Friday, September 10, 2010
Better Late Than Never...Vietnam!
Better late than never is really true about Vietnam. This is a trip I want to share with everyone as well as remember it for myself. It's been over two months since I last posted. After my half-marathon, it was hard to find a spare moment to write as I was busy enjoying every moment of my last two months as well as working furiously to get lots of psychological testing for seminary done. Apparently, they want to make sure you're aren't crazy if you're going to be a pastor. I hope they still allow me to become one! ;) Back to the subject I want to write about, Vietnam.
On July 24th, Britney, Shauna, and I took our final vacation during our time in Korea together. Here's what we did!
*Saturday, July 24th: We arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam and Gecko Hostel around midnight. We read in the Lonely Planet book that most Vietnamese people go to bed around 11:00pm because they wake up so early (5:00am or earlier) to begin their day's work. That was absolutely true as we felt like we were driving through a deserted town with old buildings and no lights. We arrived by taxi and were led down a pitch black ally to our hostel. I'm sure you can imagine what was going through three white American girls' heads at this point...scary! It ended up being a wonderful, clean, and hospitable place to stay.
*Sunday, July 25th: We spent the morning with our kind hostel worker who helped us plan our entire week's travels. She set up every detail from transportation, meals, and lodging! That afternoon, we roamed our area of town with thousands of motor bikes zipping around freely. Getting the courage to cross roads took considerable time! There were markets and shops of every sort imaginable. It was a great place to see the work and lifestyle of the people. That night for dinner, we had the famous Pho soup off the street for a whopping $1, and it was delicious! Then, we headed off on an over night sleeper train (what a fun experience) to the mountains of Sapa.
*Monday, July 26th: We were picked up from the train, drove an hour up, up, up into the beautiful mountains of Sapa, checked into our hotel room, and had our delicious buffet breakfast. I still can't get over how absolutely breathtaking the view from our hotel room balcony was over looking the city of Sapa and the mountains. By 8:30am, we were walking with our private tour guide, Viet, to see some of the traditional tribal villages in the area.
Viet had quite the story. He was an original member of a tribe about 20kilometers from Sapa. When he was seven years old, he got lost in the mountains and couldn't find his way back. He walked for 10 days along a river surviving off of plants he knew about until he eventually found a different tribe. They didn't speak the same language, but the tribe understood he was lost and cared for him until they turned him over to the government. Eventually a French (who were some of the first people to discover Sapa) family took him in and began teaching him both French and English while he worked for them. As tourism started to grow in Sapa, he began working as a waiter in the hotel restaurants. By age 14, he begged the government to let him go back to his village. It took them 10 days to find it, and when he returned, his tribe tried to kill him as they thought he was an enemy! From what he remembered of his language, he began to speak with them until they realized who he was. Now, he is allowed to visit once or twice a year, BUT must come alone by foot (a 2-3 day walk) wearing only the traditional clothing...a leaf over his "you know what." Now, he's 29 years old and has been working in Sapa ever since as a wonderful tour guide!
Tuesday, July 27th: We woke up for a longer day of hiking to two more tribal communities. You can't go anywhere with out the tribal villagers begging you to buy their hand crafted goods. We were told that they hardly came into the city of Sapa until about two years ago. They never even used money until tourists slowly started buying things from them. Now, many women and children come to town and will even walk with you, all the way to the surrounding villages! They befriend you, practice their English (amazing what they learn from tourists!), hold your hand over the terrain, and give you flowers along the way with an end goal of trying to get you to buy (the cheapest things) from them. We were told not to talk to them, especially if you didn't want to buy anything. But, we couldn't resist. Both days, two absolutely adorable little girls followed us the entire way! The second day, two older girls walked and talked with us as well. Britney's purse broke along the way when she jumped down a hill, and the girls sewed her purse on the spot! They were absolutely sweet and kind, so of course we ended up getting pictures and buying things from them in the end!
