Good Morning Vietnam!

by Beth - May 23, 2018


Tracks run straight through the city of Hanoi. Markets form along the sides and must move when a train goes by.

I arrived in Vietnam on Saturday, March 31st! Hanoi is a busy, chaotic, energetic city exploding with eastern culture. It’s incredible, the kind of Asia I have been looking for. Until now, I have felt the previous destinations were so westernized, and have enjoyed them, but was looking for something with more shock.

Vietnam is that something more.

Everything in the city is risky. Crossing the street felt like you were swimming through a heavily populated school of fish but instead of water you are swimming through “zebra crossing,” in the concrete jungle and the fish are thousands of motor bikes that swarm around you. Stay at a steady pace and just keep walking, it may not comfortable for everyone, but once prepared, it is an energizing adrenaline rush. Eating street food is risky because of high potential for food poisoning or because of the police coming by to usher people and tiny tables off the sidewalk. If they came by in the middle of your meal, you would have to grab you table and food and pretend to move inside until they left. If you were lucky, they just did a quick drive by. In the previous cities we had Uber as a transportation option, here it is Grab Bike, a motor bike shared with a local driver. They offered a helmet so the risk of injury is slightly lessened, until they just drove on the wrong side of the road.

This alley way opened to a string of restaurants! A little scary entering but treasures lie within.

Because of the French colonization, the architecture is colonial, bursting with life down tiny alleyways, that would open to a beautiful maze of skinny, tall story homes where the ground floor served as their place of business and the floors above where the multi-generational families live. Each mini-street has a different craft, party city street, bike repair street, food street, lamp street, plastic container street, casket and flower street, small appliance street, like a Vietnamese version of Home Depot disorderly organized around the city.

The culture is a combination of everyone out for themselves and a strong sense of community. The sidewalks are where the community gathered. They were for everything but a walkway. Sidewalks were filled with live roosters, dead roosters, dogs chained up, crates filled with various small animals, millions of motor bikes both parked or driving around the obstacles, tiny baby furniture, blood, haircuts, shaves, markets, dead fish, you name it, it is happening on the sidewalk.

This walkway was created by calcification from both stalactites and stalagmites connecting creating this giant structure.

We were lucky enough to get out of the city we trekked through the wildly unexplored jungles and national parks. Jungles, trekking to the caves of Hang Va, where we learned of the Son Dong cave system that is still unmapped and mostly undiscovered. The caves we entered have been explored by less people than have summited Mount Everest.

John McCain POW Memorial

During the trek to the caves I was overcome with emotion when I thought of the young Vietnamese and American soldiers trekking through the jungle during war. The thick overgrown jungle, sharp rock formations, and muddied ground made up the path that we followed. I couldn’t imagine fighting a battle in these conditions. Respect and admiration for our Vietnam war vets filled my heart.

Inspired when I returned to the city, I went to prison. The Hao Lo Prison, known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” where we saw pictures of the pleasant time the POWs had during their stay, like a lovely Christmas celebration, or friendly basketball and volleyball games, did not seem to add up when you compared that to the emaciated figures they had when they were released. Interesting perspective. I am sure the truth is somewhere between the American version and the Vietnamese version.

 

Egg Coffee *drool*

Food
On the menu:

Street food is a must, Pho, Obama’s Bun Cha vs street Bun Cha, competition between Bahn Mi 25 and 14 (personally, 25 for the win),
Hanoi Social Club and Lifted Café are a delish break from eastern foods with items like mango French toast, Social Club Burger that rivals most restaurant burgers in the US, and the happy hipster avocado toast.

 

Tam Coc is located in Ninh Binh, location where Kong was filmed.

Vietnamese coffee foamed up with egg white and sweetened with sugar, appropriately named Egg Coffee, was addictively satisfying.

Our boat rower in Tam Coc is informing us of the favorite foods in the very little English he could speak, eating dog, cat, goat, pig, and sugar cane that tasted like a slightly sweet bark or a tree.

I thought dog and cat would be to… exotic for me, therefore I had to pass on the consumption.

Remote Year (month 3 away from old home with my travel family)
This month I lived three lives. One life last month of night shift work, another life was a social life with the RY Kanyinis which dipped into the night shift work life, and an independent life, thanks to the accessibility of Grab Bike (and of course, the Internet) to jump into my own adventures. Until now, I have relied heavily on the RY program and its events/planning.

Utter joy on the back of a Grab Bike.

Building my experience was not lacking negative emotions. I felt a weird pressure when I was not doing enough of the touristy stuff, or exploring the same things that other remotes did, or even liking the same things as much as others did. But then, I had a candid little chat with myself, saying, “you’re not a tourist. You came on Remote Year to immerse yourself into the local cultures. To challenge yourself.” Duh, and like that, a switch flipped, I felt more open to be myself, let my guard down, became more conformable. I spent time exploring the city, hung out with people that I did not typically, and found my new normal. I am not sure if it has been because of the time on the program (like dog years, remote year time is the 1-year equivalent), my enjoyment of Vietnam, or some cosmic force, but I have felt like a citizen of the world, acclimating to this city as if it was my own.

Lived locally. Worked locally.

Now, I look forward to seeing what Africa has to offer.



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