For me and the world, a weekend away seems like a distant memory. Living in Taiwan where the cases are currently at 4 active cases, I feel lucky that I didn’t have to experience quarantine, widespread panic, and a house full of food and supplies “just in case.” Needless to say, Taiwan has done extremely well managing this crisis, even with how close Taiwan is to China – both in proximity and international relations. The experiences of those living in Taiwan are unique to the world’s.
This specifically isn’t to share political and international comments on how I think this pandemic should be handled, just sharing about my personal experiences in Taiwan.
For me, I think I first heard about COVID-19, then coronavirus, sometime in late January. I heard about a case, the first one in the US, in Washington and told a friend as I was walking around the Taipei 101 skyscraper. I really thought nothing of it and it was a passing thought.
One week later, January 30th, the English school I worked at sent out an email stating that there has been 8 cases in Taiwan (all from travel in Wuhan China). And that we had preventative measures set in place to slow the spread. We were (and still are) required to wash our hands in the since before entering, temperature checked at the door, sprayed with alcohol, and wear a surgical mask at all times. I was kind of taken back because there had been only 8 cases, that is certainly not a big number but why was it such a big issue?
I learned later that week, SARS, a similar coronavirus, hit Taiwan hard and there was a specific governing body, part of Taiwan’s CDC, that would take action immediately when news breaks about a potential threat. This was crucial to Taiwan’s success. And this is where things started to change.
Most know that in Asian countries, we like to wear masks. But within that week, all surgical masks where confiscated by the government (I used to buy them at 7/11) and only allowed to be sold at authorized locations.(i.e. Pharmacies and Health Centers). I had a few that I could use but I needed to get more. The lines were ridiculous, waiting around 20 minutes before the pharmacy opened waiting around an hour to get just 2 masks.
The limit at that time was 2 masks a week per person, even foreigners. Other masks were distributed to places that needed them like hospitals, schools, and public servants like bus drivers. They slowly increased the number of masks you can buy, which is now 9 every 2 weeks. This was so important to know because Taiwan was ahead of the curve giving priority to the people who needed them most. I was also think it’s important to recognize that foreigners were also allowed to buy them too showing that Taiwan cares about people, not just citizens. They also sent a ton of masks to the US, think millions, and the rest of the world.
Now, in early February, travel bans were restricted to Wuhan and other places of high infection in China. A 14-day quarantine was imposed for all those that travel to China, Hong Kong, and Macau. And more countries were added as time progressed. I was lucky to have been able to go to Korea for 10 days in the end of January, just before the really infection hit. I remember coming back and my mom pleading me to come home, and I almost bought a ticket. I told her that if it gets worse in a month, I would go home, still not really believing it was a big deal yet.
Schools were on their Lunar New Year break (like our Christmas break) and it was delayed from opening for two weeks. Then, other teachers from my company started leaving. I started to get nervous and understanding the gravity of the situation. More and more people wore masks everywhere they went. The underground subway and all public transit required masks to ride, social distancing was imposed, gatherings over 100 people were banned. Borders started closing down, Korea, Singapore, Italy, Japan, and then in March 19, Taiwan officially closed its borders to all foreigners. Now it was real.
I was receiving weekly updates from the school and daily updates from friends about the current COVID count in Taiwan slowly getting higher, around 300. America at this point started their outbreak, and already surpassed Taiwan just in Washington alone, at roughly 1,000. I was calling my family now more often, weekly, then every other day. I was worried. My mom told me now, it was good choice not to come home. But to be away from family in this hard time was simply awful. My grandma who is now in a retirement home, or as she calls it “foster home,” has been effectively trapped in her room for over 4 months, seeing only some other nurses and that’s it. It’s heartbreaking.
This was my life until June when things started to relax. Its been over 2 months since there’s been a local person-to-person transmission. Large social gatherings are allowed again and things have returned to previrus. But a few things have changed, the tourism industry here is non-existent, businesses have closed, and masks are still required in schools and in public transit.
All in all, I am lucky to have lived in Taiwan during this time. I know that I am safe and I hope that everyone stays safe. Wherever you are, be careful and wear a mask.
你們好， 我叫文友 ，我不會說中文。 (Hello all, my name is Perry and I don’t speak Chinese.)
