We've been on the ground for a week now and I'm just getting a sense of the place. Invariably this leads to comparisons between Northen Vietnam and my past travel experiences. Specifically: How is Northen Vietnam compared to China?
I have to be honest and say that right now it feels a lot like China did, but without as much of the things in China that I liked. The population spills out on the streets with trinket shops and people. The architecture is pocketed with Stalinist influences. The people look almost the same. But there aren't as many interesting historical buildings (bombed out by invading forces -- Thanks America, China, and France).
The local food is definitely different, but besides the Pho the local food isn't anything really new. It tastes an awful lot like Chinese food but the quality of restaurants lie only at the extreme: Clearly unsanitary blocks of meat out on the street or substantially more expensive full-blown restaurants. The "full-blown" restaurants are still cheap, though!
An aside: Interestingly we've actually had some really good Indian and Italian food while here.
And while we're comparing to real Chinese food, lets not forget the lack of jiaozi or lao mian. I got addicted to those in Beijing. I have yet to find anything that I really love in Vietnamese food. I do hope I'll find something.
All that being said, we still have 3 weeks in Vietnam to try out the local fare. There are bound to be aspects of Vietnamese society that I'll learn to love. I can't wait to find them.
And in case any of you are worrying that I'm having a bad time: We leave tomorrow morning for 3 days on a boat in Ha Long Bay. It's not so bad here :-)