Heres a little story about my recent trip to Vietnam with my partner. My first time in Asia really opened me up to some great new photography and I really loved the experience of south east asia.
Hoi An was our first stop and staying at Palm Garden resort on the beach was really something. We had the opportunity to go on a private bike tour to a fishing village and take a ride in a basket boat with a grandmother of the village with no english. It was quite funny and she was a skilled driver. We then rode to a vegetable garden and got to ‘play tourist’ with the gardeners and dug up a new planting bed, laid some fresh seaweed in the bottom as fertiliser and planted the new small plants. Lunch was served over at the house, we helped with he cooking a little until they took over and served some beautiful fresh salads and stirfrys. Plus the pineapple in Vietnam is the absolute best i have ever had. The town was bustling with life and the markets were like nothing I've seen before. The fresh meat and vegetables, cooking on the street, kids around the markets playing and helping to sell the family goods.
Next up was Sapa, we had an amazing guide to take us through the hills to the village of Tavan for the night at a homestay. The animals (ducks, chickens, pigs, buffalo, dogs) roam free around the rice fields and know where their homes are to go back at night, and the children and women walk the hills to sell goods in town or to travel with tourists to help them on the walk through the slippery tracks. We were warned about these women before getting to Sapa, that they would try yo help you and then follow you the whole way, even if you had a guide then want to be paid and the end. Our guide told us sometimes that carrying their children on their backs, selling handigoods (bags, bracelets and shawls) and helping tourists on their walks is the only way they can get extra money to help their families. We weren't encouraged to support this trade but were directed to a traditional handigoods store where the ladies still make all their clothes and goods out of hemp. The store really was spectacular.
Our homestay was a basic two story house with bare concrete floor down the bottom and wooden floors up top, small foam mattresses covered the floors separated by mosquito nets. we honestly had the most amazing dinner at the homestay with a family who didn't speak english at all. Homestay in combination with farming their land is a very common business now for villagers in the Sapa valley, all homes and bars have wifi and we had hot water for showers. Although the village appears fairly primitive and basic and their waste management systems aren't the most sophisticated we were surprised by what was available to us. We were severed dishes of buffalo, chicken, post, tofu, bamboo shoot, lettuce salad, rice (famed on their land) and it was truly delicious. We were blown away by the flavour.
After our wonderful hike through Sapa we took the overnight train back to Ha Noi and headed straight out to Halong Bay. Without going on about it too much it was a surreal place to visit. Like a pretend place that doesn't really exist. We did some kayaking, swimming, bamboo boat tour of the fishing village. Now the fishing village is pretty much still there for tourists to visit and some of the men go out there to fish still but the majority of families have been moved to the mainland for healthcare and schooling reasons. We ate beautiful food out there and saw a magical sunset, Ash nearly dumped me out of the kayak because i was whinging but we got there.
We stayed another couple of days in Ha Noi and did some last minute sightseeing and learning some more history about Vietnam. I feel like its a great holiday destination with cheaper prices and extraordinary sights, but its also an interesting insight into communism and life after war. Its a culture shock, history lesson and provides a profound sense of gratefulness for what we have in Australia and how people with much less are still so happy.