From leaving my home for the last two years to visiting family and friends in America, these past few months have been a whirlwind to say the least. Now it’s on to a new adventure.
As you may have guessed, I’ve moved to the exciting city of 台北，臺灣 (Taipei, Taiwan)! I am beyond happy to start my new journey with a new language and a new city. It’s vibrant and reminds me of a much more relaxed version of New York. Great metro, hard workers, good hidden spots and dense nature areas to center yourself.
What I’ve learned so far about the city is that even though it’s technically part of the Republic of China, Taiwan has its own unique culture that’s much different. Taiwanese is still a big language here, even though formally the language is traditional Mandarin. One of the motivating factors of moving here was to study Chinese and I thought where better to go then Taipei.
While the move is still fresh, I have discovered a few things about the city and here are my top 3 to make anyone feel like a local.
1. Ride the Bus It sounds easy but surprisingly few foreigners take the bus and solely rely on the MRT to get everywhere. How can you learn the roads when you just are in a dark tunnel? 2. Stand in Line The amount of queuing that happens in Taipei is ridiculous. People wait in line to go up an escalator! Way too organized. 3. Chat With Neighbors on Trash Night In Taipei, there aren’t any trash bins. Everyone just collects it at home and heads to the street when the garbage truck comes. Until then, chat away.
I’ll put up a list of my recommendations to do in Taipei shortly. Until then, stay well. Perry
Ngôn ngữ, người dân, và xe máy là ba thứ mình sẽ không bao giờ quên: dưới đây là những sự cảm nhận về Việt Nam trong tôi.
Xin chào gia đình, bạn bè, và tất cả những người đang đọc bài này. Cho mình xin giới thiệu: Mình là Hiếu, gia đình mình sinh sống ở Mỹ nhưng hiện nay mình làm việc tại Việt Nam. Thông thường người ta sẽ nghiên cứu và tìm hiểu những thông tin cơ bản trước khi chuyển đến một đất nước mới. Nhưng mình thì không.
Mặc dù thời gian đầu mình cảm thấy việc hòa nhập không hề dễ dàng, mình chỉ có một mục đích trong tâm trí: tìm hiểu thêm. Tuy vậy, mình cũng cố gắng để đạt được mục tiêu mình tạo ra. Trong hai năm qua, mình được khám phá những nét đặc trưng về văn hóa nguồn gốc của mình bao gồm ngôn ngữ, dân tộc, và cuộc sống thường ngày.
Thứ nhất là học và hiểu ngôn ngữ. Trước đây, như phần lớn các Việt kiều, khả năng tiếng Việt của mình còn “tệ hơn vợ thằng Đậu.” Không biết viết; không biết đọc; nói lơ lớ; nghe được ít hơn 25%. Mặc dù, mình là một Việt kiều điển hình, nhưng ước mơ của mình là trở thành bậc thầy tiếng Việt. Trước khi bắt đầu học, mình chỉ biết vài câu như “dạ hiểu,” “dạ không,” và “xin một tô phở lớn.” Vì chưa có phương tiện giao tiếp hiệu quả nên mình chỉ có 3 cách để nói chuyện với gia đình: (1) tiếng Anh, (2) chỉ trỏ, (3) không nói luôn (“khó quá bỏ qua” đúng không mấy bạn). Vì vậy, việc phát triển các mối quan hệ gặp nhiều khó khăn và mình hiếm khi nói chuyện với gia đình.
Đầu tháng 5 năm 2018, mình đã bắt đầu tập trung học 4 buổi mỗi tuần. Hiện tại mình học được hơn 12 tháng rồi, và mình có thể tự tin nói rằng “Mình hiểu tiếng Việt.” Hay chưa? Điều đó có nghĩa là mình giao tiếp được với những người thân trong cuộc sống của mình, quan trọng nhất là mẹ. Mình từng nghĩ mẹ là một người rất là bình thường, một trong những bà mẹ bình thường. Càng học tiếng Việt càng hiểu thêm về mẹ, mình thấy mẹ thật sự là một người rất giỏi, không bình thường chút nào. Điều này là một bất ngờ với mình, vì tự nhiên mình thấy là mẹ giống như người lạ mà mới gặp lần đầu. Hiện tại, mình có khả năng để hiểu lại khía cạnh hoàn toàn mới của mẹ và tất cả những người khác trong gia đình mình. Sao mình không bắt đầu từ nhiều năm trước vậy ta…
Thứ hai là học và hiểu văn hóa của dân tộc. Mặc dù quê của gia đình mình là Bến Tre nhưng khi mới tới VN, mình ở thành phố Vinh, Nghệ An (miền Trung). Đây mới chính là nơi mình được khám phá ngững điểm truyển thống của Việt Nam. Trong thời gian mình ở Vinh, mình từng làm ở trung tâm Anh ngữ và được làm quen tận mắt với sự thân thiện của người ở đó. Ví dụ, nếu mình bị bệnh, quản lý trung tâm tin liền chở mình tới bệnh viện thâm chí còn nấu cháo cho mình ăn. Cực kỳ tốt.
