Good night Vietnam

Xin Chào Lovers. It is that time again, when I pack my life back into one single suitcase and one backpack, leave my current city of habitation behind and embark on a new adventure.  I spent my evening making a donation pile, rolling my clothes, once again debating my need for two laptops before eventually giving up to compose my latest Love Letter, which will actually be a composition of the drafts I started and never finished. Apologies Lovers… I blame the humidity.

Sapa

9/16

Oh, Lovers… I’m feeling especially romantic as I write you this Love Letter… and it has nothing to do with any actual love interest, but everything to do with the fact that I am sitting in a coffee shop nestled down an alley in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, surrounded by two story high bookshelves, sipping coconut coffee while John fills my ears, soul and heart with every stroke of the keys on the Yamaha piano situated in the corner of our chosen afternoon spot.  I couldn’t have designed a more perfect venue to tell you about my latest adventure, a two day trek through the rice fields of Sapa.  Without further ado, as John tickles the ivories, let me strike my keys and attempt give you your taste of one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken in my life.

The day started with a 6am bus ride, so sleeping after my night shift wasn’t really a thing. I thought the 4 hour bus ride would grant me a good nap, but the back of the bus and Vietnam roads don’t exactly mesh for great sleeping conditions. Some members of my tram have started to wonder if I would bleed if they cut me, or if it would just expose the wires underneath and prove I am the machine they believe me to be.

I’m at a loss for word to describe the immeasurable beauty of this place.  Guided by women from the village and their children, we descend into the valley between the tiered hills of rice fields that is Sapa, each turn more breathtaking than the last.  The hike is no joke, and on my limited sleep, balance isn’t something I’m excelling at, so I hit my ass more than a few times, but we make it to our homestay in one piece.  Our gracious hosts prepare us a feast of local fare, I chow down and hit the hay.

 

Sleep eludes me, so as it comes times for the sun to rise, I wander the streets of this valley village before it awakens for the day.  The rest of my fellow trekkers rise, we have another delicious meal at our homestay and take off to climb the rice fields back out of this hidden gem at the foot of the hills of Sapa. Muddy doesn’t begin to describe the trek, and we deem our hike “mud skiing” because you just have to embrace the slide.  All the near bust ass moves are worth it though as we reach the top of a waterfall that me, Pidg, and Prince Kib decide to crawl out on.  Not to have an adventure without blood, I proceed to slip my feet out from under me after rinsing the mud off my shoes in the cascading water and landing directly on an elbow.  Not to be outdone, another member of our crew slides into a metal roof and cuts his head open to the point of needing stitches, so we hike out of the valley and take him to get sewed up.  A local meal, a hot shower, and we’re headed home.

Ha Long Bay

9/24

I have mixed feelings about my trip to Ha Long Bay.  While it is one of the most indescribably beautiful places I’ve ever been (sensing a theme yet?), I would not recommend doing the bay in the fashion I did.  Too little sleep, too much alcohol and a poor mental state caused me to have just as many bad moments as good ones…. but everything here is growth, so I’ll chose to use my poor decisions to make better ones in the future, and keep this post to the fun moments.

We kayaked the villages on the river, where children never get educated in anything but fishing.  We toured the oyster farms and I made a (stupid) daring flip flop rescue in a marina.  We hit the beach where volleyball was played and songs were sung.  We swam with jellyfish, played chicken, trekked into caves, saw epic sunsets and enjoyed local fare. We played my new favorite game, odds, where I didn’t lose a tattoo and gained a kiss. We sang our hearts out to 90s boy bad karaoke and made dad jokes a new group theme.  All in all, the trip was a net win.

Hoi An

9/26

I witnessed an argument once where one participant claimed Thailand had the most beautiful beaches in the world, and the other rebutted that it was Vietnam.  When I saw both were on my itinerary, I vowed to see for myself, but I found myself in my last week in Vietnam and the only beaches I’d seen were on Ha Long Bay.  Despite just arriving back hours ago, after a quick text exchange with Uncle Rems and his Russian Beauty, I booked a flight out the next morning for a quick trip to see them and the beaches.

I came for the beaches, but the canals took my breath away.  I’ve never been to Venice, but I imagine if you put a Vietnamese spin on the romantic Italian town, you’d get Hoi An.  Striating the city are multiple canals, lined with palm trees and rice fields.  After a black heart filling dinner with Uncle and his Beauty, I posted up at a coffee shop on one of these canals on the edge of Ancient Town and started my shift for the evening.  A lighting storm in the background, traditional drums in the distance, and an iced egg coffee made for a truly amazing experience. Needing to take an internal call, I make my way back to my charming one room homestay and take my first ever under-a-mosquito-net conference call.  I think it was a first for my firm as well.

The next day I started at Cua Dai, walked along the water to Hidden Beach where I grabbed some lunch before continuing on to An Bang.  There’s something about the beach… the sand, the sun, the salt water…. Maybe it’s just me, but it has the power to shift my perspective, refresh my soul… something I truly needed after a difficult evening with a friend from back home.  And don’t let me forget to tell you ….. how absolutely gorgeous it was with the mountains of Cua Lao Cham as a breathtaking backdrop.

