Final Week in Vietnam
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three months since we landed in Vietnam. It went by so quickly, and I can tell already how much I’m going to miss it.
And of course, it’s just in the past few weeks that we’ve begun meeting people to hang out with and who I wish we’d met earlier so that we could have gotten to know them better. But perhaps we just need to push ourselves a bit more to start doing this earlier in future places…….
Or perhaps we just need to come back to Saigon.
I got such a good feeling from this city the moment we landed, and I feel more at home here the longer we stay. The energy feels relaxed and ambitious at the same time, and the people we have met are so friendly once you get to know them a little bit, even if they are not quite as full of smiles up-front as in Thailand. And the city just feels expansive to me……..I thought I would miss the Vancouver mountains, but I don’t find that’s the case, and I love the open horizon and how the city seems to go on from district to district, connected by a never-ending flow of scooters.
I could definitely see myself coming back here to stay for much longer……..
It has been a struggle for me more recently to feel at peace with not knowing what I want to do career-wise in the future if we continue to travel long-term, but I am practicing sitting with this discomfort and having faith that things will work out as they should and that answers will come when they are meant to, which was part of what this trip was for for me in the first place. It’s funny how my brain can forget that, and become frustrated that I don’t have a plan already…… So I am trying to live in the moment more and worry less, and of course there is no shortage of new experiences and sights in Asia for me to practice this with.
We are off to China next! Shanghai for two weeks, and then we are still deciding on the next city……..
I am sad to be leaving Vietnam just as it’s starting to feel more like home, but I am excited to explore China. And Saigon will be here if we ever decide to come back……..
On June 4th, John and I flew two hours north to the capital, Hanoi, for nine days to explore more of this intriguing country and to give my friend some space in Ho Chi Minh to finish her teaching year.
What a different feel within one country! Just as we noticed moving from city to city in Thailand. Despite being the capital, it feels much less metropolitan and almost more like a very large village……..John, who knows more about this topic, says he can feel the communist influence a lot more here. It definitely has a more traditional, austere vibe. It also feels less busy and the roads (and motorbike traffic) are less dense, which has been good for my roadside jitteriness.
For our first four nights we stayed at an AirBnB with the host, Mrs. Tin, who was a lovely middle-aged Vietnamese woman whose daughter is doing her MBA at Columbia University in New York. She was extremely hospitable and it was neat sharing a home with someone local. She made us delicious sticky rice and had lots of recommendations for things to do. Unfortunately, both John and I were feeling under the weather so we didn’t end up doing too much for the first few days.
For our last five nights, we are at a different AirBnB run by a thirty-something couple from the Netherlands. It is in a neat, very un-touristy neighbourhood surrounded by other houses and many narrow, winding streets. Our private terrace and huge open windows make it feel like we are sleeping outdoors. It’s been wonderful so far.
As we tend to do, we have been enjoying exploring random restaurants, shops and different neighbourhoods, but we did pay entrance fees to see the Temple of Literature and the 65th floor Lotte Observation Deck, and I’m realizing that some things may be popular with tourists for a reason……..we were not disappointed. We fly back to Ho Chi Minh today, and I am looking forward to the cooler temperatures once more (it’s been above 40C most days!) but definitely feel like I could explore this city for much longer.
First Two Weeks in Vietnam
After our month in Thailand, we have now been in Vietnam for two weeks, and will be here for ten more. I’m excited to stay in one place for even longer to try to get to know it more, as I felt I was just starting to get comfortable in Thailand at the end of the month before we left.
We have only been in two places in Vietnam so far – Phu Quoc, the island John talked about in his last post, and now Ho Chi Minh City, staying with my high school friend and her boyfriend in their beautiful apartment in a very expat-y part of the city. It has been wonderful seeing old friends on this exotic-feeling trip.
Like John, I have also noticed how different Vietnam feels compared to Thailand, which is to be expected but is interesting to notice. It definitely feels less discovered by the outside world. The tourists and expats I do see have a different vibe to them, as if they are here for more serious business, and somehow seem more mature, not just here to party and vacation or seek the good life like it often felt like in Thailand. And the local people seem different……..not as full of smiles and open as in Thailand, and even in the large city, I get many more stares by both men and women, or so it feels. It is beautiful and exotic though, and each district (the city is divided into 24) promises so many things to explore……..a huge Chinatown, Little Japan, downtown, the War Remnants Museum, and so many small streets and alleys that feel much less explored by foreigners than in Bangkok.
