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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As in life, not all days of this crazy adventure of ours are going to be full of amazing experiences, great conversations, and mind-blowing scenery. Some days are boring or purely functional, just getting from one place to another. And other days are full of tedium, conversations where I’m pretty sure neither party understood 10% of what the other party was saying, and lots of puke bags. This post is about those pukey days.
I thought, hey, I did three 9-hour bus and van rides in the Philippines, six hours in Vietnam can’t be any worse!
Well, then I watch as the ticket guy spends the first 2 hours opening the door and yelling at people as we zoom by, in case one of them signals they want a ride North, in which case we stop to pick them up. Passengers frequently screaming into their cell phones or at the bus driver, we can’t tell which. Or the movie that plays for a couple hours (after the V-Pop music videos end), but seems to be dubbed with only one female voice doing all of the dialog. Once that movie ends, I realize that there has been a constant beeping through the whole ride that may be related to the flashing LED lights on the front of our bus advertising our route — time for headphones. Oh, and somewhere in there a girl in my row threw up twice into plastic bags and handed them to the ticket guy who threw them out the door of the moving bus. Did I mention the bus had a custom horn and the driver apparently needed to check that it was working between 3 and 20 times per minute?
Surreal first 48 hours in Hanoi. Couchsurfing with a guy who works in the high-fashion industry and he basically gave us the keys to his 4,000+ sq ft loft that he converted from an old pharmacy factory. Then took us to an international music fest, led us to amazing street food, welcomed us to his sister’s birthday party with a huge home-cooked Vietnamese hot-pot meal, which we then left early because he was late for the grand opening of a Lebanese restaurant complete with belly dancers.
Up next: the “motherland”. Supposedly. This will be my first time visiting Vietnam. It has been at the top of my destination list for a long time, but now that I’m almost there, I don’t know what to expect or what I want to get out of visiting it.
I have always had a tenuous relationship with my racial identity. In the literal sense, I am fully Vietnamese; both of my parents are refugees from the Vietnam War. But I was born and raised in Longmont, a decidedly homogeneous population where there were only a handful of other Asian-Americans while I was growing up (my brother and Raymond). I do not speak Vietnamese; my parents didn’t teach it to us for fear that it would impede our English. They did their best at integrating us into American culture to the detriment of any link I had to my racial heritage.