Saigon in southern Vietnam is a very different from Hanoi in the northern parts of Vietnam. Where Hanoi is busy, smelly og too crowded, Saigon is busy, much cleaner and with space on the sidewalk for people walking (but occasionally also for people on motorbikes, so watch out).
We stayed at a great hotel in the center of town called Le Duy. We quickly found a restaurant street thanks to our Lonely planet iPhone app for Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Guide. What a useful app! It really helped us a lot. It has a “near by”-function that shows you where you are and how far away points of interest like landmarks, shopping and restaurants are. Very useful.
Our first trip out of our hotel room to find some food, was a great success for the food but we did get caught in the rain. What we didn’t know was that the rain is a daily event in this city – we bought umbrellas the next day and brought them with us for the rest of our stay. The daily rain is not really a problem if you come prepared except for the wet shoes – they don’t dry up before the next shower.
On our second night in Saigon we went to find a good restaurant, but they were all full, noisy and not very cosy, so it was quite difficult. Then we stumbled on an Indian restaurant that was completely dark and looked really good with lots of candles and no noise. It was empty and looked closed but the staff was outside trying to get people in, so we decided to try it out. When we were reading through the menu at candlelight we realised that there was a power blackout going on. Fortunately the kitchen didn’t need power to make great food – we could see the high flames coming from the small kitchen in the back of the restaurant. It ended up being a nice experience though at one point the waiter tried to create a little ambiance by playing music from his mobile phone. That seemed a bit surreal.
Saigon is a beautiful city especially the many cloud formations. This photo is one of my favorites (and yes, we did play a little with the colors):
The biggest difference between the Saigon and Hanoi is the traffic. I have already described the traffic in Hanoi and what a nightmare it is. The traffic in Saigon is much easier to handle because it is more structured and because there is room for pedestrians on the sidewalk instead of forcing them out on the street. Well, the traffic is still pretty bad but we learned a lot about handling it in Hanoi. The trick is to just walk, keep a steady pace, be predictable and use the pedestrian crossings where ever you can find one.
We truly loved Saigon and I think it is a place I could live. Other people seems to think so too because we met a lot of expats. The food is great, the traffic seems ok, the weather is great when it is not raining, everything is very cheap and the people seem friendly enough. It is possible to live in this city using very little money and I actually felt a little bad about paying so little for great things like backpacks, drinks and food. We didn’t have many days in Saigon, but that’s ok, because I know we are coming back one day.
I just want to share this short video we made showing the Hanoi traffic.
After crossing that street successfully (which we did on several occasions) you get a feeling of accomplishment and we celebrated by going into a nearby cafe, sit down and calm our nerves every time.
I don’t know how it works – but it works.
As so many other turists visiting Hanoi we also booked a cruise in Ha Long Bay. Beautiful and tranquil Ha Long Bay. After a few days in Hanoi you really long for a relaxing and most importantly quiet oasis and that is exactly what Ha Long Bay is.
There is not much to tell about the cruise as we really just relaxed a lot and ate some really fresh seafood. We saw a stalactite cave and some friendly monkeys and that was it.
To sum it up here are some pictures. It was a bit misty (even foggy at times) so the pictures are not as colorful as they could be.
Last Monday morning we finally left Denmark on a looooong adventure. 23 hours, 3 plane rides and many cups of coffee later we landed safe, but tired in Hanoi, Vietnam. Underway we almost missed a flight from Hongkong to Hanoi; tired and stressed we left the plane in Hongkong and with it we left our treasured camera behind. We had 30 minutes to transfer to another plane in another terminal at the other end of the airport and 15 minutes into that we discovered that we did not have our camera bag with us. Fortunately we did not have anything else important in the bag other than the camera and because we had people waiting for us in Hanoi airport we decided to get on the next plane without our camera thinking that we might never see it again.
Fortunately we were travelling with Cathay Pacific and they were very professional and helpful. We contacted them as soon as we got to Hanoi and even though there were some language barriers we got the message through. The next few days we called them frequently with the help from our friendly and (most importantly) english-speaking hotel staff here in Hanoi and finally they told us that they had found our camera and was shipping it to us in Hanoi. Much to our surprise this service even included shipping to our hotel from the airport and for a very small fee (300.000 VND) they delivered it express so we could have it with us for our trip to Halong Bay. We are amazed and grateful that this was even possible.
First impressions of Hanoi was not entirely good. We arrived stressed, tired and a bit sick from the flight and the city is very dirty and noisy. Fortunately we got a hotel room without a window facing the street noise – well, we even got a room without windows. At first it seemed weird not to have windows but after a few days in Hanoi we now realize that it is actually a good thing – not all of the people we have met here are that lucky, and we have been told that it is not easy sleeping and trying to get over jetlag when your room has windows facing the busy streets of Hanoi. Most of the noise comes from the traffic (there are motorbikes everywhere and they use their horn every 3 seconds) but even during the night there is also construction work going on and just general people noise.