We were very close to a possibly fatal scooter accident three nights ago, and it shook us all up greatly, and reminded me that developing countries are not simply affordable, undiscovered paradises……..the response time for help was infinitely slower than it would have been back home, and no ambulance ever came, just a pickup truck for a young man obviously suffering severe head and spine injuries. It was a wake-up call for me from over-idealizing an exotic, affordable way of life. No country is perfect, and the affordable cost of living comes with sacrifices in other areas of life.
But aside from this tragic night I am feeling very relaxed and also invigorated by this exotic and different country, and am looking forward to exploring it more over the next 2.5 months.
We’ve been in Bangkok now for one week, and it’s been so interesting to see how different it feels compared to Phuket in the south and Lampang in the North. But I’m sure it is like this in every country – a difference so large between small towns and big cities that it can feel like you’re in a different country altogether.
Locals do not ask where we are from or take extra time to speak with us as they seem much more busy and of course are used to people from all over the world coming to their shops on a regular basis unlike in Lampang. The one time I was excited that a local wanted to talk to us it turned out he was trying to scam us into a taxi-tour for the day.
But overall I love Bangkok so far……..it has the energy and things to do and see like other large cities I’ve been to, yet still feels laid back. Even the tourists add to the energy in a positive way for me! Everyone seems so happy and relaxed, trying to enjoy themselves on their vacations.
I like the city’s blend of feeling old and authentic but also modern, trendy, creative and artistic, especially in some of the modern architecture and how the malls are done (of course I have been exploring the malls). I feel like I could explore this city for months and never get bored.
Some of the highlights for me:
- Spending a day walking through Chatuchak Market looking at the huge range of things from street food to souvenirs, cheap clothes and used books to trendy clothes and accessories all so different from back home.
- Sitting and enjoying the river and city view from the rooftop restaurant at our Riverview Guesthouse.
- Walking through the windy alleys near the guesthouse and getting a glimpse into the lives of the families who live in the small rooms attached to their different businesses.
- Reading a book I found at the Phuket airport called Only 13, a memoir by a former child prostitute in Thailand, and gaining a different perspective and deeper understanding of Thailand and its culture and the options available for poor, under-educated females.
- Exploring the different modern malls and seeing the different spending habits and tastes of wealthy locals and tourists compared to back home.
- Walking through less touristy neighbourhoods and trying to get a sense of what city life is like for locals in Bangkok.
- Giving myself permission to do what I feel like each day, even if it is just staying in and reading or going (window)shopping, and working on not feeling guilty about missing out on some sights I tell myself I ‘should’ be seeing.
We just got to an AirBnB in a new part of town (Huai Kwang, chosen as it is supposed to be a neat neighbourhood but less touristy) and I am excited to explore, and relax, in Bangkok for another full week. I will be sad to leave this vibrant, friendly country though……..it feels like somewhere I could easily come back to, perhaps for much longer.
South to North
Yesterday we took a 2-hour plane ride from the south of Thailand, Phuket, to Chiang Mai in the north, and then a 1.5-hour very comfortable (and $4!) bus ride southeast to a smaller town, Lampang, which we read most people pass through on their way to Chiang Mai, the main tourist attraction in northern Thailand. We chose it as a way to try to experience a Thailand less affected by tourists, and perhaps as an even more relaxed town than the beach towns of Phuket. I realized I am not a beach town person! I get too hot lying on the beach for long, and feel guilty if I’m not on the beach…….and also found that the towns themselves didn’t feel as interesting after a little while, as they felt very catered to tourists and not quite as much of a glimpse inside a foreign culture like I am most interested in when traveling.
We just arrived yesterday afternoon but so far Lampang is just what we wanted. Much less touristy, tons of neat-looking restaurants filled with locals, and lots of little side streets that we can’t wait to walk down and explore.
We are here for eight days at a really neat guesthouse that we found from our Lonely Planet book which has all the quaint character that I love. It is very peaceful right by the river and is almost empty given that this is the tourist down season (ie. even more hot and humid). A warm and outgoing local woman we met on a taxi yesterday told us that eight days is way too long to spend in Lampang and thought we were crazy to want to do so, and according to the guesthouse owner most people stay for much shorter, but this is exactly the Thailand I want to see, and eight days sounds like the perfect length of time to get to relax and discover this small(er) town before heading to Bangkok.