Graphic Design in Vietnam

Like most third world countries Vietnam is a real mixed bag when it comes to it’s graphic design. My favourite designs were the hand painted ones that people did on the sides of their little carts that they use to sell either food or merchandise.

I was surprised to find as many large, government backed, communist style posters as we did, they were everywhere.

My least favourite of the design that we saw were the slicker and more modern advertising creative. I’m not sure how a fish with chicken wings is going to sell more kitchens, but that’s what they were intended to be doing.

I have no idea what this drink is or how it taste, but the poster was just wrong enough that it made it into this blog. I’m not sure how many Goth Vietnamese there are, but I’m guessing that this poster was intended for the few that are?

Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam

When people think of Canadians they think of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, polar bears, eskimos and igloos. Yes, we have them in Canada, but one doesn’t see them on a daily basis, in fact I have never seen an actual fur clad eskimo running past his igloo while being chased by a polar bear. When I was researching images of Vietnam the photos that show up first are those of people wearing funny cone shaped hats while working happily in rice fields and people riding bicycles through busy streets while packed to the tits with an unbelievable amount of heavy cargo. I figured that while in Vietnam we might see some of these touristy things, but the reality is that you can’t blink an eye without seeing such sights in every direction.

Everyone in Vietnam looks like they just came out of a 50’s postcard. Women going about their daily work while wearing oversized, cone shaped bamboo hats that are firmly strapped around their chins. The streets are absolutely packed with people riding motorbikes and bicycles whipping along in every which direction. The biggest surprise to me is how most of the deliveries, including water, beer, trees, you name it, are all done on motorbikes and bicycles. This alone is a mystery to me, let along the fact that they are delivering this heavy cargo through the traffic madness that’s everywhere.

Regardless of the blistering heat, the women all cover them self from head to toe so not to expose themselves to the sun rays. Hats, jumpers, long gloves and full face masks cover their skin. Here I am walking around in shorts and a tank top begging for the sun to shine brighter while thinking that they all look a bit crazy, but I’m sure that I look just as crazy to them, perhaps even more so.

Almost everyone here is self employed, each with their own micro business. Some people carry portable restaurants and set up shop on the first patch of sidewalk they that’s void of parked motorbikes. Their kitchens are carried over their shoulders, distributing their cargo across their shoulders using a long stick. They specialize in selling hot soups, grilled meats, noodles, fruit, etc. Their food is cooked over an open flame and they do their dishes next to them on the sidewalk. Nothing seems overly hygienic, but the locals seem to enjoy it. Other micro businesses/ walking sales people include selling illegally reproduced travel books, sunglasses, bracelets, cosmetics, shirts, sarongs, smokes, lighters, you name it, they sell it.

I found out the hard way that it’s not smart to purchase the $2.50 RayBan’s from the walking sunglasses guy. Once you do buy a pair, every sunglasses sales guy you pass on the streets, and there are lots of them, will ask you how much you paid for them. Then he will offer to sell you more of the exact same thing for about the same price. Secondly they look pretty good for the first 2 days, but after that the painted surface starts to boil and bubble and it looks like crap. Then they break in half.

Land taxes here are based not on the square footage of your home, but on the width of the front of your home. As such, all of the building here are disproportionately narrow and overly long in length. As you can see in the photo above, some of them are so thin you would have a hard time fitting a sofa width ways. Every corner of building free land, both in the cities and the country, has been transformed into a rice field and there are people wearing cone shaped hats working knee deep in the mud. I have a whole new respect for rice and the amount of hard work it takes to grow it.

We had to go to Saigon (also know as Ho Chi Min City) to get our visas for indonesia. had we been staying in Indo for less than 30 days we could have gotten Visa on arrival, but we are staying longer so we need to go to the Indonesian Consulate. We could have gotten it in Canada, but it’s only good for three months and we left Canada over three months ago. Initially we were thinking that we would fly to Saigon, apply for our visas, leave to check out somewhere else, and then come back to pick up our visas and fly out to Bali. Turned out that we found a pretty cool hotel in a decent area with a great roof top restaurant so rather than bouncing around we decided to chill and stay in Saigon until our visas were ready. Some people love to see everything when they are traveling and we have come to realize that we prefer to find somewhere cool and to just chill.

