We spent a month in Vietnam and generally loved it. Despite the ornery locals, the place grew on us, and I was surprisingly sad to leave it. But we arrived in Thailand early this morning, and there are already a number of categories in which it beats Vietnam.
1. Cleanliness. There are TRASH CANS here!!!! In Vietnam, they were only in the bathrooms for you to throw the toilet paper. Here, they are in the bathrooms and also everywhere else. So instead of throwing trash out the window of the bus, people will hold on to it and use a trash can at the rest stops. As a result, there isn’t as much litter everywhere.
We spent Christmas on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam this year, and it isn’t an overstatement to say that we were in paradise. Being there made me think of how fortunate and lucky I am. Here was sunset on Christmas Eve:
amy, lisa and matt at sunset on christmas eve, long beach, phu quoc island
Expressing gratitude has been shown to increase happiness, and in the last few years, I’ve tried to make it a daily practice to think of all the things I am grateful for. In particularly trying times, thinking of all the things I am thankful for helps remind me of how much I have and how little I have to complain about. It being the holiday season and the end of year, I have been spending even more time thinking about what this last year has brought me and all the things I’m thankful for.
Overall Score : A
Dates visited: Nov 29 – Dec 29, 2013
Places visited: Hanoi, Ha Giang, Thac Ban Gioc (waterfall), Ba Be Lake, Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay (Ha Long Bay), Hoi An, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Phu Quoc island, Can Tho (Mekong Delta)
Notable places we did NOT visit: Sapa, Hue, Danang, Dalat, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Ninh Binh, Dien Binh Phu, Mộc Châu, Saigon (we did not explore the city very much)
There are so many little things that happen each day that I don’t want to forget. Anecdotes are a collection of these mini-stories or adventures. Also known as “filler material” for when I don’t have anything else to blog about.
nguyen thi soan
I am overly attached to my phone. I had meant to try to use this trip as a way to detach from technology, but I failed miserably at that. My iPhone has proven invaluable, though, and I use it constantly to check maps, track my budget, contact locals, look things up, text Cuz, and, most importantly, Instagram Totey.
If you hang out with Lisa and I often, you will notice that we wear a lot of plaid. Surprisingly, however, none of it was brought on this trip. Instead, our wardrobe was ultimate jerseys, plain shirts and hoodies. I think my choice of clothing for the trip is what I have regretted most on my packing list, as I get tired of wearing sports fabric the entire time. Lisa had done better, packing a couple lightweight merino wool shirts that look really comfortable. Everything I had read said to leave jeans and heavier material at home in Southeast Asia, as it would be too hot and humid to make that clothing worthwhile. Yet, everywhere we went, we seemed to run into other travelers who were dressing much nicer than we were and we had no way to step it up.
Enter Hoi An, known for its great food, silk fabrics and abundant custom tailoring. The Ancient Town of Hoi An is an even mix of clothing/tailor shops, art/souvenir shops and restaurants. This city was not going to be kind to our travel budgets, but more on that later.
I love eating. It’s one of my favorite activities, which is convenient since I’m almost always hungry. I’m known for consuming obnoxious amounts of food and then being hungry shortly after. I’m also known for being hangry, but perhaps that’s a post for another time. Or not.
For something that I spend an inordinate time doing, I have a very poor vocabulary around eating and food. I also don’t have a very discerning palate and rarely know what is in a dish, only whether or not it was delicious. In spite of all this, KK asked for a post on food, so here we go…
Thao, our couchsurfing host in Ha Giang, went out of her way to make our experience enjoyable and comfortable! Such an adventurous spirit, and despite what she may tell you, an excellent cook!
After a week of exploring Northern Vietnam, Lisa and I headed to Cat Ba Island. Our journey started in Ha Giang on our first overnight sleeper bus followed by an immediate connection to a five hour bus/bus/boat/bus trip from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island. As I’m writing this a few days later, that trip doesn’t seem bad when compared to our 25-hour bus journey from Cat Ba to Hoi An (budget travel!). We chose to skip the usual tourist route of spending a night or two on a Vietnamese “junk ship” in Ha Long Bay, to instead craft our own adventure in the area.
As we stepped off the bus with only a vague idea of a hotel to check out, we quickly found that it was low season in town so every hotel was begging for our business. We checked out a few places and for $6 a night we got a room with two beds, wifi, and a hot shower — some of our cheapest accommodation in Vietnam outside of couchsurfing, but pretty typical in terms of quality. The bathrooms here are always all-in-one shower, toilet and sink areas which means everything including the toilet paper gets soaked when you shower.
View from our hotel in Cat Ba, Vietnam
So very, very wrong. I thought that I was not going to learn anything about myself from visiting Vietnam. I don’t think I have ever been more wrong about anything. These first two weeks have been a very eye-opening and awakening experience.
My parents never taught me Vietnamese, but I did pick up quite a bit just by being around it as a kid. I used to be able to understand most of what they said in Vietnamese, but I wasn’t able to speak it back. Ever since I moved out years ago, I have lost a great deal of vocabulary since I am not exposed to it as often. I wasn’t expecting to be able to understand much here in Vietnam.
On Sunday we motorbiked from Đồng Văn to Mèo Vạc, over the Mã Pí Lèng Pass at 4,921 feet, on a road that was first built by minority ethnic groups living near the Vietnam border with China. Every bend in the road brought with it new peaks and amazing views, even if it was extremely hazy as had been the case all week in the North.
We were actually driving pretty slowly, so all of this footage is sped up. Now it won’t take as long to watch (but really, it just makes us look cooler).
We were having a rough couple of days in northern Vietnam. We had heard from several sources that Sapa and Lao Cai in the northwest were becoming too touristy, and that’s not really our deal. The same sources told us to go to Ba Be Lake, Ha Giang, and Ban Gioc instead, and so we headed straight north. Initially, everything was great and we had a fun visit to Ba Be Lake where we met awesomely hilarious travelers and saw some cool scenery.
- fisherman on Ba Be Lake
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