A month later and I’m finally about writing the second half of my Vietnam adventures. January and February were busy months with our Mid-Year Enrichment Conference and then getting back into the swing of things at school after six weeks off. It felt like the second semester was starting off at 110% – there was so much to be done and to prepare for this semester (WORDS, YES Scholarship, etc). Then, add in a new American President and you have me spending a majority of my free time reading the news…Today is election day in Indonesia so it’s a holiday! (Take note, America.) This means I have a blissfully free Wednesday to sleep in and do as I please. Aka finally writing a blog post.
I left off the last post in Hue on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we packed up and headed to Hoi An, via motorbikes! It’s (theoretically) about a half day journey by motorbike from Hue to Hoi An and we had heard fantastic things about the trip.
We stopped at a number of places throughout the trip – submerged rice fields in the countryside outside of Hue, an incredible cemetery, a beautiful lagoon, a waterfall, and the Hai Van Pass, which takes you along the ocean and over the mountains and is absolutely beautiful. A flat tire, running out of gas, and losing Daniel turned our trip into a longer day than it should have but I can’t recommend this trip highly enough! It was SO COOL!
Then we spent three nights in Hoi An, a charming little town known for its tailors and lanterns. It’s a tourist trap but I loved it after living in far-off Indonesian places for so long. Unfortunately, on our second night there, we got food poisoning and became horrendously sick. We spent the next day in bed, hardly able to move, and cursing the food gods. We were looking forward to spending a day at the beach that day but alas, that didn’t happen.
The next day, we hauled ourselves out of our sick beds and made our way to the airport. We were much better by then but still a bit queasy. By the time we arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), we were feeling better and up for a night on the town. We stayed at the COOLEST hostel – The Common Room Project – and luxuriated in the down comforters, beautiful bathrooms, and incredible rooftop. It’s a little out of the way from the Backpacker District but if you are wiling to take cabs to and from wherever you are, it’s 100% worth it. Seriously, this place was amazing.
We stuffed ourselves with pho, got drinks at the fancy Skybar in the tallest skyscraper in the city, fell in love with a dozen puppies, soberly made our way through the Vietnam War Museum, and went on a food tour with local university students. On New Year’s Day we went on a tour to the Chu Chi Tunnels, about two hours outside of Saigon. While the whole thing was way too touristy, it was still neat to see and I’m glad we went. We spent the rest of New Year’s Eve bar-hopping with some of our other ETA friends! On New Year’s Day, we said goodbye to Daniel, and Kate and I headed back to Kendari.
We had to spend a night in Kuala Lumpur before getting back to Kendari so we decided to book a hostel in the city so we could see the Petronas Towers. Damn they are incredible. We stumbled upon a food truck park at midnight and devoured some pizza before crashing back at our hostel for the night. We woke up at the crack of dawn and headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Jakarta, then to Makassar, and finally back to Kendari. Of course, when we got back to Kendari we discovered that our bags hadn’t made the flight and were still in Makassar. Thankfully, Kate’s landlord (and our ride) was there to help us sort things out and our bags were finally delivered the next morning.
Books to read before going to Vietnam
I read a number of books about Vietnam before we went. I wanted to know more about the history, in particular about America’s role during the Vietnam War, but also about the history of French colonialism and Vietnamese culture. I searched around on a couple of websites and found these recommended books so I bought the kindle versions and read them in December and throughout the trip! These books were especially interesting to read as they all took place in the cities we were traveling to. Now, having been there, I can picture what it must have looked like and the references to different locations (Old Quarter vs the French Quarter in Hanoi) mean so much more. Here are my selections:
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: A powerful book about a troop of American soldiers. A deep and sad read, but one that gave me perspective on what it was like for the Americans during the war
- When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace by Le Ly Hayslip: A mesmerizing story about a young peasant girl growing up in the countryside during the struggle with the French and the Vietnam War. I highly, highly recommend this book whether or not you are going to Vietnam. It’s one of those books that sticks with you and you think about long after you finish it…
- The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Duong Van Mai Elliot: Tbh, I’m not actually finished with this one. It’s quite long and I’m only about halfway through. While long, it’s paints a fascinating narrative of the life of a Vietnamese family… four generations of that family, and I have a much more thorough understanding of traditional Vietnamese customs, than I did before. I’d recommend the book but know you are in a for a long read.