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Amber Paulen

Vietnam, South to North

With little over a week remaining in Southeast Asia, I’m trying to get what I can from this country. The Vietnamese are tricky; some will rip you off, replacing an accustomed smile with the tight-lipped demand, “Pay money now!” They ply for attention with grating shouts, “Hello! Lady!” Eye contact. “Where you from?” But I can’t blame them. Theirs is a country with war lingering on the not-so-long faded past, destruction, ensuing political confusion. That they are tough is written on their countenances.

Ho Chi Minh City was crazy. Hot paced motorbikes whizzing without rules. What is seen on the street must be as near as it gets to Vietnamese life, for they all seem to eat, drink, sleep, live on it. Every door is open, tables and chairs are inches from streaked concrete and the women do group aerobics in the park. In Ho Chi Minh City the honking horns are deafening and the only impossibility is a few minutes of quiet peace.

Nha Trang was embarrassing. If anything has been doubly welcomed about Vietnam when compared to Thailand it is the relative absence of tourism’s blanket. In Nha Trang, Westerners own fancy bars and restaurants pushing out fresh street food to a further walking distance. Not to mention the biggest and priciest of all bars, thrown down as an eye-sore in the center of the busy beach boulevard. To counteract this tragic misjudgment, Kim and I bought our beers to drink on a tarpaulin mat on the sand.

Which brings me to Hoi An, the next town on the well-travelled tourist circuit. In Hoi An illusions prove even more tricky: don’t believe what you see advertised in shop windows. I only know because I did; I purchased a dress to be tailor made, she took my measurements, only to have the dress fit like a stretched-out rice sack. Dare I go on about this dress’s poor quality—uncared for, unthought? Tomorrow there are big plans to pitch it from a moving train window.

For the last few days it’s been Hué. Tomorrow afternoon begins a long, slow train to Hanoi. Though this trip isn’t yet over I feel it winding to a close. Today the heat was so incredibly humid that one step outside was like slipping into a warm and wet, tight-fitting glove. Travelling isn’t what one thinks it will be; it is unpredictable and wily, which is why this evening I’m taking a break.


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