The streets of Saigon are littered with crappy knock off products, especially North Face jackets and bags. While it was tempting to scoop up a backpack for a great deal we decided that the last thing we needed was to be way out in the mountains on a camping trip and have the thing fall apart. I did buy a tank top, a pair of shorts and a few other things for next to nothing, but that’s about it.

The restaurants in Saigon are all really great (no we did not eat at the restaurant in the photo above). Josi and I can easily buy a great meal, complete with appetizers and mains for less than $10. I have gotten hooked on the Vietnamese coffees which are a mix of strong coffee and condensed milk.

Things that I love about Vietnam are that the people are really nice, the food is great and restaurants cost next to nothing. The hotels all have amazing service and are dirt cheep, there are lots of interesting sights to see, and it’s nice to be considered tall for a change. Things that have been less than awesome are that our timing is such that it’s not as sunny and warm as we were hoping, most of the cool things to see are really far apart which means traveling on crazy busy roads, and the traffic in the cities is over the top nuts. All up I liked Vietnam and at the same time I’m not rushing to come back. Perhaps if there was epic surf I would love it a little more.

My mom and her friend were in Borneo and we just got news that they have decided to leave to Bali a week early. As such we have decided to change our flights as well so that we can hang out a little bit longer in beautiful Bali. We have a 3 hour lay over in SIngapore which is perfect because we are flying business class (if you are just following us now we got around the world business class tickets at a charity auction) and their lounge is meant to be one of the best.

We are looking forward to spending an extended time in Bali and it’s surrounding islands as it’s been a while since we have had much in the way of sun, surf and relaxation.

Searching for Surf in Vietnam

Just so that I’m not misleading those of you who are hoping to read about epic surf in this post, I feel that it’s necessary to let you know up front that we didn’t score great waves. What we did discover was the really cool little town of Han Oi which is the perfect place to explore when the surf is small and crappy.

Watching Apocalypse Now as a kid, the scene that stuck with me wasn’t so much the violence of war but more rather the fact that they went surfing. While I don’t know anyone who has actually surfed in Vietnam, I do know of a lot of people who have been and they all have great things to say about it. As such we chose it as one of our many destinations on this adventure. When researching surfing in Vietnam all arrows point to China Beach which is right in the middle of Danang and Hoi An and is also in part where Apocalypse Now is meant to be based out of. Lots of the links mention a guy called Hoa who, with his wife, runs a small hostel/hotel called Hoa’s Place.

Being somewhat unadventurous we booked a third rate, somewhat rundown room in a resort on the beach for three nights. It was meant to be close to Hoa’s Place and I figured that if I could track him down he would help us with finding the best surf spots in the area.

The weather was much colder than we were hoping when we got there and the ocean was stormy. My first though was that at least it isn’t flat and that hopefully when the storm blows over there will be some fun waves to ride.

The storm did blow over and after a few days of searching we were finally able to find Hoa. Hoa’s so classic that he deserves his own blog post, and had we been staying at his hotel I’m sure he would have one.

Right when we got to his place I asked him if he knew where the good surfing was and he said to me in a thick Vietnamese accent “The surf is Shit man” followed up by “Sit down man, grab yourself a drink”. his broken english is part surfer, part hippy and part hard to understand. Like most Vietnamese, he’s slim, short and only weighs about 100lbs on a wet day, but he has a big personality. When I told him that he was loosing a lot of business because his place was really hard to find (all of online maps have his address on the wrong side of town) he said to me “If they can’t find me man, I don’t want them here”. He continued on by saying that he only recently got a phone and that in the old days you had to just show up. He liked it that way and being one with where he is at in life, he’s happy to keep it that way. I really enjoyed his quirky vibe . We stayed for lunch which was really tasty and it only cost about $7 for both of us. After the meal, we were going to pay up and he said to not worry about paying now, just to write our meals down in his note book on the counter and that we could pay later. We weren’t staying there, he had never met us before and he wanted us to pay another time. This guy is at one with things that’s for sure.

