I have been wanting to write about my Vietnam trip since a while now. But I always got stuck. The digital world is bursting at the seams with numerous travelogues and travel blogs. I did not want it to become a cliched piece on places I visited, must dos and people I encountered!
So I thought hard, and slow…about the instances that stood out the most for me. And those that I had loved sharing with friends repeatedly. Slowly like a trickle, some bursts of activity popped up in my head, like those in a children’s pop up book? So each page you open, something distinct pops up. And from each place that I visited in Vietnam, popped a few like my first day in Vietnam when I landed in Ho Chi Minh.
I was famished by the time I checked into my hostel in Ho Chi Minh and walked into the first local eatery I spotted. The counter had various dishes that one could partake of and I pointed out to what distinctly, or maybe not, looked like Chicken Curry. On being seated I was offered on a plate, the said Chicken Curry with rice and some salad. Looking around I realised that everyone was eating with chopsticks! Add to that, the place had no forks or spoons! I was now stuck! Now you must have heard of two left feet when it comes to dancing, but when it comes to me and chopsticks, I have two left fingers (Ok, I made that phrase up). But just then I heard my stomach rumbling, and throwing caution to the wind, I was like f*** it, I grabbed a few chillies from the bowl on the side and dug into my fare with my fingers! And hey, even eating with fingers is an art! And guaranteed, it elicited quite a few stares, but atleast my stomach stopped rumbling and I was a happy woman for the rest of the day 😀
My sojourn in Hoi An was marred owing to my falling sick. Besieged by an intense headache and nausea, and losing my funds in between! it wasn’t the best of days that I had. But what still makes me smile is while roaming around Hoi An’s famous Japanese Bridge, I stopped to take out my Instax Polaroid camera to click the bridge. While I was trying to position my camera, I noticed that on the bridge someone was peering at me, and in my head I am going, ‘Eh what’s your deal person?’. And then a minute later the person takes out the EXACT SAME INSTAX GREEN polaroid camera and waves at me!! I burst out laughing and then both of us waved to each other! It was THEN, I got what the deal with the person was. I couldn’t stop shaking my head and laughing since what are the odds huh? Same camera? and in the same colour! And despite my stay in Hoi An being reminiscent of a throbbing head, this one incident made up for it. Just writing about it also makes me smile 😀
Moving on to Hue, that houses the imperial citadel city, the incident I shall recall is straight out of a comedy scene. Like even while it was happening I was thinking all the while oh! I could be in a comedy show right now! On my homestay’s recommendation I decided to give a local eatery a go for my dinner. Their menu had all the local dishes and I chose the option that served a 5 course meal for one person, consisting of Hue’s local dishes. I thought that should be good enough. As the dishes started coming, I dug in. One I thought was a soup and when I tasted it, the flavours were too strong. But I was like what the heck, its all about tasting and experiencing new things correct? Next up was Nem Lui, a pork and beef sausage formed and grilled around stalks of lemongrass, which was supposed to be wrapped in the rice paper that came along with it. But the intelligent person that I am, thought it was tissue paper. Now by this time I had probably messed up everything, not till the girl who served me saw me and realised I was eating all wrong!!! Remember the soup I thought had strong flavours? It was actually a dipping sauce. The girl then decided to give me a tutorial on ‘How to eat Hue dishes?’! Oh, and did I mention I also managed to eat most of it by chopsticks? albeit messing up my clothes like a small child! Towards the end, the girl caught my eye and we both again burst out laughing! I am sure back in the kitchen they must have had a good laugh, but hey atleast I made people smile 😛 and ‘All’s well, that ends well’.
My Comedy of Errors meal at Hue
Another part of Hue that I keep recalling is my day trip to one of the largest caves in the world. It is situated in Vietnam’s Phong Nha National Park, and surprise surprise, the cave’s name was also Phong Nha!! It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. I was not too sure initially about visiting it, but on entering the cave, all my misgivings gave away. To say that I was rendered speechless would be an understatement. I felt like I was in a Steven Spielberg movie set, an alien planet. With ginormous stalactite and stalagmite formations, the sheer scale of the cave is simply breathtaking. At one point deep inside the cave, with only the sounds of the boat rowing, I felt much like Dumbledore and Harry Potter making their way into Voldemort’s cave! For a moment I thought I even saw something moving in the water below 😛 Ok that’s my hyper active imagination working! Nevertheless, this was definitely the highpoint of my trip to Vietnam, and a place that I would love to revisit in future!
Phong Nha Cave
From Hue, it was time to make my way to Hanoi. A reason why Hanoi would always be special is because of the day I spent with a fellow traveller and friend from Korea. We had met each other at the same homestay in Hue, and it was sheer coincidence that we had booked the same hostel in Hanoi as well. Our similarities were uncanny; both travelling solo, both carrying books, travel diary and a polaroid camera! We couldn’t believe we were so similar! On the day we bumped into each other again at the hostel’s breakfast table, she happened to mention how she really wanted to see Coco, since she had spent some years of her teen life in Mexico. Since it was raining that day, I looked up if any theatre in Hanoi was screening Coco, and voila! I found a theatre nearby and suggested let’s do that! Throwing our schedules away for that day, we both walked our way to the theatre, thoroughly enjoyed the movie and even cried a bit (Yes people, I recommend Coco to everyone). Oh did I mention the movie tickets were so cheap!!!! Sigh. The rest of the day we spent walking the city and buying for things we needed. It was mundane, in the sense what any person would do if they lived in that city. We didn’t go to any must see or must do spots. It also made me realise that in future, whenever I visit a new place, one day I shall keep aside to just relax and do what perhaps people living there do. Watch a movie, visit a mall, go to a supermarket, and all that shenanigan! We ended our day by going to noodle soup place close to our hostel. And OMG, the pork wonton noodle soup I had was THE BEST. I revisited it twice more during my stay in Hanoi, I loved it so much.
The last page, and the last pop up has to be when I booked an adventure tour to Lanha Bay, and the second day on the tour company’s private island, I was upgraded to a private bungalow!!! It was the 30th of December, 2017. And I had a part of secluded beach all to myself!!! The private bungalow was luxurious and made me feel like a princess. Sitting on my private balcony with my collection of polaroids and travel diary, I couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic end to my trip in Vietnam.
Lanha Bay Hoi An
Till then, Red Salute/Laal Salaam Vietnam!