Vietnam, why not?
Heading back to the USA for Christmas wasn’t in the cards for us so we explored some new turf in Asia. We’d both been to Saigon and Phu Quoc (in the south) and Hanoi (in the north), but never got to historic Hoi An in the center. A flight from Taiwan is under 3 hours and the US dollar goes really far (4 nights in a good hotel = $130 USD) and the food, the food! We still have food fantasies about the Bún bò Nam Bộ we ate in Hanoi back in 2013. But, this happened just days before our departure.
We considered canceling
But, decided to go for it because it wasn’t life threatening exactly where we were headed and really… we look sexy in full-body “trash bag” raincoats. Adventure on!
We expected rain. We did not expect Passionfruit to walk directly into a metal pipe (yea… the cut-off opened end) within the first hour of being there, which knocked her on the ground. It’s hard to be aware of your surroundings when there’s so much to see! We found a pharmacy (quite a few actually) and then decided to call it a night.
Yin and yang of beauty
Vietnam is a beautiful country, a resilient country. The people and the land have been through a lot. Many people have very little. Because of this, tourists will be asked for things… to buy something, to see something and everything has a price, which is negotiable. Hoi An is very touristy and to think we were there during low season, during a flood. On the flip side, we haven’t heard so many international languages since we lived in San Francisco. People from around the world vacation here, therefore most Vietnamese will speak some English. Minus the tourists, Vietnam’s cities are not the definition of calm and tranquil. There’s a frenetic energy and flow, but the people as individuals maintain a sense of calm. Cars, taxis and scooters constantly honk their horns and not because a baby is crawling out in the street, but simply to inform everyone, they are there. Yes, we hear you. Loud and clear. There’s also the daily loudspeakers that broadcast public information. Most locals ignore the announcements, but it’s difficult to ignore as the volume is thunderous.
Vietnam remains one of the world’s four remaining one-party socialist states officially espousing communism. The others are: China, Laos and Cuba (source: wikipedia)
The buildings of Hoi An date back to the 15th century. Many are holding up surprisingly well, while others are literally decomposing while you walk in them. And the water. Oh, the water. It is undrinkable for anyone that is not a local. The locals have a tough gut that can handle the microbes, we do not. And we know it! We have a saying: “I hope it’s a fart”, because there’s always the probability it’s diarrhea. That all said, Vietnam is beautiful. It’s rough and raw and the people will win you over with their smiley eyes and delicious food. You should go, but only drink the bottled water.
Let the eye candy commence
WATER LEVELS A WEEK PRIOR:
Hoi An, the capital of custom clothing!
Anything you want or desire can be made within 24 hours here. There are hundreds of tailor shops, all offering the same service. This was a suit Scott considered:
THE HILL STATION HAPPY HOUR
Young Love Can’t Destroy Christmas
It was Christmas eve and Pickles and I were enjoying some IPA’s at the The Hill Station (see above). A young woman sat across the room from us, alone with earbuds in, glued to her phone. Pickles took this photo before we met her:
We’ve all been there
She eventually moved to the table next to us to plug her phone in to the wall. Soon after, I noticed she was crying, quietly while still glued to her phone. It was a deep and painful looking sadness and the tears were rolling. Then, intermittent smiles between the tears. I was confused and intrigued, but mostly I couldn’t stop feeling for her. My eyes welled up watching her. We’ve all been there. I told Pickles what I was seeing as his back was turned to her. I wanted to hug her or do something for her. After a few minutes I couldn’t help it and just walked over and hugged her. And as we all do once we’re hugged, we let loose on the tears a bit more and she really hugged me back. She needed this hug. I had never hugged a stranger like this before, but it felt like the most right thing to do at the moment.
I invited her to sit with us. While choking back tears she told us about a guy… a guy who couldn’t come to Hoi An to spend Christmas eve with her and how this would be her first Christmas alone, ever (her sister was in Saigon and her parents in Ghent, Belgium). The intermittent smiles were text messages from her sister who was trying to cheer her up, but then her sister sent a photo of her cat which made her sob again. Jenny had a serious case of home sickness which is something we knew something about. We felt a kindred spirit with Jenny, we got her to laugh and invited her to celebrate Christmas eve dinner with us. We’re not sure if she was being polite, but she said yes. She wanted to go back to her hostel and change in to her traditional Vietnamese Ao dai (a tunic worn over pants) and would return in 30 minutes. Pickles and I enjoyed another IPA and when she returned (looking stunning by the way) we went out for dinner at a local spot.
Sometimes when family isn’t around, you make your own family happen. That’s what we all did.
She lifted us up as much as we lifted her up
At dinner we chatted about food and appreciated where it came from. We said thank you to the energy that the earth provides to make the plants and animals grow and for providing our bodies with nutrition. We all held hands to appreciate the meal. It was a special connection that made the whole trip.
One of the three dishes we ordered is Obama’s favorite (from his trip to Hanoi this year), bún chả. It’s a must try when in Vietnam!
Traditional Xmas Eve Dinner
A day later, Christmas day, we were at the beach having a cocktail and upon leaving a guy came up to me and asked if he could snag our beach front cabana. I didn’t see why not and then he said, “This may sound creepy, but I saw you at The Hill Station yesterday, I was sitting in the back room and I saw what you guys did for that girl. Is she OK?” It turns out she had a lot of caring people looking out for her that night. That’s full circle holiday love ‘n in Vietnam!
Christmas, Vietnamese Style
The most popular Vietnamese soundtrack to Christmas was by far, Last Christmas by Wham! This was before news broke of George Michael passing away on Xmas morning too. Even this bicycling Santa was playing it from a small speaker on his bike.
OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN – TO AN BANG BEACH
Pickles and I were cruising around on our hotel beater bikes when we spotted a couple on a tandem bamboo bike. We followed them which turned out to lead us to the Taboo Bamboo Workshop! What a gem. Check out his workshop on Facebook.
Dinner at Nocturnal Artist
Dad is the nocturnal artist and mom cooks at this cozy, petite art-filled restaurant. Their two boys (who look just like the illustration below) poked around the tables and snuck in high fives to Scott throughout the evening.
Hey, what’s fun to do in the rain? I know… hiking on wet marble. This was a pit stop on the way to the airport. And lucky us, at 8 am we were the only ones there! You have no idea what a treat this is even in the “low” tourist season. There are caves in Marble Mountain, massive caves with beautiful temples and shrines built inside. It was absolutely breathtaking… and to be there alone… wow!
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