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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,