I’m sitting outside Toto Guesthouse in the heat getting distracted by the submarine-esque tuk-tuks that roam the streets here in Ayutthaya whilst writing this post. We’re 2 hours north of Bangkok and we’re heading up to Chiang Mai tomorrow. Thailand you ask? Aren’t you supposed to be in Vietnam? Short answer, yes.
We spent time about 10 days in Vietnam six years ago and whilst we had a fantastic time, we left feeling like we didn’t really connect with the country. We didn’t find the people particularly friendly and we didn’t have an urge to return anytime soon. Since then, we’ve often questioned whether it was our fault- perhaps we just didn’t make enough of an effort to seek out interactions with locals and find authentic experiences. So we thought we’d give Vietnam another go- we had 3 weeks to kill before we needed to be back in Bangkok for our final rabies jab so it was the perfect opportunity to hop on over.
We arrived into Hanoi late and boy was it different to what we remembered it to be- where the Old Quarter used to be dead quiet by 10pm we found pumping music and streets teeming with young locals and tourists drinking and eating on the sidewalk. After a slight hiccup with our Airbnb (watch our Youtube video below to find out what happened) we settled into a room at a nearby hotel and went to sleep, excited to explore the next day.
Over the next 4 days we wandered the streets and ate. We revisited our favourite crème caramel shop and found the desserts to be just as wobbly, silky and delicious as our last visit. We ate beef noodle salad at Bun Bo Nam Bo and fell in love with the fresh flavours all over again. Each morning we would start our day at Café Nang where it took only one visit before the friendly owner would set our coffee order down before we’d even sat our bums down on the stools. The coffee here is sourced locally and the family have been churning out thick, rich, Vietnamese coffee for 3 generations- it’s well worth a visit if you’re staying in the Old Quarter.
But as the days passed that familiar feeling started to settle over us. We felt unwelcome. It seemed to roll off the locals in waves. We felt like everyone was trying to rip us off. Perhaps it was a culmination of small negative experiences, like the time we were on a local bus and the conductor blocked us off from getting off at our stop and then laughed in our faces, or the laundry lady who yelled ‘NO’ in our faces when we went to pick up our clothes, who knows, but we were itching to get out of Hanoi by the end of the 4 days. I hated what the place did to me, I had my guard up, constantly suspicious of everyone’s motives.
Sapa and its people provided welcome relief. Everyone we encountered was genuine, honest and friendly. We had the best time trekking with our guide San May and stayed with the most welcoming and hospitable Red Dao families in the hills. The change in the people was so remarkable it was like we were in a different country.
Returning to Hanoi was a rude awakening. Again, we felt like everyone hated us. It was unpleasant, we were grumpy and we just wanted to get the hell out of there. Coupled with the expensive transport and expensive food (we were spending about $13USD per meal and on our small budget we were feeling it!) it was enough to see us book a flight out the next morning.
So here we are in Thailand again. Do we feel a little defeated? Definitely. But, you know what, it’s just not the place for us. I do admit googling ‘Vietnam rude and unwelcoming’ in an effort to make myself feel better and was met with a barrage of articles and blog posts about the subject, so I’m glad we’re not the only ones out there who feel this way! In saying that, we know loads of people who have absolutely loved their time in Vietnam so if you’re planning a trip, please do not let us put you off- we all experience things differently.
In any case, we gave it a good go and our experience in Sapa made it worth the trip. But will there be a third chance for Vietnam? Probably not anytime soon.
Have you visited Vietnam? We’d love to hear about your experience and your thoughts on the country. Comment below!
Good to know:
Kem Caramen (for the best crème caramel EVER!)
No. 29 Hang Than
7000VND per serve ($0.30USD)
Bun Bo Nam Bo
No. 67 Hang Dieu
No. 4-6 Hang Bac
20,000 VND ($1USD)