After I recharged my solar batteries, I headed to Ancient town to refresh my wardrobe with some cheap and breezy made in Vietnam gear.  I discovered my love for haggling, and didn’t pay full price for anything except my banana crepe.  An Uber to the airport in Da Nang, where the streets are lit with neon and the bridges pulsate light, two flight delays later, and I’m back home in Hanoi.

Hanoi

9/27

As I grab my helmet from my UberMoto driver and swing it onto my fresh-from-Monkey-Boxing sweat-soaked head, I only pause for a moment at the thought of how many other heads in the same condition inhabited this helmet.  I swing my legs over the bike, Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song comes pouring into my headphones, and my driver takes off for my Hanoi home.  I’m fresh back from my quick trip to Hoi An, and I’m soaking in every last bit of this city that I can.  Some of my tram is exhausted with Hanoi… the air is dirty, the streets are crowded, it’s noisy and bustling, but the same things that tire my travel mates invigorates me.  It has a buzz that energizes me, and as my moto ducks and dodges through traffic, ignoring all traffic laws, I breathe in the polluted air and stare at the shops whizzing by, taking in the lights and sounds.

This morning the tram did our New Occasional and caught sunrise from Long Bien bridge.  Not only did I cross this rickety ass bridge and not die, I got to see one of the most unique sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life…. the colors distorted by the haze that the humidity and pollution hung over the city, the best word I can use to describe it is creepy…. beautiful, but creepiest beauty I think I ever will see.

Farewell Junction

9/28

I’m sleep deprived, emotionally drained, and completely unable to perform even the simplest of tasks, but I wouldn’t trade any of that for the experience I had today. Two beautiful member of my tram led a collective on failure this month, and the culmination of it was a retreat into the hills of Vietnam to escape the chaos and the smog and come together on a level deeper than I ever imagined.  The day was slated to include meditation, trust exercises, open forums, and a fire ceremony…. all with a 7am start, meaning I powered through my night shift (again) hoping to catch some snoozes where I could.  The bus ride was a good 45 minute start, but the meditation exercise proved that it wasn’t enough, because I was out like a light by the third exercise. After an amazing lunch prepared by the staff of Maison De Tet Decor, I found a hammock on a porch that overlooked the hills and zonked out for a good three hours as the breeze rocked me into oblivion.

After my rejuvenating nap, we gathered in a room where shoes weren’t allowed and most of us sat on the floor to open up about when we had fucked up in our lives, felt like failures, and just plain couldn’t deal.  I listened intently as my family opened up about their perceived failures, a lump rising in my throat, my heart racing, and my stomach turning to knots.  I knew I had to speak up about my struggles… a friend from home had recently text me that I didn’t need a rock, because I was learning to be my own, but my realization was that I didn’t have to go learn that on my own… I’m surrounded by 46 other beautiful souls, each willing to help me along this journey…. but first I had to open up.  I had to tell them.  I had to admit that I was drowning in my emotional failures.  And I needed help.  Something I’ve never done in my life.  But this year is about facing my fears, so I dove in headfirst and bared my soul.  Outside of going on Remote Year, this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.  Humbling doesn’t even begin to describe the outpouring of support I received.  As one member of my tram told me, trust begets trust.  If I trust them with my darkest side, they can trust me with theirs.. and that’s just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Hanoi

9/30

I’ve never been one for nostalgia.. call it a product of my inability to emotionally attach to things (.. people… places), but as I walk the tree lined street back to my Hanoi apartment for the last time, favorite chicken fried rice in my hand, I can’t help but appreciate that I’m going to miss this place.  Today was one of the best day I’ve had in a while.  On the heels of the above mentioned emotional farewell junction, my soul feels lighter and I’m ready to start over again in a new city, a luxury Remote Year affords me… the chance to improve, start over, and be a better version of myself every 28-35 days.  Sure, these changes can be made without a change of venue, but a new city somehow makes a fresh start even fresher.  Speaking of fresh, I got my new ink today, and I have to say it is one of my favorites.

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We lost a few of the family tonight… to solo travels and visa issues, so my heart is a little heavier, but I know that they will rejoin us, and absence makes the heart grow fonder… or so I’m told.

Let’s see… what did I miss?  THE FOOD! Bun cha and Dim Sum and Pho, oh my! On every corner, for $4 or less…. I will miss the food most of all….  Then there is Ninh Binh.  Never made it there, but The Remote Yogi did and she can tell you all about it here.

Vietnam is so strikingly gorgeous I have run out of superlatives and adjectives (is that redundant?) to describe it.  I’m personally continuing on an emotional journey to be a better version of the Random girl you all Love.  I’m sad to leave Vietnam, but I’m equally excited for what Thailand will bring.  Hopefully with less humidity.

Until next time my Lovers,

Always Randomly Yours,

SR

Hanoi(ingly late)

Greetings from SE Asia my Lovers. Yesterday marked one week in my new home of Hanoi, and while I have spent the majority of my time either working or sleeping, I still have plenty to report on the Random front. I am truly in a different world, in every sense of the word. Europe was beautiful and romantic, not drastically different from home, and you could almost always find someone who spoke English, or you could at least fumble your way through the language. Hanoi does not afford us any of these luxuries – even if you can find “western” food, goods and influence on almost every corner.