Người dân ở đây đối xử nhau như anh chị em. Cách giao tiếp của người Việt nhắc nhở mình đến nhân tình của thế giới. Phần lớn ai đều biết ở đây có rất nhiều người vô gia cư, nhưng ít người thấy được những người giúp đỡ cho họ là ai. Mình may mắn đã trải nghiệm được việc này khi một lần tận tay đi phát bữa tối và sữa cho những người đang sống trên đường. Đồng cảm và tôn trọng là hai từ mình sử dụng để diễn tả tính cách của tất cả những người dân nơi đây.
Thứ ba là mình cảm nhận được những thứ sẽ xảy ra trong một ngày thường. Quan trọng nhất là thời tiết. Khi nào đi đâu hay có công việc thì phải đề ý mặt trời. Đa số người Việt Nam thường thức dậy lúc 6h sáng sau khi mặt trời lên đỉnh và bắt đầu một ngày của họ. Làm việc vài tiếng và như nước Tây Ban Nha tại Châu Âu, người Việt cũng nghỉ trưa để trốn ánh nắng mặt trời. Mình nhận ra được lý do tại sao mà lại có quán cà phê cứ mỗi 100 mét, đó là để mọi người nghỉ trưa. Học sinh về nhà ăn cơm, nhân viên đi về ngủ, phái nam đi quán cà phê đánh bài, và mình… mình thì ngắm tất cả những hoạt động cuộc sống của họ.
Nói chung, mình đã hiểu được cuộc sống của những người cực kỳ thư thái. Việc này liên quan đến tiền và nhịp sống, cái gì cũng từ từ với lại không cần mau chóng, làm theo tốc độ riêng của họ. Đó là một trong những lý do người Việt luôn luôn trễ hẹn (lý do mình cũng vậy). Mặc dù nhiều người nghĩ điều này như là làm biếng, nhưng nó chỉ đơn giản là để tiết kiệm. Tiết kiệm thời gian, tiết kiệm tiền, tiết kiệm sức lực. Vì vậy, mình có cảm giác là họ sẽ luôn luôn tìm một cách làm nhanh nhất nhưng chưa chắc có hiệu quả.
Cuối cùng, trong hai năm nay mình hiểu được sự quan trọng của cuộc phiêu lưu đi tìm nguồn gốc mình. Đi vòng quanh và trải qua các giác quan của Việt Nam;
động cơ quay của xe máy đua; sự ngọt ngào của cà phê sữa; mùi hương của không khí ô nhiễm; sự ẩm ướt ở trên chiếc áo; nhận thức về rác trên đường phố;
Trải nghiệm bằng thính giác, vị giác, thị giác, khứu giác và xúc giác, mình được hiểu thêm về dân tộc của gia đình, thậm chí còn thấy được một phần con người mình.
Mình thấy rất may mắn vì được đi khắp vòng ba miền của Việt Nam. Mình thấy rất may mắn vì được làm quen nhiều người bạn thân. Mình thấy rất may mắn khi được có cơ hội để về đây. Mình yêu Viêt Nam.
This month marks my one year anniversary with Vietnam and wow has it been a wild year. I made amazing friends, traveled around south east Asia, gained wonderful new experiences, and learned a lot about myself and the world around me.
In the beginning, when I first moved here, I essentially came with three other people, arrive all within a month of each other. And for the first 6 months of living in Vietnam, those people have given me unparalleled support to try new things and have pushed me to live outside my comfort zone. We were all stuck together; living in this city with no English capacity. We relied on each other and that’s what cultivated such strong relationships. These once strangers have become one of the main reasons I have profoundly loved my experiences so much. We call ourselves a family because we have become one. Sometimes it really isn’t about where in the world you go, but it’s more about who you had surrounded myself with.
