The second Meet Magento Vietnam conference in 2016 took us to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in October of 2016.
We were grateful for a relatively uneventful trip through Shanghai, but left the airport much lighter than expected - our luggage had not yet arrived! Not that we could clear the customs check though. The airport had a power outage which took all of the equipment down. That guaranteed a quick exit from the airport, without local currency, since ATMs went down with the power out. Yay for cellphones - we were still able to get an Uber to our hotel. The complimentary dressing gown in the closet was a blessing since that was the only clean piece of clothing we had :)
We finally got some Vietnamese dong and were instant millionaires. With the exchange rate at about 22 500 to the dollar we were walking around with more than a million dong! We were all set for a colorful trip to the local markets to hunt for anything worthy of a conference attendee. We would have been happier exploring the city and meeting others in town for the event but it was intriguing to pick up some local traditional stuff for the event the next day. Besides traditional gear was the only practical choice - it seemed that dresses in Vietnam were typically shorter and quite comical on someone of my height. The best items are usually ordered in advance and tailor made to fit. No time for that though. The quick and easy tourist options would have to do. I got all primped the next morning with my Aodai over a pair of jeans, only to get rained on, on the way to the event. All that trouble only to arrive looking disheveled anyway!
It was amazing to meet a whole new subset of the Magento community as well as lots of really keen students. We made great friends who also made for wonderful networkers, tour guides of Ho Chi Minh City, its hottest club spots, dinner haunts and of course coffee shops. Vietnamese filter coffee is not for the faint hearted! This flavorful strong brew is bound to keep you alert for many hours! One of the highlights of this event was getting to know Thomas Goletz and watching him interact with the community. It was truly inspiring. Pictured here is Tra My Nguyen, one of the conference organizers, towering over Thomas Goletz. The conference venue was well set up with enormous screens which were great for large audiences.
Since we commented on the showers in our blog post covering Magetitans UK, we felt it fitting to offer a detailed account of the bathrooms we encountered in Vietnam. They are often appropriately called wet bathrooms. Sure enough, taking a shower gets everything wet. Bath tubs and shower cubicles are often not common place. Many shower areas we encountered doubled as the area with the toilet and basin. The shower head simply protruded from the wall in that room - really efficient use of space.
We made sure we had time to explore the many charms of this amazing country. Apart from museums, street food and cafes, we wandered over to Bui Vien, a densely populated tourist and backpacker area which appeared to be alive all night. It was a great place to hang out outdoors and people watch. It was also a great place to make friends and enjoy local delicacies prepared in front of you in a matter of minutes. We very quickly found our favorite locales for great coffee, meals and cocktails and were always amazed at the enterprising, friendly and hardworking nature of folks who we miss dearly. A warning though, the electrical wiring would make anyone cringe. No, this is not your typical data-center wiring standard!
Hahn at the restaurant a few doors down from our hotel, was always happy to see us and continued to surprise us with amazing dishes that were not even available on her menu. She was even happy to leave her restaurant just to walk with me through winding alley ways off the main drag so we could find fresh fruit.
I was able to establish a routine in the craziness of Bui Vien as if I had always been there. We found a charming hotel managed by 2 young men who filled the roles of concierge, porter, hotel reception, tour and travel office, cleaning staff and all round great guys. Our first floor room was carefully chosen with large windows so we could always feel like we were a part of the daily activities, which were distinctively different at various parts of the day. The breakfast period was perhaps the calmest but by no means quiet. Various store fronts and road side vendors popped up almost everywhere with motorcycles, bicycles, taxis, Ubers, and pedestrians buzzing around with no clear demarkation of sidewalk and roadway. Stores and street vendors set up little plastic stools or a rolling cart on the roadside for a breakfast of banh-mi (sandwiches), soup, rice porridge or Vietnamese omelettes. Many of these vendors vanished until lunchtime and vanished again until dinner, not there there was ever a shortage of delectable food options or a welcoming smile. We once popped our unannounced heads into a language Institute that seemed to be preparing for Halloween. The students welcomed us as if they were expecting guests. We wandered through the scary maze they were setting up left and left after great conversations and lots of pictures.
We were always amazed by the incredible friendliness and perseverance of folks everywhere. One of our favorite things was offering larger than usual tips to various people when the opportunity arose. It was so easy to communicate with as little as a smile and gratitude so it was wonderful to add a token of appreciation.The exchange rate was so heavily in our favor and what is a small token of gratitude in the US, seemed to make someones day in Vietnam. Our oarsman in Ha Long Bay certainly made our day, as did everyone we met in business and social interactions. He was great at finding the hot picture spots and directing us into appropriate poses using hilarious gestures. He would maneuver the boat with an oar in one hand while taking pictures of us with the other. He seemed to be skilled at using absolutely any phone or camera handed to him while still rowing with one arm :) Much to the amusement of us all, he also scolded me for my meek attempt at a smile when he tried to take my picture :D
One rule of survival was to quickly learn how to safely cross the street. I thought I has conquered this as a kid :D Stepping into traffic and maintaining a constant pace was the safest so motorists could anticipate your your next move. The throng of motorbikes, bicycles and larger vehicles simply buzzed around pedestrians and we did not observe a single accident involving a pedestrian. It amazed us, that even larger and fragile items like construction material, floral bouquets, and multiple trays of eggs and were all safely transported by bike. This was perhaps a common theme - things that may have seemed daunting or not possible back home were regular occurrences in daily life. We were sad to leave all this behind and hope to return many times. We keep in touch with friends made along the way and look forward to visiting in the future. Perhaps someday we can host some of them in the US.