Jan 9-11, 2015
Braving the Hard Knocks of Hai Phong
GPS waypoint: 20°50'47.1"N 106°42'11.2"E
Location: Hai Phong, Vietnam
Along the Way
Since Tuyen and I were already in Halong Bay, it made sense for her to visit a friend in Hai Phong, just 63 kms to the southwest and along the way back to Hanoi where we catch our flight.
Linh and Family
Linh, Tuyen's friend in Hai Phong, was our hostess for the 2 nights we stayed there. She and her family took measures to make our stay as comfortable as it got. That's one thing I have to say about Vietnamese hospitality - it is warm, no-nonesense and sincere. They meticulously prepared sumptuous meals for us. I hope we did not impose.
It is odd, but in the cold of winter, Linh took us for a walk on the beach. It was practically empty, but there was something surreal about being on an empty beach in freezing temperature. Linh's English was good so we all managed to talk in English - something rare for me when in the company of Tuyen's friends. The walk was capped by a lavish seafood meal on a beachfront restaurant - shells, squids and crab. Being a coastal city, it couldn't be any fresher.
Hai Phong Reputation
Hai Phong is not exactly a tourist destination even though they have a fabulous beach. You won't see the place on most of the guide books for high-zoot traveling. To the locals of Vietnam, Hai Phong conjures imagery of being a rough place - where the mafia is and where the drug lords live. Yes, this is where the tough guys are. North Vietnamese are known to be tough people, but even in the north, Hai Phong commands deference.
It's almost reckless to say that people in Hai Phong are two-fisted underworld types and leave it at that. It's best to gain perspective by looking at what shaped their character to what it is today. Here's a brief look at their history.
- 43 A.D. - Hai Phong was founded and served as one of Vietnam's principal ports for the next 2000 years. The hard-bodied men of Hai Phong forged their characters in this blue collar industry as longshoremen, welders, laborers, machinists dealing with steel, cranes and heavy equipment.
- 19th century, later half - the French makes Hai Phong a naval base teeming in maritime industries
- 1881 - a typhoon of devastating magnitude took an incredible 300,000 lives
- post 1945 - after WWII, the French, in its bid to re-take Vietnam after the defeat of the Japanese, shelled the city and burned it to the ground, killing thousands of Hai Phong sovereignists to thwart the independence movement. This was the wick that ignited the first Indochina War
- Vietnam War - towards the latter part of the war, the US bombed and mined Hai Phong Harbour to stop the Chinese and Russians from supplying war provisions to the North Vietnamese
- post 1975 - Hai Phong demonstrates once more its resiliency by slowly regaining its role as the principal northern port supplying the country with much of its needs
Unlike some lucky city that coasted its way through history, Hai Phong never got it easy. It was decimated and flattened by typhoons, bombed by the Americans and burned to the ground by the French. The tough carapace that people in Hai Phong exude has been rough-hewn by its unforgiving history. They get things done in their no-nonsense way and makes no apology for their grit.
And to Linh and her wonderful family, what can I say? You've made our stay memorable, comfortable and gastronomically satisfying. Thank you very much for treating us like family.
Tuyen and I were now off back to Hanoi, 108 kms west of Hai Phong, about 2.5 hours by bus.
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- Vietnamese smokers used to smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. But this habit seems to be changing now.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Jan 9-11, 2015
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