The bitter time came; one-by-one we all needed to say our farewells and take our leave in order to continue on our incredible adventures. The day when Raychel decided to leave me, I don’t know what happened, but I cried. It was eye opening to see how fond I have grown for these people, the center, and absolutely wonderful city. Then a month later, as I was leaving and headed off to the airport, I was crying as well. And not the type of crying where you look cute as you are seeing off some friends, the type of crying that is unexpected and takes over: can’t talk, can’t walk, all you are is a babblingidiot. Over this year, I am so grateful having made everlasting friends that I adore and continue to connect with. Every person that I have connected with has all taught me something valuable.
Being in a new country, knowing that time is limited, there is an silent, yet strong urge to capitalize. And, for me, that means exploring as many new places as time (and money) allows. There are too many highlights to share and with so many incredible people. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to travel around the whole Vietnam & even more outside the country. I get nostalgic thinking about all the wonderful (and miserable) trips I had.
These last 12 months, I have been looking for any opportunity to travel and see more. Now, I’m looking through my photo albums and remembering all that I’ve seen: lanterns with Raychel, went hiking with Ngoc, cleansing temples with Sydney, endless meat sticks with Kyle, frigid waters with Mom, and squirt guns with Tammy. What amazing memories that will last a lifetime. These memories? I wouldn’t trade for anything. I realized that traveling is more about gaining experiences rather than taking photos of landmarks.
Through thick and thin, teaching has made it possible for me to continue exploring. It has been a cornerstone and foundational throughout my time here in Vietnam. I couldn’t write a year in review without mentioning teaching. For me, teaching is a new experience and wildly different than what I thought it would be. I thought how hard could it be: I already know English. Boy was I wrong. I have a huge new found respect for teachers. Lesson planning and cutting things up for an hour only for a 10 minute activity. In the beginning and first classes, I remember how nervous I would be for every class and how I would stress about going up to present.
In hindsight, I clearly overthought the gravity of the situation. I believed that everything I that I said and did had a direct impact of student’s life. While I was right… it ain’t that deep. I was too concerned with how the students thought of me and less concerned of how and what the students were learning. I started off teaching lessons that were teacher-based, now moving toward student-centered. What I realized over the past week is that I really do care about my students success and their growth with the English language. I take pride in being a teacher (which is hard because I am not properly trained to be one). I am happy to be a teacher for these next few months, but it’s not a job that I will be doing say 5 years from now.
Next for me? That is something that is still to be determined. I’m not sure what the future holds exactly, but I know one thing for sure is that I am still mobile and not ready to settle down yet. Maybe I’ll be a city near you next.
Cheers to another great year, wherever I am.
When you travel to a European country, most of the time, the language is some form of Latin script based language. Thailand, however, uses a derivative of the Brahmic family, a script that is completely incomprehensible to me. It’s full of loops and squiggles, even the numbers were in Thai script! Though I have traveled before and consider myself a novice, traveling to Thailand was an entirely new (and exciting) experience.
Thailand is unique is so many ways; for one – it’s full of temples. I think while Kyle and I were in Bangkok, we visited over 10 temples… in only 4 days. Some were small, some took hours to walk though, some were just ruins of a temple, some were just completed. It was astounding to see; the temples themselves were almost always elaborate with gold finishing. The buildings, called “wats” were built high and pointed toward the sky at every opportunity. When two sides of the roof met, there was an intricate piece of gold that squiggled up to the heavens above. Wat is borrowed word from Sanskrit, meaning “enclosure,” although I’m not sure why. All I know is that they are very distinct. There were some unique wats, specifically the temples in Ayutthaya. The temples there have been destroyed and are now in ruins. Nature took its course and began to grow in and around the statues and towers; even one Buddha statue was entrenched in a tree.
One of the best parts about Thailand was the diverse transportation. Staying in Bangkok, there was the an abundant number of ways to traverse the city. There was a sky train, a subway system, and public buses; then you have taxis and tuk-tuks (3 wheeled motorbike); but what I found most fascinating was the River Express Boat. Yes, there was a public transit system on the river and its insane. The boat is crowded. The ride is anything but smooth. To top it off, there is constant whistling from the person in the back that guides the driver in the front. It’s funny to think that riding public transit is a must do in Thailand.
