Hi everybody! It's been too long, I know! Don't worry though, I've spent the last three weeks shaming myself, so you don't have to. 🙂 Last week I was in northern Vietnam. I experienced such a range of emotions, which in turn confused the heck out of me and forced me to put some things into focus! I did not know how to describe my experience , so I took some time to reflect and here's what I came up with.
Every time I go to a city where I've never been before, I keep an open mind and humble heart. Every city, except for Hanoi, Vietnam. At first I could not explain why I disliked it so much. The crowd of people, motorbikes everywhere, having to walk in the street because they use the sidewalk for parking, hundreds of little chairs for food vendors and merchandise everywhere. The mere mass of people almost took the air out of me. And everyone drove or walked around with a mask on, which I quickly realized why. The air is thick with smoke and gasoline, you can not breathe easy without one. The only thing that filled my mind was how much I missed Thailand. So I spent the first two days in Hanoi, comparing and complaining with my friends, who also shared my sentiments. Pretty ridiculous, right? Since we couldn't take anymore of Hanoi, we went looking for an escape to Catba island, the largest and in the southernmost point of Halong Bay. If you've never heard of it, Halong Bay is in northern Vietnam and contains more than 1,600 islands! Catba island is about 2 hours by ferry to the center of Halong Bay. A national park covers almost half of the island, which you could spend 2-3 days exploring if you wished. Thinking that I just wanted a quiet refuge for about 2 nights, I ended up spending a week there. At first I loved the island. It was a baby compared to the amount of people in Hanoi, same for the bikes! People were a little friendlier and the beaches took away any worry I had or thought I had. I spent days thinking about absolutely nothing on its small secluded beaches. I took a day tour to Halong Bay and kayaked though small caves, which of course had bats in them; and stopped in monkey island and watched them steal from the tourists!But after four days, the complaining, comparisons, and discomfort started up again. Finally, I saw the light! I never am going to fall in love with Vietnam, without giving Vietnam a chance to romance me. In Thailand, I started each day with a grateful and open heart. After 26 days, I had to leave the country because for American tourists, you're given only 30 days without a visa. I left because I had to, not because I wanted to. On top of that, I had to pay for my visa for Vietnam, which annoyed me because to enter Thailand it was free. See, I am comparing again. I didn't do anything to get excited for Vietnam. Actually, for my whole trip thus far, I haven't read guide books or googled many photos; I just talk to people and bundle up all their recommendations along with the little information I have. Depending on the mood I'm in, that's what I explore for the day. I didn't open my heart to Vietnam, because I left it in my beautiful Thailand. After 7 days on the island, we returned to Hanoi, with a lot of peace and relaxation. If you can believe it, I was so happy to be back! With new eyes I walked with my friends in the street in the city of 7 million people, with polluted air and littered roads. Because of course, the side-walk isn't for walking.
These next three days in Hanoi were much better. I tried so many delicious foods, found our favorite restaurants without any maps, and drank typical Hanoi beer, dirt cheap and not very good. Hahahaha . On Saturday morning in my taxi to the airport, I had wanted to turn around, because I knew that I had not finished with Vietnam. But I swallowed my bit of sadness with happiness and I continued to thank God for what I had learned. You'll never appreciate anything if you don't allow yourself to. I don't have any regrets because I know, one day I'll return to Vietnam and I will explore the rest of the country with a fresh and open mind. I probably won't drink the local beer though. Xoxo, Voyaging Vanessa