Just before leaving The Mighty Worthing I saw the superstar that is Rick Stein do a classic programme where he watched loads of local people make local dishes then he tried to copy them and they all said he’d done an awful job and it wasn’t very nice. It looked good to me though Rick, so with that in mind we headed to Vietnam for some good times.
We visited Chau Doc, Can Tho, Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City), Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi, but were they as good as Worthing? There’s only one way to find out: it’s Worthing versus Vietnam!
1. Is the weather better than Brighton?
Mostly yes it was, but then as we got towards the North it got a lot cooler. Not cold – I never stopped sweating – but cooler than the day we went to My Son ruins (Hoi An) and it was literally the hottest place I have ever been (and I fell asleep in an airing cupboard once). I was sweating all over my body – not just in the usual places like pits, bum and top lip but elbows, feet and fingernails.
It was immense, but I like that. If the wife was writing this blog she’d mark Vietnam down for being too sweat-inducing, but I reckon it’s healthy.
Sweat-wise I was at my least attractive in Vietnam (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case I recommend Vietnam as the place to head) but it didn’t rain a lot, and if it rained it would be at 4 o’clock so you just had to make sure you were in the pub by 3.30. No probs! 8 points
2. Proximity and quality of the seaside (a pier must be present for full points here)
Our route took us up the Vietnamese coast so we saw a decent amount of seaside. It was all a bit meh though. Vietnam is one of those places where you encounter a lot of hassle, and I really mean a lot. Walking down the street you are regularly confronted with a lady flogging doughnuts or a dude wanting you to get on his motorbike or someone selling novelty lighters etc etc.
If you stand still to look at a map you are a big fresh lump of poo and they are hungry flies swarming all over you. In Hanoi we bumped into some people we’d met in a previous city and stopped to say hello. Before we’d finished shaking hands some bloke was on the floor trying to glue our friends’ shoes as ‘they need fix’. You got to watch out.
As you can imagine, if you’re sat on the beach you’re a prime target and unlike the street you can’t just walk off because you’re quite happy there and all your stuff’s out. This attracts a whole new breed of flogger who give it all the chat and try to sell you tours and be matey and end up driving you both out of your mind and off the beach. The only way to escape is to go to a bar with a private beach – there’s a hawker exclusion zone so they can only shout at you from afar. This is a more expensive, but thoroughly rewarding, way to spend your time. More on one of these later.
The hawker issue is a real shame because some of the beaches were pretty nice with lovely views. The sea was lush warm too. 6 points
3. Local delicacies and quality of food
While I’m not one to point the finger, that Rick Stein programme that got me all excited was actually a bit misleading. Shortly before we got to Vietnam someone we met said they found the the food there disappointing. I didn’t believe her (I mean who dares question Rick Stein?) but actually it was good advice. Sorry I doubted you Magda – you were spot on. Disappointing is exactly the right word.
You see, Rick Stein showed me Pho – the noodle soup with part-cooked beef that finishes cooking in the broth that comes with loads of herbs and lime. It looked amazing. I had some and it is as good as it looks – sweet, sour, hot, filling, cheap and delish. Thing is, that’s the top thing in Vietnam. There are some other local specialities – most notably Cau Lao in Hoi An – which are really good but there’s not much else.
It got so bad, at one point I had to resort to this:
As someone else more eloquent (and a lot more angry than me) put it
“It’s very easy for me to eat three Thai meals every day for a month, but it’s something I would cringe at the thought of doing in Vietnam—there’s way too much repetition.”
I love what you got Vietnam, but I need more. 6 points
4. Friendliness and attractiveness of the locals
This was one of the most interesting and confusing things about Vietnam. Exactly half the people we met were really nice and really friendly and exactly half were either really surly and didn’t want us around (even if we’re in their restaurant buying stuff) or were only being friendly because they were trying to flog you something.
It was usually pretty easy to tell who was who though (friendly vs floggers), and we used to laugh at the grumpy ones and wind them up with the old ‘kill them with kindness’ routine.
Friendliness and common sense went out the window when we were leaving Vietnam though. We were flying to Laos so we checked in and went through security. Our plan was to get some food, get out some cash, change it into dollars and be on our way. We had to have dollars to get our visa on arrival at Laos you see. Only problem was that stupid Hanoi airport didn’t have any cash machines or money changers after security.
I asked someone what to do and they said I would need to be escorted out by security, so we decided Erin would wait inside with the stuff and I’d go out. In the end, I didn’t need to be escorted so I went backwards through the scanner and out to passport control where I explained I needed an ATM. Begrudgingly the fellow let me through and he hung onto my passport. ‘Fair enough’ I thought. Then I put my hand in my pocket to get out my wallet, and realised it was in my bag. The same bag that I had left with the wife on the other side of security, so I had to go all the way back through and then come out again which made all the official people a bit cross, but they let me through.
Anyway, I got my money, changed it into dollars and began my final journey through the windows and scanners etc. Except they wouldn’t let me back through. The passport control guy (who had already let me through once) said he didn’t believe I was the person in my passport. He asked the guy next to him who wasn’t sure, so they went off and got their boss who also wasn’t sure so they got more people and in the end I had seven immigration officials staring at me, consulting my passport (and all my other ID), then stroking their chins and shaking their heads. I was starting to get a bit scared, but the whole time I was telling myself that they were only doing it to get me back for being a stupid foreigner who goes to an ATM without his bank card, but it was still a bit worrying.
Anyroad they let me through, having decided that in the 2 years since my passport photo was taken it’s feasible my hair could be longer and that I had shaved my face. It’s going to cost you points Vietnam.
You’re mostly nice Vietnam, and when you’re not you’re funny, except for when you’re just being mean to me. 5 points
5. Availability and quality of real ale
You won’t believe this, but we went to a microbrewery.
A microbrewery in Vietnam.
A microbrewery in Vietnam on the beach! Praise be to the Louisiane Brewhouse in Nha Trang.
Ale other than that? Not so much.
We only found it in one town, but that’s a lot better than a lot of South East Asia has done recently. 10 points
In conclusion, Vietnam wasn’t all I had hoped it would be to be honest. It had some cool stuff, and some that was a bit less cool (but more about that over on The Travelling Mallorys) so I won’t be leaving beautiful Worthing for Vietnam anytime soon. Vietnam scores 35 points.