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April 04, 2005

Finally

I've been traveling with other people for almost three weeks now, so please forgive the blog abandonment. First, I met up with my parents in Bangkok, and we traveled to Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, then through the Mekong Delta of Vietnam to Saigon (now oficially called Ho Chi Minh City) where we met my boyfriend, Mitch. The four of us saw the sights there, then traveled to Mui Ne for a little beach time, then on to Hoi An via Nha Trang. My parents then continued north through Hue and Hanoi and into China, while Mitch and I spent a couple more days in Hoi An and a few in Hue before he had to head back to the States. In Hoi An, we randomly met up with Chris and Amy, the American couple I shared Thanksgiving dinner with back in Puerto Natales, Chile--I had dinner with them in Bangkok a few weeks ago, and we thought we'd be in Vietnam around the same time, but weren't sure how it would work out. We ended up spending time together in Hoi An and in Hue, and then as Mitch headed back through Saigon to Los Angeles, Chris, Amy, and I took the overnight train north to Hanoi, where I am now. Tomorrow, we head out to Ha Long Bay for a few days, and then we will go to Sapa, in the mountains, this weekend. I just bought a ticket to fly to Vientiane, the capital of Lao, on the 15th, and Chris and Amy head to Hong Kong on the 14th, so I'll be on my own again pretty soon.

It was certainly an adjustment traveling with other people in the beginning, and I think I was pretty hard to get along with the first few days. But Mom and Dad and I, and then Mitch and I, found our groove eventually and really enjoyed our time together. They all proved to be great traveling companions, and I hope this experience spurs them on to further adventure. It means a lot to me that they took the time, money, and energy to come share part of this journey with me, and it's great that we'll have that shared experience to look back on in years to come.

As far as the places we've gone and the sights we've seen and the things we've done, well, there's just too much, so I won't go into detail, but here are a few highlights.

--The temples at Angkor--stunning, incredible, living up to all the superlatives, but our two days there was sufficient time for me. Everything in Siem Reap, the surrounding town, seemed overpriced and super-touristy. We had some really good food and some horrible food.

--One night in Phnom Penh is not enough. Would've loved to delve deeper into the city and its history. The National Museum was a bit of a disappointment.

--A brief sojourn in the Mekong Delta was worth it, even though we didn't make it to the town Mom and Dad were eager to see, Can Tho. The bus ride from Chau Doc to Saigon provided a memorable glimpse into the region.

--Saigon/HCMC--fast paced and lively, and I definitely could've stayed longer. War Remnants Museum was a sobering must and changed the way I look at this country (and my own). Drinks at the Rex Hotel and dinner at Lemongrass made for a memorable evening (and one of my best meals in Vietnam).

--Mui Ne beach, relaxing and beautiful, enjoyed a sunset walk, waving to the fishermen and admiring their boats and their catch as the kids played in the waves.

--Hue--hired a surly boat driver for a ride down the Perfume River to see 200-year-old emperors' mausoleums, wandered the Imperial City, strolled in sculpture gardens by the river, drank Hue beer at the same table at the DMZ Bar almost every night.

--Hanoi-- somehow lower profile and quainter than Saigon but just as noisy, crossing the street sometimes as harrowing as they say, but I love the flow of it all, good food and water puppets and ice cream by the lake.

I'd heard great things about Vietnam, as well as not-so-great things, and even after nearly three weeks I'm still forming my own opinons of this complex country. There's no question that it's beautiful, and it looks pretty much as I imagined. I'd heard that the people are welcoming and forgiving of Americans, which was part of why I wanted to come here, but now it feels like they're simply friendly to anyone who has money to spend; they don't care where you're from. As with some of the other places I've been on this trip, it's hard not to feel like a walking dollar sign, and it's difficult to meet anyone who isn't in the tourism industry or who doesn't want something from me, and I have a hard time getting much of a sense of the people beyond the fact that they've been through hell and they are hard workers.

I'm also struggling with a simple burnout of sorts, I think. I'm tired of being stared at, tired of everyone wanting something from me and wondering where I'm from, where I'm going, and if I need a motorbike. I miss the anonymity of the States. While there are still things I'm looking forward to seeing on my trip, part of me is feeling very ready to go home.

And I suppose this is as good a time as any to let you all know that I've decided not to go to Africa, which was originally on the itinerary in a haphazard sort of way. It's mostly a matter of not feeling enthusiastic about it, and wanting to go home with more money so I can support myself as I get started as a freelance editor (and maybe writer).

So, I plan to finish my trip with a quick jaunt to London (I leave Bangkok May 18) and most likely I'll be back in the States right around Memorial Day at the end of May. Hard to believe that means I've got just 7 or 8 weeks left on the road!

Posted by Amy on April 4, 2005 04:43 AM
Category: Vietnam
Comments

Hey Amy,

Thanks for the update. I've read all your posts!

Where will you end up. . . back in SF or on the east coast? It'd be nice to see you again.

xoxo
amber

Posted by: amber p on April 4, 2005 08:31 AM

A lot of the walking dollar sign issue relates to globalization. With rapid communication and migration around the globe, people are more and more aware of how people live in other places. An unfortunate side effect of this is that it tends to breed resentment among people who have less money. When I traveled in the early 90s it was much less of an issue. Now it is difficult to avoid. Too many aspects of travel and tourism these days come down to money and nothing else.

Posted by: Solo Traveler on April 10, 2005 09:22 PM

Yeah, the staring really gets to us here in Japan and some of the other countries we've visited. India, where we met you Amy, was the worst we've experienced.
Sometimes its nice to go to the more touristy places because we don't feel as conspicuous.
I hope the rest of your trip goes well.

Posted by: Brian on April 11, 2005 06:22 AM

I somehow skipped Hoi An in my synopsis above! Probably my fave place in Vietnam, it was fun getting clothes made, taking a cooking class, and splurging on some tasty food. I would have stayed longer, but it would have cost me a fortune!

Posted by: Amy on April 11, 2005 09:20 PM
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