When my friend Mario suggested we explore Vietnam, I was intrigued. He proposed we go with a few other friends. The group would consist of 5 people....me, Mario, his boyfriend Ramon and Ramon's 2 friends Leonie and Fiona. None of us have ever been to Vietnam, hence the title of this article.
In one of my previous articles I wrote about getting a second job to finance my trip to Vietnam. I worked at a flower shop for 10 days and made enough money for my plane ticket and spending money.
I have always traveled to South Africa via Europe, but I've never been to Asia. I did some research and found out that we needed a visa for Vietnam. Searching for a Vietnamese consulate in L.A was futile, so Mario found a website in South Africa that could help us. The good thing is that you can get a visa on arrival. It cost $10 to do the online application (per person) and then we had to wait 2 days for an email approval. I printed the approval letter and took it with me. At LAX I had a huge delay, because the person at the counter had to verify that my letter was authentic, or I would not be able to board my flight. The wait was nerve wracking, but I got clearance to board my flight 40 minutes later.
I landed in Tokyo and my layover was 3 and a half hours. Just enough time to get to know the airport a little. Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh city was only a 6 and a half hour flight. When landing in Ho Chi Minh city.....OMG it was so humid!! I landed at 5:30 in the morning and the air conditioning does not get turned on until 8am. I was itching like hell, and now that I'm home (after a lot of research) I think I had a heat rash.
The visa on arrival office at customs took 20 minutes to process my visa. Please be aware that you pay $25 USD for the visa. I killed time by eating and drinking at different restaurants inside the airport. The Vietnamese Dong (their currency) is a bit confusing. Too many zeros added!!! I couldn't sleep because at this point all my luggage was with me. People at the airport were staring at me like they've never seen a black person before. Mario and the rest of the group landed 9 hours after I did and by that time I had changed into a tank top and shorts..I felt sticky and gross!
Reality of the language barrier between us and the Vietnamese people hit us as soon as we tried to get a taxi to the train station. "What the fuck" was a good phrase to use the entire holiday!! We got to the station and tried to book a ticket on the train to Nha Trang... Ramon ended up drawing five stick figures with a square around them on the palm of his hand to try and explain that we needed one cabin for 5 people. Hahaha, yeah it was frustrating, but they finally understood.
The train station was very primitive...VERY! Make shift restaurants and filthy toilets seemed normal, but we wanted to see Vietnam in it's entirety, no tour guides and no Vietnamese friends to help us out. What the hell were WE thinking?
The train showed up around 10pm and it looked like it just traveled out of 1970 to come get us. Nevertheless, it was exciting! The beds and bedding looked clean and cute as we peeked through the windows. When you get on the train the smell of the toilet overwhelms you.. I'd rather poop on the floor thank you very much! I always carry Lysol and Febreze air freshener on my travels, so those were a lifesaver... literally!!
The train ride to Nha Trang took 12 hours. Thank God there was air conditioning and electricity in our cabin. After we found a taxi and arrived at our airbnb we were relieved. It was beautiful!! (I will post some pictures later). We stayed there for only 3 days. Our plan was to go visit Hoi An and Halong Bay, but after that 12 hour train ride we were DONE traveling!! We decided to stay in Nha Trang and find accommodation closer to the tourist areas. One thing to consider is if you're staying in a nicer area like An Vien, you'll have to take a taxi in to town every day which also drove up some of our cost.
The biggest surprise to me was how many Russians there were in Nha Trang. They were everywhere!!! Even the menus are printed in Vietnamese and Russian. Most restaurants had one Vietnamese/English menu per table and we had to take turns ordering.
We basically partied from morning til night. There are so many restaurants and attractions in the center of town and it is very safe after dark. We quickly learned the names of the local beers and food so the entire ordeal of ordering off the menu became less of a hassle. Tequila shots, Strongbow cider, Tiger beer and Bia Saigon Lager were some of our favorites while there. We tried finding food that we knew, like chicken, pork and beef. We ate local for the most part and at one of the establishments, the owner even bought us some beer. We also found an Italian and Spanish restaurant. The Spanish restaurant was my favorite.. Too bad we discovered it on our last night in Vietnam. The atmosphere was amazing!!! There is live entertainment and the food is absolutely divine! The owner, Enrico is very friendly (I think he is Russian) and he has a dog from South Africa.
After being in Vietnam for a few days I can truly say that we all fell in love with this country. Once the locals understand that you're just trying to enjoy their beautiful country, they become more helpful and welcoming.
I definitely need to go back soon.