
Ho Chi Minh was a culture shock like nothing I'd seen before. We flew in at about 1am, so the only thing that we saw on the first night was people, scooters and cartoon heat-lines coming off ourselves and everything around us. Our walk the next morning was next-level foreign. Everything in Vietnam is done on the street. Cooking, selling product, parking scooters, walking dogs, throwing chickens feet, the lot.
It makes a lot of sense, I guess; it's accessible to tourists, especially in the backpackers part of the city - you miss nothing, and you have enough food and sunglasses options to last you the capacity of your trip. We thought that people in Ho Chi Minh were fairly pushy when it came to trying to make sales, but it was nothing compared to the north of the country.
We didn't notice as much of a French influence in the infrastructure of the city (that came later), but we have read previously that it was a French-colonised country, and the influence was to be expected, in both the architecture and food.
We started the trip with food that was somewhat familiar to us; Pho, Bahn Mi, that sort of thing. Australia has (Westernized) versions of a handful of Vietnamese dishes, and we had eaten a lot of it previously. But nothing in Australia can be compared to authentic Vietnamese food, let me tell you now. Zilch.
The food got us right in the stomach feelings, and we didn't stop eating for two weeks.
On top of all that, the food is crazy cheap. 20,000VND equals 1 Australian dollar, and more often than not a packed bowl of Pho wouldn't break 40,000VND.
Get in my belly.
We didn't realise at the time - as Ho Chi Minh was our first stop - but it was the dirtiest of all the places we saw.
I didn't really mind - I became part of the furniture instantly, but some people, aka my high-society significant other, preferred the north parts of the country.
There was a lot of odd smells all mixed together to make one weird Vietnamese super-smell. It was a mix of food, dirt, fuel, sweat and heat, and I loved it.
It's a good insight into a developing country, but still a safe and friendly environment. Generally speaking, locals are happy to speak to you (provided you're happy to be coaxed into buying things, you've got to keep in mind that their sales are their life - they make very little money selling on the street - depending, of course, on their product).
Children were dubious of us, and we meet a few young children of some of our friends who were very shy, and took a while to warm to us.
Otherwise, local people are beautiful. So many of them are content, despite sitting on the street for hours at a time washing dishes or trying to shine our shoes. Most often, they're happy exactly where they are, and it was amazing to see.