These two days were by far the most beautiful and memorable of the trip. I felt like I was in a different world in the mountains that are more lush and green than I ever knew existed. Inside those mountains are beautiful rice terraces and hundreds of different existing tribes. It was another reminder of God's amazing work...I had trouble believing that what I was seeing was actually real! That evening we took another night train back into Hanoi.
Wednesday, July 28th: We arrived in Hanoi around 5am, showered at our hostel, and took off again for our next tour in Halong Bay. Our tour guide said you haven't been to Vietnam unless you've been to Halong Bay. In my opinion, you haven't been to Vietnam until you've been to Sapa. Halong Bay was certainly beautiful with thousands of cliff islands in the water, but for me, it didn't compare to the mountains. It was however a very fun and relaxing trip. We had a three night, three day boat tour. We spent the first day in the sun on the boat, touring a cave, kayaking, jumping off the boat and swimming. We had delicious meals on the boat, which I was proud of myself for eating, since they were mostly seafood! We slept on the boat and switched to a smalled boat the next day.
Thursday, July 29th: We took the small boat to an island where we were going to see a village. Shauna suggested we try the scooters since there was no traffic on the island. Although we were all a little hesitant, we decided it would be a blast. And a blast it was until the very end when Shauna wiped out around the last corner. Her big toe went from round to triangular very quickly. Thankfully, she only paid $30 for the broken motorbike, and other than her toe, she was just fine. On board our boat was a student in his first year of med school who was so excited to put his education into action! Shauna experienced quite a bit of pain over the next few days, but it didn't stop her from enjoying the trip. That evening, we landed on Catba Island and stayed in a hotel. We met some nice people our age and had a few drinks before heading to bed.
Friday, July 30th: After checking out the crowded beaches the day before, we opted for a day pass at a resort pool overlooking the ocean-perfect! Other than a few come and goers, we were the only people at the pool the entire day until we left at 5:00pm when lots of people began to appear. After much confusion as to why no one (literally!) was out enjoying the ocean and pool during the day while we were, we quickly figured it out that night after seeing our sun burns, despite the several applications of sunscreen we had put on the day! No one goes in the water during the day because of the intensity of the sun...duh! We spent the night at the hotel ready head back to Hanoi in the morning.
Saturday, July 31st: In the morning, we headed back on the small boat, rejoined our original tour boat, The Amigo, and headed towards shore. We had about three hours to relax and have lunch before our van ride back to the city. I'm sure our burns didn't help, but it was by far the most intense heat and humidity I have ever experienced! We arrived back in Hanoi that afternoon, did some souvenir shopping, and got packed to head home early in the morning.
On Sunday, August 1st, we were on our way back to Korea with a six hour lay over in China. This day wouldn't be worth mentioning, except that I did get detained in the airport for a while! I think I was experiencing some sort of heat stroke because I was freezing on the plane, so I had asked for a blanket, but woke up in a deep sweat. I should have taken off my sweater, but as we went through the heat sensors, I immediately knew I was going to get flagged. I saw a worker point to me, and before I knew it was getting snatched away from Britney and Shauna! They were already on the other side of the sensors when they turned back and saw me getting taken into a back room. My temperature was taken, and sure enough I had a high fever, so they slapped a mask on my face and told me I had to be taken to the hospital for tests! Eventually, I assured them that I was NOT staying in China, and was only on a layover back to Korea. So, once they realized I wasn't staying to infect their country, they sent me away making sure my mask did not come off! It was quite an adventure to say the least, but it turned out humorously in the end. I clearly wasn't feeling well as I slept through our entire lay over on the airport floor.
We made it home safely, reflected on our absolutely incredible vacation, and had to get ready to begin my last month of work the next day. The week before we arrived, a typhoon was moving through, but we were absolutely blessed with sunny weather the entire week! I had never imagined going to Vietnam, but it was by far a trip of a lifetime. We stayed in the North all week, but I would love to go back and work my way south some day. However, there are also numerous other places I want to see in the world now, too. See...aren't you glad I wrote about this trip? Better late than never, right?!