Marky, DL, Ktunes and I all arrived in Hanoi on a 7 hour overnight flight from Dubai. I sat between the boys while they slept, unable to zonk out myself despite the copious amounts of free Jack Daniels Emirates provided. Customs was a breeze, contradictory to the horror stories we had been prepped with, but I was tired and cranky and a whiny little girl. They keys to my home (and my eventual sleep) were at the workspace (Toong) with Pigeon, so DL and I ubered/napped there to gain my access to my home and also my data – Vietnam is the one place that T-Mobile is not a thing. Our first introduction to the language barriers was arguing with our Uber driver who was supposed to carry us on, but it didn’t work out and we were left on the sidewalk with our baggage in hand. DL had a call, so we ducked into Cowboy Jack’s, a restaurant downstairs from Toong that can best be described as a Vietnamese Hooters. One business call, two plates of chicken cartilage, and a few beers later, we start our search for our Hanoi homes. The address provided to us is NOT accurate, so we spend the next HOUR dragging ourselves up and down the street, dripping with sweat, trying to find our air conditioned apartments for the month. Skeen to the rescue, we each find our destinations, I unpack a bit and go down for a much needed nap before my first taste of the night shift.

The next evening has me missing some faces, so I venture out to , my new favorite cocktail bar, to meet some fellow Earharts and have my first flaming Pho cocktail – which is every bit as delicious as it sounds. We leave Nê and wander to the corner for some actual pho, served on the sidewalk while sitting 6 inches from the ground on a plastic stool.  After lighting ourselves up with chili sauce, we move to Xofa for some iced coconut coffee to cool off in the monstrous heat and humidity.  The crew eventually breaks off, but Phil the Thrill, Bonina and I aren’t ready to turn it in, so we catch on Uber to the Old Quarter, follow some nice young expats into a ruin type bar that is entered to through a scooter rental shop, meet some english teachers (seriously, everyone here teaches english) who then take us to another corner where we drink Vietnamese beer and chat amongst our group of 20 or so until the sun comes up – sitting a corner on plastic stools 6 inches from the ground.

The next week is mainly me trying to manage the jet lag, a new work schedule (8pm-2am seems to be my jam), and one hell of a sinus infection. Its not until the end of the week that I really start to hit my groove, but a forced 10am wake up one day for Town Hall allows me to explore in the daylight, grab lunch and catch up with an Australian beauty, hit the grocery store, and stumble upon the cutest little park with a lake just a few blocks from Toong. Naps a plenty, grabbing 90 minutes here and there, I finally start to feel human enough to interact with the world, only my world now is limited to my fellow creatures of the night – those of us bound either loosely or tightly to US hours. We inhabit Toong until the wee hours of the morning, pack it in and head over to Puku, the late night joint that hosts us until sun up when we depart for our blackout shaded rooms for our 8 (or 10) hours of slumber.

The streets of Hanoi are filled with scooters and motorbikes – and the sidewalks, and the alleys, and, well, pretty much everywhere – you even see them inside.  Crossing the street was best described by Becks as a delicate game of frogger – although basic strategy dictates picking a moment, picking a speed and just going for it.  Which brings me to one of my favorite things about Hanoi: Uber. Moto. When you think about it, UberMoto makes perfect sense in the organized chaos that is the streets of Hanoi – and when you factor in that each ride only costs $.44 (read that right, forty-four cents), its a no brainer. Riding an UberMoto makes you feel like you are a part of the elite Hanoi scooter gang -each red light a new chance to be in a sea of motorbikes all revving at the same time to take off and ignore all proper traffic laws – lanes, lights, one ways – anything goes.

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Saturday night is ladies night, and we all get dressed up in our sexy best (much better than your Sunday best) and head to The Rooftop – a swanky joint on the 19th floor of the Saigon Hotel with expansive views of the Hanoi skyline. A girl DJ and drinks named “The Hot Lady” have us turning the joint into a dance club, because Earharts can start a dance party anywhere. Once we’ve exhausted our welcome there, we descend down to the lobby (with one daring rescue of a damsel in douchebag distress) and walk more than a few blocks in the drizzling rain to our next destination – The Toilet.  Despite it’s name, the club itself is quite swank, but the vibe is weird and we leave after not being about to dance the weirdness away.  Back to Puku, where there’s always Earharts to be found, a little sheisha, a little whiskey, and I’m home to pack for my 6am departure to Sapa (see Sleep When I’m Dead for overnighter status continued).

Week 1 recap: Hanoi is hot and humid and I mostly see it under cloak of night.  I moto as often as I can, eat food from street corners while sitting on cheap plastic stools and I questions anything that costs more than $4.  Side trips often require all nighters, and sleep is gotten where I can get it.  There’s more to come, so stick around Lovers; the Asian Random has just begun.

Specifically Yours,

SR

P.S. I know, this post is late – upon posting I only have two weeks left in Hanoi – but don’t fret, all will be revealed – I would never abandon your Love.  Kisses.