Like Vietnam, street food is very prevalent in Thailand. Down any street, there is a food truck like stand selling an assortment of food, anywhere from full meals to a light snack. Favorites include: mango sticky rice, so sweet with a coconut sauce poured on the rice; pad thai, salty, sour, and sweet all in one; and the infamous meat on stick, pork, beef, chicken and even fish! Not only were they delicious, they were so cheap too. Pad thai was only $1.50! Where can you buy that in America? Ahh right, no where. Then you have the not so savory food stand, selling a variety of crispy insects. My soul was not so brave to try any of the crunchy creepy crawlies. Seeing a fried roach is enough for me.
After a long day to sightseein’, food-tourin’, and temple-splorin’, we decided to “relax” with a thai massage. Let me tell you, it was anything but relaxing. Thai massages are all about pressure points and targeted pressure. The masseur was basically pushing his thumb into my bone. Yes, INTO. It was not pleasant. I may have cried. Like one actual tear. Then, to top it off, we tried the fish tank, the one where fish eat your dead skin cells. It felt THE most strange… But surprisingly exactly how you would think it should feel: like tiny little fish biting your feet. It was slightly painful, slightly pleasurable, and abundantly ticklish.
Bangkok was truly a spectacular place to visit. The city was full of delightful and, at times, quite frightening surprises. There is plenty more to explore, but that’ll have to wait. Gotta keep traveling to new places in the world.
Luckily, the English center I teach at is flexible about giving time off when requested. I decided to take advantage of this… which resulted in my first extended and out of Vietnam trip since arriving. First a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and then over to Bangkok. This trip was absolutely incredible and loved getting the chance to explore more of Southeast Asia. Of course, vacations are no fun alone, so I met up with Kyle and we traveled together around Vietnam and Thailand. The plan was 5 days in Saigon and 5 days in Bangkok.
Arriving in Saigon, it was hot and I was hot. The weather was similar to how you feel after an hour at the gym: sweaty, sticky, and feeling like you need a shower. Regardless, I was excited to see and explore what the largest city in Vietnam. I went when I was 6 but don’t remember much and didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s the real first time I have been in the city… and without a doubt, it’s my favorite place in SE Asia so far.
One of the first things I noticed about the city is how diverse and well populated it is. There are tons of people everywhere from all different parts of the world, of course with a crap load of Vietnamese. Even as I was walking around, I met a woman who was from Boise! She had to, of course, fill the role and stereotype — she was there selling Idaho potatoes!
Saigon is much different than I thought it would be. Living in a different part of the country, I had expectations of what I thought it would be. I thought wrong. I thought it would be like the quiet little town I live in where everyone knows each other and all take day naps and live life one day at a time. Incorrect. The big city is just that: big. It feels like a global hub.
Converse to Vinh, the streets are more developed and you can actually walk on the sidewalk. There’s also an absurd amount of people who live in the city, being the largest city in Vietnam, with about 3.4 million people. The massive number of people equates to an equally massive amount of motorbike because it is still the best method to get around quickly and efficiently. So for two days, we rented a motorbike to traverse the big city. Driving around is… stressful to say the least.
Of course, we were on vacation so we had to see all the tourist locations. Saigon is a hip-happening place with so many places to visit. We tried to fit as much as we could in and found our way through: the art museum, Bixteco Tower, the walking street, the war museum, etc. etc.
A exceptional place we visited was the Cu Chi tunnels. Similar to the war museum, it is focused on the Northern Vietnam perspective of the Vietnam War. It was interesting to see the tactics that were used against the Americans. Our tour guide Lin, eloquently described horrible conditions these people had to live in. They were civilians turned militia and forced into the battlefront, solely due to their location. Because of the war they ended up living in an underground maze network. No, it’s not a bomb-shelter type network, it was a dirty, unbreathable, and narrow shaft. Think of a shaft needed for an army crawl, and now think of a smaller version of that, and that’s how these people lived.
The weirdest part was how this place, and really all of Vietnam, is that they described fighting against the Americans, how they would get honors for killing Americans, and are proud of these accomplishments. Its strange to see how “the other side” views the war and switch perspectives.
