How I fell in love with Vietnam
It was my first taste of Southeast Asia.
Vietnam is somewhere I had dreamt of visiting ever since I first watched those movies set in the narrow waterways of the Mekong Delta. Only strengthened by watching endless Anthony Bourdain series on the beautiful country. I already knew it had to be good. I knew it had to be special. I guess I just didn't realize to what extent.
It was a country that challenged us; daily in the menial tasks, but also in ways that almost shattered the dream we had envisioned for ourselves. Vietnam became a testament to the perseverance of the mind when there is some unknown force pulling you in the direction of your dreams. So many people who visit Southeast Asia for the first time decide to begin with the less culturally-shocking and more westernized, “land of smiles”. We love Thailand, but we also think Vietnam is something different. Something quite special, really.
Currently, there’s only about 5% of repeat foreign travellers to the country. The others write disparaging and often shallow reviews of Vietnam as a whole. To be honest, some of those blogs left unsettling feelings in us, as we read stories by the pros who had deemed this place less-worthy than the neighbouring tourist hot spots. However, I don't typically follow the "norm", so I listened to my instincts and followed my heart to Vietnam.
As we landed in the rainy, humid, chaotic, and energetic capital of Hanoi, we most literally remained in awe. We tried to take it all in. Not like we possibly could. The sights, the sounds, the smells; our senses were overloaded in the best way possible. Starting in Hanoi, we travelled through the entire country for the next two months, north to south, mostly by train. Within the first few weeks, we were thrown off of our motorbike in mountainous Sa Pa. We were bruised, scraped, and pretty much traumatized. After spending a few weeks recovering, we continued on our journey with high hopes.
That is until Richard’s birthday, when I practically broke my ankle on our way to breakfast in the morning. Once again, we were out of commission for another two weeks. It just continued to spiral downwards from there. We hit the monsoons in central Vietnam and were rained in for another week. We lost some of our stuff and had numerous items of clothing ruined. We had a really hard time getting used to the pushing and lack of line etiquette. The doubt of our decision quickly set in. Had we made a mistake? Were all these things (read: signs) telling us that we should go back “home” to the comfortable life we once had? We talked about it, more like obsessed about it, daily. We disagreed and then turned on one another.
It was still undeniable though. Through all of that doubt, there was still that “something” pulling us right back in. The people, the culture, the food, the landscape; they were all working together to teach us that most things in life worth having are not simply handed to you without obstacles; it’s the perseverance through this perceived failure that really counts. To be fair, it wasn't that hard to be persuaded. Do you have any idea how majestic Vietnam really is?
From the chaotic and scooter-filled streets of Hanoi to the limestone karst’s of Ha Long Bay. From the cascading rice terraces of Sa Pa to the emerald-streams of Ninh Binh. From the culturally enriching Hue to the ancient and lantern-lit Hoi An. From the sand dunes of Mui Ne to the mountainous coffee haven, Da Lat. From the historic and bustling Saigon to the majestic, narrow canals of the Mekong. Vietnam has it all. It is an absolute “must-see” for travellers inspired by Southeast Asia. Seriously, don’t skip it.
Some words of caution though: be prepared for what it will teach your soul. Vietnam taught me patience. It taught me humility and dedication. Most off all, it taught me to simply slow down and look around. So often we become consumed by the need to get that Instagram-worthy selfie. We travel to tick off those “bucket list” items. How many countries have you been to, huh? You might just be the next person to see them all. I had those dreams too. A list. All of the things I wanted, needed, and expected to experience. Vietnam taught me to let it go. The bruises, the cuts, and the scrapes taught me to let go of what I could not control, so that I would have the time to appreciate the magic that is all around. That’s it, my friends. That’s how I fell in love with Vietnam.
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