Full disclosure: I’m back in Toronto. And have been back for just over 3 weeks now. I have about 3 or 4 written journal-type entries written about the first leg of my second tour, but having had a few weeks to decompress and unpack that part of my trip, I got different shit to say about it. It’s not like I feel differently about the trip, but I certainly have found the vocabulary to talk about it and why I felt the way I did.
Obviously the first topic of conversation I have with anyone since getting back is “How was your trip?! It looked amazing!! DID YOU HAVE THE BEST TIME?!?!?!?” Everyone is so happy and excited to hear how it was life-changing, and so amazing, and THE BEST TIME. It makes me a little sad to have to pop that bubble immediately with a “It was hard. It was great! But it was also really hard.” And let me tell you, nobody wants to hear that. When I inevitably give my measured response, most people look upset that I have anything less than rave reviews of 2 months of travelling alone. But that’s my truth. Of course my trip was incredible, and full of places and foods I’ve never experienced before, but it was also really difficult. The highs and lows of travelings can be really extreme, and nothing that bad even happened to me! I didn’t get robbed, lost, sick or kidnapped, but if I’m coming from a place of honesty, as wonderful and great as it was, there were a lot of challenging elements ex. ALMOST DYING IN BALI. HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN ALREADY? BECAUSE I HAVE NOT.
Of all the countries I was fortunate enough to experience, Vietnam was the hardest. And don’t get it twisted. Just because I’m airing out my dirty laundry doesn’t mean I’m not fully aware of my own privilege and how lucky I am to have the means (financial and physical) to visit the country. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here comes the T. To be fair, Vietnam had the unfortunate task of being the next country after Bali. As I’ve made abundantly clear, Bali was a full blown paradise and arriving in the chaos that is Ho Chi Minh City was a huge shock to my system. It was loud and full of people, cars and motorbikes, none of which ever seemed to stop moving or making noise. At the risk of furthering an unfair stereotype of “Asians are bad drivers,” my experience walking through Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi didn’t make a case to debunk that. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed like traffic laws were less “law” and more “suggestions that everyone ignored.” Changing lanes, making turns, going through intersections were consistently terrifying, as a pedestrian and as a passenger in a car or bike. The only “rule” anyone followed was “never stop honking your horn.” Because instead of using your blinkers to signify you were changing lanes, you would just do it and then honk at everyone to let them know this was gonna happen regardless of how many cars/bikes/people were around. Apparently listening to sustained honking will elevate my stress levels, and since they never stopped, walking through the cities became an anxiety-ridden endeavour. Wanna cross the street? GOOD FUCKING LUCK. The traffic just never stops and doesn’t give a shit about you. If you wanna get from one side to another, there’s only one thing you need to know: Motorbikes will go around you, cars will not. Other than that, hold your breath, say a prayer, start walking and keep your pace. Don’t trip, stop, hesitate, because the motorbikes are taking into account how you’re walking and will readjust their path. It is nerve-wracking and constantly deterred me from exploring the city the way I wanted to. Pair these stresses with the fact that I met up with a new travel group full of THE WORST HUMANS IN THE HISTORY OF THE FUCKING WORLD, and you have a recipe for disaster. They get their own post though. Stay tuned.
The accommodations I stayed in were also less than ideal. Because I chose the “18 to 30-Somethings” tour with G Adventures, I knew the tour wouldn’t have the same luxuries as their “Classic” tours. The 18 to 30-Something tours are meant to be more of a guided backpacking experience, so the hotels and hostels would reflect that. However, I failed to take into consideration how many shared dorms there would be… and they were mostly that. While most of the hostels were at least clean, sharing a room with 5 other people fucking sucks and I’m too old for that nonsense. I’m in my 30s, I don’t wanna be climbing up fucking bunk beds. There is no elegant or dignified way to climb a rickety ladder that hurts the fuck out of the arches on your feet. The only acceptable bunk beds are the ones on overnight trains and they’re only cool for 10 minutes, until you get motion sick from being in a super claustrophobic, bumpy-ass cabin. We took 2 overnight trains in Vietnam and one was really clean and a fun experience, but the other was dirty, had bugs, and resulted in me breaking out into hives in the middle of the night. That was definitely was one of the nights I cried myself to sleep. So… hit or miss with the sleeper trains?
All of these things put together was a true perfect storm. I was homesick for a shower that I didn’t have to wear flip flops in, a toilet I could comfortably fart and poo loudly in, and most of all my family and friends. I was rarely in a relaxed state in Vietnam, mostly because of the incessant honking and the garbage trolls I was surrounded by. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi were full of reminders that the country was involved in a brutal war that divided and made enemies of neighbours less than 50 years ago. From the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, Hoa Lo Prison, there were lots of reminders of a devastating period of time. Lots of reminders of how the Western world really fucked with Asia and left them to pick up the broken pieces. So if Vietnam isn’t the friendly, happy, smiling vacation paradise, it’s completely understandable. That isn’t to say that Bali was free from this. Their tourism is still suffering from the Bali bombs of 2002 and 2005. It’s just stupid and ignorant to go to a new country expecting any of the luxuries you have back home. It’s even more stupid and more ignorant and completely arrogant to expect that you’ll fit right in with the local customs and traditions, or that anything is owed to you. Sure I didn’t have the best time on this leg of my trip, but I never blamed the country for it. Me and Vietnam just didn’t click and that’s okay. I saw some incredible sights and ate some of the best food, maybe ever, and I adapted the best I could to my surroundings. I would never write off an entire country just because I didn’t have THE BEST TIME EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! In fact, I have a deep respect for Vietnam and the Vietnamese. It is a place full of history and ambience. It’s at a point in its history where I think it wants to move forward, but also wants to stay the same and preserve its culture.
And honestly, I’m there too.
OH LOOKIE LOOKIE. I COMPARED MYSELF TO A GODDAMN COUNTRY. CAN MY EGO GET ANY BIGGER? YES IT CAN, DADDY! YES. IT. CAN.
Anyway. The next post will be about what I loved about Vietnam, because when it went well for me, DAMN IT WENT WELL.