A few hours south-west of Hanoi sits a strange little Vietnamese city that goes by the name Haiphong, I like strange.
There are no ‘top 10 things to do in Haiphong’ lists to be made here, but that’s not to say it has nothing to offer, quite the opposite. The lack of shiny, touristy things to do is Haiphong’s finest selling point.
We opted for Haiphong as an alternative approach to Ha Long Bay (read all about that here), we heard tales of an ugly, soiled Halong City and having already bare witness to the crass, pseudo tourism of Southern Vietnam, we flew direct to Haiphong Airport one Wednesday night in mid April, we stayed for another five weeks.
Haiphong feels about as authentic a shade of Vietnam as we encountered, still a little gritty, at times unapproachable, sometimes shocking (I’m talking dead dogs, people), sometimes strange, everything you would expect from what is ostensibly an alien culture to us pale faced voyeurs. There are no streets laden with instagrammable lanterns, and no gift shops inside of genocide museums, there is only Vietnam, as weird and as wonderful as you always hoped it would be.
How did we pass our time there? Well, we rented a nice little apartment just by the Big C supermarket (if you know the song, you’re already singing it); we found a little coffee shop in the North of the city to write in, hung out at a rooftop pool, drank cheap spirits and smoked even cheaper weed behind the hotel sign on said rooftop, rented a scooter and drove out to a blue lagoon (turned out to be a corner of an active quarry), passing small villages where children danced in a brown river and the locals look at you with a polite, almost sincere snarl. We cycled drunk in the night with a small band of foreigners that call this place home, got tattooed by the incredible Troc Tattoo, played football with the Vietnamese youth, drove out to an outdoor pool at the foot of Elephant mountain, drank rum and tried to hike the Elephant.
I mentioned there a small band of foreigners that dwell in Haiphong, them motherfuckers are some cool people. My friend Neema from Manchester and his lovely lady Marijke are spearheading (amongst countless others) something special in that little corner of the world. By day they teach at schools in and around the area, by night they raise money and awareness to the plight of Haiphongs young orphan population, organising weekly quizzes (a great place to meet one of the these beautiful ‘familiar’ faces in the most unfamiliar of surroundings), charity boxing matches and many more charitable endeavours.
Most only pass through Haiphong en-route to the port and subsequent boat ride to Cat Ba Island, I would encourage a prolonged stay, if you’re ‘long term travellers’ this spot makes for a great cheap hang out, and a great place to make some new friends.
Vietnam’s not so distant past has born a population of youth, uber friendly teenagers and twenty somethings that will bend over backwards to help you and love to learn from you, mixed with these beautiful foreigners it makes for a melting pot of harmony, and progress. Find them all smiles at the Big Hero Centre, playing football under the floodlights by the university or drinking on miniature stools by the side of the road on Lach Tray well into the night, but find them. You’ll thank me for it. Just as I thank them for their warmth and hospitality.
If you need any information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.