Aside from the war, there are plenty of other amazing places to gander. Even just walking around, we found such interesting events. One of which was the Southeast Asia Cultural experience while walking down Nguyen Hue street. During that month, Vietnam in coordination with South Korea held traditional dance and music performances to showcase each country’s unique culture. We sat in on a performance and had the chance to view traditional Thai dancing – which was super amazing to watch. I interpreted it as some sort of fish dance and bringing it home to the wife.
Beyond that, I visited some of my extended family; my family’s heritage is from Vietnam, specifically the south. That means I have some cousins who still live there and had the chance to meet them. Last time I had met them, was the last time I was in Vietnam… and what a difference 12 years makes. My cousin, Ngoc took me around the city to all the places she could think of for food, we had Banh Trang Tron, Trung Nuong, Kem Chien, Banh Trang Chien, Tra Sua, and so much more (trust me, it was good food). When we headed to their house to see my great aunt, who is almost 100, she thought that Kyle, who is white, was me! She was giving him kisses and talking to him in Vietnamese. It was the funniest thing.
Saigon is such an amazing place, I love it so much. It has such a special place in my heart. But after the five days here, we headed to Thailand! More to come.
This week, Raychel and I again decided to take a quick 2 day trip to explore the beautiful sights of a new city. Ninh Binh is a short 4 hour train ride from where I live. I thought it would be a quick and easy trip… I was wrong. Usually, when you go traveling you hope for the best but plan for the worst. In Ninh Binh, the worse came.
As we got onto the train, the problems began. The scheduled time for arrival was 9:30am and the train conductors knock on your door to let you know you have arrived at your station. The train arrived at a station at 9:25 and I was slightly panicked because I didn’t know if this was the stop we got off. The train stated moving again and we decided to ask a stranger which way Ninh Binh was. “Ohh no,” he said and pointed in the opposite direction of the train “Ninh Binh.” Panic.
Train rolling along, Raychel and I sat for another 15 minutes discussing options: maybe lets just go all the way to Hanoi or get off at the next stop and wing it. The train stopped yet again and then the train conductor knocked on the door. “Ninh Binh,” he said. Surprised? Me too. We were just late…
The reason we chose to head to this city was, to be frank, a gorgeous picture we saw on Instagram. After further investigation, the city is known for its stunning views and intricate cave system. However, when we arrived, it nothing but clouds and rain. No beautiful sights to be seen.
Again, we rented a motorbike as a means of travel and again, we ran into another problem. The motorbike wouldn’t start. It was extremely finicky and the ignition had to be pressed in the right way with a strong tug on the throttle. Finally, it started and we biked to our hotel… in the pouring rain… with cheap plastic ponchos. Needless to say we were wet and needed a hot shower. When we arrived, you guessed it, another problem.
The hotel was wet. Okay, I am being a bit dramatic, but the floor near the window and bathroom was wet. And that left everything else in the room damp. Do you know the feeling of your clothes when you dry it but its 10 minutes shy of being completely dry? Those were the blankets I slept on.
Even though I was under the weather (ba-dum-tss), we decided to roll with the punches and head back into the rain to explore the city. By this point, the rain was coming down so hard, it caused flash floods around the city. We rode around for about three hours in the rain to find an Instagram worthy photo. None to be found. We couldn’t even get to the “Mua Caves” because of the flooding.
Finally, we headed back to the hotel to take a break from the rain and regroup. It had already been such a long day and it was 3pm. We headed back out to find dinner and another problem struck. The motorbike had a flat back tire. I pushed the motorbike to a street corner where this older gentleman started tearing the bike apart. In the end he was just pulling out the tube and putting a patch on the tire. The long day turned into a super-long day.
The next day was the saving grace. Sunshine. Warmth. Views. First we headed to see a pagoda of the city. And encountered another problem – actually more of a funny story. This time Raychel was captain of the bike. We got off so she could push the bike up a curb. She pulled the throttle a bit too hard, it ran into a wall and the bike fell over. She immediately looks up at me and says “Perry, I dropped the bike,” at which point I chuckled to myself. It fell on the opposite side where she was so all was good. Except maybe the scuff left on the bike.