The worst thing here is without doubt traffic. Crossing the street here is an adventure and you fear for your life every time. After the first day we realized that the best strategy is actually just to walk with purpose and keep a steady pace so that the drivers can predict where you will be at any given time – and ignore that the motorbikes are whizzing past you with centimetres/inches to spare. Hanoi is a very busy place. Even just trying to follow a sidewalk is impossible because life in Hanoi gets in the way all the time – the businesses spill out into the street and street kitchens pop up whereever you can fit a pot and two kid size plastic chairs. The pollution from the traffic is also really bad and it is a usual sight to see vietnamese with face masks.
On the other hand once you get over the jetlag and learn to walk the streets of Hanoi without fear there is a lot of great things about this city. First of all: everything is very cheap. And some of it is very good; like the food. Every meal here has been a pleasure. Even the breakfast at our cheap hotel Gia Thinh is great. The selection is small, but very delicious. The prices are about 20-33% of what the Danish prices would have been. We only eat at high-end restaurants (meaning places where they speak a bit of english and not street kitchens) and the price is about 200.000 VND on average (about 60 DKK or 10 USD for food and beverages for 2 people).
And the people here are very friendly. They will help you if they can. The guides, the hotel staff and the shop owners are all smiling and will try to make conversation even with limited english skills. Life in Vietnam is very different to life in Denmark, so we can’t walk past a street corner without seeing something interesting (just don’t visit the food market – it gets a bit too interesting when you see how they treat meat, and what animals the meat could be coming from).
Oh, and have I mentioned the food here? Tasty, fresh and flavorful. Mmmmmmm.
Just wrapping up the last things about the JAOO conference these days. During JAOO I did an interview with JAOO speaker and Android developer Stefan Meisner Larsen and now it is on InformIT.
Just to give you a taste:
TH: If you could improve the Android platform, what would be your first priority?
SML: Mobile devices have great potential in an enterprise setting as communication and application platforms. But there are challenges with administration and security that the Android platform does not address. I miss those systems that exist today for administration of PCs for the Android platform. There are undoubtedly a lot of obvious applications for mobile devices that will never make it because of security issues.
If this sounds interesting to you, you can read the whole interview at the InformIT site.
P.S. Google Android turned 3 today.
The other evening I was at a party with a lot of other geeks at Geekhouse in Aarhus. It was an evening of lightning talks by the Aarhus geek community followed by free beer, wine and fun networking time (exactly what I’m going to miss the most when I leave Aarhus).
Being a girl at these events usually means you are the odd one out, which doesn’t bother me. It also means that sometimes what you get the most excited about is not the same as what the guys get excited about. What I remember most from that evening was a demonstration of a new brand of covers and handbags designed for women with gadgets.
My favorite item they have made is this simple and elegant iPhone cover made in really fine materials with a soft leather lining THAT POLISHES YOUR IPHONE. I know most men don’t care about the greasy fingerprints on their smart phone but as a woman it bothers me and this is such a simple solution.
One of the guys behind this new brand saw that I was falling in love with this cover and he gave me one as a gift. Oh, how I love being the odd one out :-). This brand is only sold in USA so here in Denmark it’s a rare item.
P.S. You could speculate that I’m just writing this blog post so I could get one of these as a gift. This is not the case. I did get one for free but I write this blog post because I like the brand, not because the brand told me to. And yes, I stole the product photos from the coverlicious website.
Github founder Tom Preston-Werner doesn’t think so. Github has never taken founding from VCs or Angel investors. Tom believes that you should optimize for happiness instead and actually that could also have a positive effect on the money part of things. If you build it they will come…
I recently found a video of Tom giving a presentation at startup school. I really likes his way of thinking:
I was (as I previously mentioned) at a talk by Tom Preston-Werner a few weeks ago at JAOO about Github and Git. He is a really great speaker and his star in my book did not fade because he and the other github-people sponsered a drinkup during JAOO. I got to talk to some really interesting people and that lead to an idea that I’m going to work on in the future. It seems like what Tom is talking about in the video really works.
My main takeaways from Toms presentation: creating win-win situations, helping luck through proximity and being creative in not paying for things. It seems like I have been on the right path all along ;-).
If you have to chance to hear Tom present, don’t miss it. He is a laid-back, really cool guy.
The team behind JAOO was kind enough to let me attend the speakers dinner at JAOO this year where the charming Kevlin Henney took this photo of me with my two favorite JAOO speakers: Dan North and Michael Nygard.
It’s true – blondes really do have more fun.
Challenge: make a Lego 3D printer that prints Lego 3D printers.
I just have to share this – Bill Gates having an affair.
It is not my favorite strip from Wulff-Morgenthaler though – this one about computer scientists is.