When I first found out that I would be traveling to Vietnam for work, I was ecstatic. It is vastly different from any place I had ever explored before and I could not wait to set foot in this foreign land.
Little did I know I would leave Vietnam with an imprint on my heart, new ways of life learned, and overall, greatly humbled.
From the moment I stepped out of the Hanoi airport, to the time I arrived at my hotel, my senses had been overloaded with new sights and smells. During my time in Hanoi I got lost in the market down a labyrinthine of winding roads, searching for trinkets and handmade crafts while conversing with locals. I explored the downtown nightlife and ate at incredibly delicious restaurants where I tried foods I had never heard of.
My most memorable experience from Hanoi was learning how to cross the street; back home, we have lights and signals that make it easy for pedestrians to cross. Well, in Vietnam, the lights happen to be optional. On the side of a major street, I stood there patiently waiting for a break in traffic to run across, but that break never came. Finally, a kind local woman approached me and told me I just had to go for it. She explained that the motorists would go around me and then warned me, whatever I do, I cannot not stop until I made it to the other side.
Taking in her explanation for a second and a deep breath, I flung myself into oncoming traffic. There I was, surrounded by a sea of whizzing motorbikes and large buses. Of course, I panicked halfway through and froze in the middle of the road. With the knowledge that I could not set up camp in the middle of the street, I gathered the courage to run the rest of the way. To my amazement, the vehicles knew how to react, zoomed around me, and never came close to me.
My last day in Hanoi, I cycled through town to the home of a local farmer. The day’s plans were to help pant herbs and enjoy a fresh lunch from the garden. Upon arrival. I was handed a jacket and a nón lá aka a conical leaf hat. The farmer was so welcoming, warm, and excited to share his daily life. All the way up to lunch time, I happily followed the farmer through the fields, as he handed me herbs to plant.
However, this lunch came with a fun twist. Fellow travelers were instructed to team up and prepare our meals, Once, we were finished, we would have to catch the meal to eat! Of course, I was the only one who stood there, plate in hand, held up high, and then dropped my meal all over the floor. Everyone laughed, especially the farmer who was eagerly waiting for someone to slip up so he could tell his joke about how they would have to skip lunch. It was such a wonderful experience to be able to share a day in the life of someone who provided food for so many people.
After saying goodbye to the beautiful city of Hanoi, I boarded a bus and headed for the majestic Halong Bay. Upon arrival I was met with a stunning boat with a rooftop terrace, spa, and balcony suite. Halong Bay is a spectacular place; I went kayaking in the bay, through caves, and swam in the refreshing greenish blue waters.
At the crack of dawn, I awoke and headed to the rooftop deck to take part in the ancient practice of Tai Chi. The most unforgettable sun rise rose all around me, painting the sky with stunning hues of purple and pink.
In that moment, a feeling of peace and serenity washed over me, and I stopped to think just how remarkably lucky I was to be experiencing something so special with people from such a wonderful country. It was then that I experienced how something so small could have such a large impact on my life and I wanted to feel this sense of peace in my normal everyday life. When I returned home, it was this moment and that feeling that ultimately lead me to a world of yoga and meditation.
The next stop on my itinerary was Hue, where I spent time marveling at the Thien Mu Pagoda, the Purple palace, and the mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc. While travelling I greatly enjoy learning about the history of the cities and countries I am visiting and about how they came to be what they are today.
Passing through Danang, I set out for the small town of Hoi An which is probably my second favorite place in Vietnam. The cobblestone streets and colorful homes reminded me of a world between Europe and the Caribbean. I spent three days wandering through the maze of winding streets, stopping in shops, and restaurants along the way.
At night I explored the markets, lit up with colorful lanterns, the smell of sugary treats in the air. As I walked deeper into the chaos of the night, I watched married couples take wedding photos in delicately decorated boats in the channel. Music filled the air as street performers dazzled locals and tourists alike.
It was incredibly to watch the city come alive and then I heard a little voice ask if I wanted to buy a lantern. As I turned around, I saw two young girls around the age of 8 with paper lanterns and candles for sale. They explained to me that it was their tradition to lite a candle inside of the paper colorful lantern, make a wish, and then send it down the river to be granted. They then mentioned that their mother was behind them with a small boat and could take me out to make my wish and send it out into the universe.
My feet were moving before I answered, I hopped in the small boat and we set sail into the darkness; I closed my eyes, made my wish, and set my lantern free with hopes that my dreams would come true.
It is a toss-up between the vibrancy and kindness of Hoi An, but I fell in love with the city. In this town I felt at home, safe, and I could one day see myself spending a lot more time in the city of Hoi An.
The last area of Vietnam on my list before flying out of Ho Chi Minh City was to cruise the Mekong Delta and experience the famous floating markets of Vietnam. It was easier than I thought to get there, just hopped on a small boat, and set out along the river. We passed boats full of pineapples, various types of other fruits, nuts, drinks, trinkets, and bags. We spoke with a few local sellers before disembarking at a nearby local food market. Much of my time was spent roaming through the stalls, gazing at so many sights that I had never seen before; from produce I did not recognize to live frogs without heads. After a long day of taking in all that I could along the Mekong Delta it was time to head to Ho Chi Minh City where my time in Vietnam had to come to an end.
Although many places in the world that I have travelled to have different cultures, customs and ways of life, Vietnam was one destination that touched my heart, taught me a different way of life, and humbled me. This fascinating country showed me that there was so much more to learn in life, there were so many other cultures and destinations to explore, and that life should not be lived in one place.
Vietnam taught me to appreciate what I had and to be happy, to not base my life on materialistic possessions, but on experiences and family.
Prior to this trip to Vietnam much of my happiness was found in new clothing, a new vehicle, or the latest iPhone. Now, my life has been changed and I find happiness in possessions that do not have a price tag; memories of experiences in life, memories of time with family and friends, and the knowledge that you can be truly, blissfully happy with less.
1. Three hours early to the airport or running to the gate? Always three hours or more early! I missed a flight once and I will never do it again!
2. Pretzels or Lotus Biscoff cookies? Pretzels for sure
3. Excel planned trip or just wing it? Excel planned trip
4. Favorite continent? South America so far
5. Dream destination? Indonesia