We again headed to the Mua Caves to see the city from a different perspective. When we arrived to the Caves, we left the motorbike on the side of the road in order to ride a paddle boat over to the flooded entrance. Then walked on a flooded walkway to the start of the hike. It was definitely an interesting experience. After all the problems that were encountered, the view was more than worth it. The only downside was that it went from cold to sweltering. I was literally dripping in sweat which meant mosquito bites.
Of course, it wouldn’t be travelers nightmare without another problem. As we were leaving and picking up our bike on the side of the road, I locked the keys inside the bike! Vietnamese motorbikes have a compartment under the seat so that you can store a backpack sized item while riding. We had a sweet french couple to help us out and finesse the seat to grab the key.
Let’s not forget, there’s always a big finish. To round out the problem ridden trip, the train back got cancelled due to flooding! But we headed to the train station without that knowledge and by some turn of fate, the train was rescheduled to run only 30 minutes later. Thinking this train would be only 4 hours back, we booked a seat. But heres the twist. The train took 13 hours to make its trip. 13 hours. It was parked for 8 hours because of the flooding.
Overall, this trip was chock full of problems. But hey, that is part of the adventure of traveling.
Apart from teaching, all the foreign teachers at our school get two consecutive days off. This is just enough time to squeeze in some light traveling to different cities within Vietnam. Take the night train or bus, sleep, and spend two full days in a new city. Sleep again on the way back and work the next morning. Yes, it’s tiresome but it’s a great way to get in all the exploring you can.
This week, Raychel and I headed down to Da Nang. In the forecast, it was all rain but surprisingly, it was nice and sunny Vietnam upon arrival. Da Nang and the neighboring town, Hoi An, were absolutely amazing places to visit with lots more to do than where I’m living. So many places to explore and eat!
The 8 hour train arrived at around 9:30am and I was ready to hit the town and see what this city had to offer. After getting the motorbike, I was off to see the Marble Mountains, a recommendation from a fellow foreign teacher. And it was a great recommendation. The firs battle was getting up the 1,000 steps to the mountain. It was really one of my first experiences with a pagoda in Vietnam.
These pagodas were a bit different than the ones you’re thinking of because these were built inside the mountain. YES, inside the mountain. There were statues both outside and inside THE MOUNTAIN. It was an amazing sight to see, the statues were so ornate and I was just a little overwhelmed by the sheer size. And the fact that they were INSIDE the mountain. When thinking about it, the cave openings are too narrow for the statues to be brought in, meaning they were carved perfectly from the rock while digging out the cave. What amazing feat!
After the hike around the pagoda and a good sweat, I took a quick 30 minute ride to Hoi An. Raychel and I booked a hotel to stay for the night. Since it was so humid outside, we decided to find another place… with a pool. That’s when we discovered the haven named “The Villa of Tranquility.” It was beyond amazing and only $12 a night for two people to stay. The best was the perfect firmness and THE PILLOWS… I was tempted to steal a pillow they were so soft.
While relaxing poolside, we met a cute Australian family that told us that the Hoi An night market was a must to visit. We found a place to grab dinner and headed over to over. While walking around the market, I was stopped by a woman to take a candle lit night ride around the river. Of course, we had to! Raychel bought a little candle lantern to place in the water. As she placed it in the river, the candle immediately extinguished and it was one of the saddest sights.
The night market was stunning. It is well known for its ornate lanterns and were strung up all along the market. With the night set, the lanterns lit, and candles in the river, the city was very picturesque. There was even the smell of sweet foods and tasty dishes all around. The cheerful buzz of children playing. Elation for all the senses. I ended up with a few souvenirs from the vendors and a cute lamp for my desk.
The next day, we headed back to Da Nang for the remainder of the trip. We decided to walk around the city and go to a famous taco infusion restaurant. It was an hour and a half walk but I thought we could do it, so we returned the bike. The distance and time wasn’t too bad. It was the distance in combination with the heat, humidity, and the weight of our bags that made it a little unbearable. And when I say a little, I mean showering in sweat pools.
The worst part: when we got to the restaurant, it was no where to be found. It was permanently closed. We had walked almost 2 hours for a restaurant that was closed. The distraught. The agony. The hunger. But most disappointing, the uneaten tacos. Eventually, we landed at a Mi Cay (spicy ramen) place and ate there and relaxed at the beach before heading out to catch the sleeper bus on the way home.