Read time: 4 minutes
Street life is the great equalizer in Vietnam. No matter your social status, everyone can enjoy sitting in low plastic tables and stools, sipping on tea/coffee/beer, going through a sack of sunflower seeds, and/or slurping on hot broth and noodles. Work and obligations pause for an hour and a half at 2:30 for parents to pick up their kids on their motorcycles from school and get them home. The road gets stuffed with kids, bikes, motorcycles, fumes, and honking – all a necessary chaos.
Both Hanoi and Hoi An maintain a lot of the French architecture from the 19th century. Nothing like remnants of an “old quarter” to remind you that imperialism was not long ago enough. With the contrast of palm leaves against crumbling brick and rows of shops colored in pastels, I am still charmed by the beauty. I’m dumbfounded by how welcoming, forgiving of war, and jovial the people in Vietnam are towards everyone, even Americans. They have completely moved forward and beyond – how do we all learn from this? Vietnam is a triumphant example of a nation crawling out of gun shells and blossoming into a beautiful lotus.
I can’t believe how many times this country made me say wow. High end stores line the wider boulevards of Hanoi. The street shuts down on the weekends for people and children to play or enjoy a stroll around Hoan Keim Lake. Tailors are on call for all your overnight bespoke needs. Ladies are adorned in vibrant silk gowns for all occasions. Hoi An was a favorite here. The city is more laid back and you can bike through most of the city or beach. Lanterns illuminate every street and Chinese/Japanese food and structures stand strong.
A four-hour bus ride through smaller streets and luscious rice fields will take you to Ha Long city. Ha Long Bay consists of approximately 2000 undulating islets resembling the spine of a creeping dragon. We kayaked through the limestone up close but I was more captivated by the distant collection of islets fading between shades of misty blue and grey. We laid out on the sundeck of the cruise with a cool breeze balanced by a warm sun and surrounded limestone karsts passing by. I felt very lucky to be here.
Mystery of Broken Hoarding: When I saw the broken microwaves and rusty metal canisters pushed into the corners of restaurants in Hanoi, I thought of my parents. The epiphany that struck made me laugh out loud. What is it with some Asian parents hoarding broken things? We have a stereo system from 1996, a cycling machine with missing parts, plastic Barbie plates from when my sisters and I were children, and probably a dead partridge from a decaying pear tree. Whenever I go home, I empty out the jar full of take-out sauces living in sticky residue. I could go on but the point is this: what sliver of hope comes from holding onto what cannot be fixed? There’s deeper meaning here somewhere.
Anti-Trump Highlights: We can’t escape American politics and neither can the rest of the world. The Ha Long Bay tour guide said he’d knock us off the boat if we voted for Trump. A little girl from Denmark asked why we couldn’t elect Obama again instead. The welcome we received at our hotel in Hoi An, “Are you guys Trump refugees?” I’m going to try to get this made as a shirt to wear the rest of the trip.
Self-Reflection: The onslaught of tourism in this region is regretful. The tourist economy has forced the government to prioritize the tourists’ experience over our ecological footprint. Southeast Asia is overburdened with accommodating tourists. More than anything else, the free space in my mind is consumed by the unfathomable, negative impact we’ve had on this planet the past 100 years. I wish these historical sites were discovered after commercializing solar energy. We’d never get to enjoy it but at least we’d know it would last. Going forward, I’d like to be more responsible with my choices in recreation because it’s about more than electric cars and recycling. Buzzkill.