Hoa was right, the surf was “Shit” but the sun was out, the water was warm and our boards hadn’t been in the water in a while so we went anyway. After a short surf in soft little shoulder high close out wind waves in a sea that was full of jellyfish brought in from all of the onshore winds, I had had enough. We checked the surf report and talked to Hoa, and both had little in the way of good surf news in the near future.

When I told him that we were going to leave Vietnam early to go to Indonesia to surf he said “I totally understand man, you gotta go because you gotta surf”. I’m not sure if he’s actually a surfer himself, but either way, he gets it.

The best thing about going to China Beach was discovering the small and romantic town of Hoi An. My pictures don’t do it justice, but I can say that it’s super cute. Roads actually closed off from the traffic was enough for us to love this town more than any others in Vietnam, but this was only one of it’s many charms. Amazing restaurants, lots of cool shops, a little river that runs through town, lots of brightly painted boats with eyes painted on their stern’s, bright Asian style lanterns that light the town at night, the list goes on and on.

Our next stop is Saigon so that we can apply for our 60 day visas for Indonesia.

Vietnam – In and around the crazy city of Hanoi

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Hanoi is how old school communist it feels. Everything is grey (the clouds don’t help), the customs office is furnished from the 50’s and their uniforms are old school. It’s like we landed back in time.

The second we got out of the airport I was surprised by many people are whipping around this packed city on their motor bikes. The state of their driving is pure chaos with cars, bicycles, pedestrians and motor bikes all darting in every direction at once. Even if there were traffic lights it wouldn’t matter because no one would abide by them anyway. There are vehicles going in every which direction. It’s only after hours of careful observation that you can find any rhythm or rhyme to the madness.

The streets all have sidewalks, but one can’t actually walk on them because they are completely jam packed full of parked motorbikes, sidewalk restaurants and street vendors. When walking around town you are mostly walking on the edge of the street which means that you are always a little kept on your toes.

I find that the key to crossing these insanely busy streets is to walk slowly in a fixed direction and with out any sudden movements. The goal is that the oncoming traffic will see you and will estimate your movement and in doing so will flow around you with out slowing down. After watching lots of locals cross these crazy streets without bodily damage I knew that with faith we could do it as well. Josi on the other hand was in total shell shock having a hard enough time from the traffic in Bangkok, let alone here in Hanoi where it’s way more crazy. While I’m not sure I would want to drive a car here, in short have come to understand the flow and feel pretty comfortable with getting around without being a traffic statistic.

For kicks I’m always on the search for the motor bike carrying the biggest load. Perhaps not the biggest that I saw, but the one that sticks to mind is the guy I saw riding a motor bike who was hauling six, twenty four bottle boxes of beer and on top of that he had 2 small kegs. Way more than one could carry, let alone have as a passenger on a motorbike. Seeing a family of four all on the same bike became old news after the first fifteen minutes of walking around town.

We did a few trips out of the city to see the sights and I was amazed by how many rice fields there are here. Everywhere we we go there are people knee deep in wet muddy patches of land as they work away planting, picking and preparing their rice crops.

One of the trips that we did was an overnight on a small asian styled cruise ship in Halong Bay. It was 4 long hours out of the city via mini bus and once there it was a bit touristy, but still it was worth both the time and the costs.

Crazy traffic aside, I really enjoyed Hanoi. We are staying in the Old Quarter where the streets are very narrow and the architecture is a unique blend of Asian and French. The sidewalks are littered with little make shift restaurants where people cook soups and other meat dishes over small open flames. The dishes are washed in big basins sitting on the edge of the street and customers eat their meals sitting on small eight inch stools. We mostly eat in restaurants though since the price for a great meal is only about $4 to $6 a person. We loved our hotel as the service was great, the location was perfect, the staff were all the best and the breakfast was top notch. Best of all is that it only cost us about $40/ night.

The weather here has been chilly and overcast so our next stop is down south in search of some surf and sun.