Here is a little peak into my “plan” of spending 7 days in the North of Vietnam and instead spent 17 days traveling from North to South of Vietnam.
A couple weeks ago I planned a trip to Vietnam to renew my Thai Visa, visit an artisan village which employs victims of human trafficking and to see a bit of Northern Vietnam. After finding a round trip ticket for 70$ I was set to leave for a solo trip to Vietnam! A good friend of mine wanted to join as he has never been to Vietnam and upon arriving in Hanoi at the airport I met two Austrian guys traveling through South East Asia for 4 months and an awesome couple from Spain ending their travels in Vietnam — we shared a taxi into town, spent a day wandering the old quarter of Hanoi and decided to continue traveling together.
In one week, we traveled together to Ha Long Bay and spent a beautiful sunny day on a boat to ourselves sailing through the bay for 20$ — The scenery here was surreal with an incredible seascape of limestone pillars.
Hooray for $1 canoeing!
The same night we took a night bus back to Hanoi and on to another public bus to Ha Giang (approx 300km further north). There, we rented a few motor bikes and continued to head further north in search of Mrs. Mai’s Village and boy was I glad they came along because I would’ve never made it there on my own — at least not with MY motor biking skills O_O
After many months of sharing stories and posting photos of my visits to these various villages — it was very special to have a few friends there with me. They were amazed with the entire process of traditional textile weaving, village lifestyle and the generosity of the people — Mrs. Mai showed us around her village, introduced us to some of the women she employs and her entire weaving operation; we ended our day at the village with home cooked pho by Mrs. Mai & her neighbor.
I was inspired by an article written about this woman and her husband created a weaving co-operative over 10 years ago to support and employ victims of human trafficking. I feel very fortunate that we were able to find her remote village and the chance to meet her. Now — I am thinking of how to help her and her co-operative. Read about her story here!
Having Pho with Mrs. Mai and her neighbor
The same day; we had to say good bye to Mila & Miguel who were headed back home to Spain after a year abroad. Tor, Ronnie, Walter and I continued on to the furthest Northern province in Vietnam, driving through some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen in SE Asia –passing through Don Van Market, several tribal villages, stopped at a school in a remote community and spent some times with the kids — overall a great ride through gorgeous natural scenery.
Don Van market. This market was full of charm, vibrant ethnic minorities in their beautiful traditional clothing.
Rice fields in Ha Giang
A day before I was to go back to Bangkok I received an e-mail from my sister to contact my paternal grandfather. I’ve had no relationship with my dad all my life and knew nothing of my paternal family…so I was rather shocked to discover that I still have a grand father alive. I called the number and nervously told my auntie who answered the phone — “I am grandpa Duong’s 24 year old grand daughter”……many questions followed and eventually I decided to post pone my flight home and make my way to Saigon to see my Grandfather and paternal relatives. My pals Ronnie & Walter had planned to travel by motor bike from Hanoi to Saigon and invited me to come along if I just pitched in a bit for gas and steer them away from restaurants serving thịt chó (dog meat) — and of course I agreed.
My wonderful traveling buddies for a few days and trusted motor bike drivers — all packed and ready to head out from Hanoi.
We traveled approximately 600km by motor bike in total; through rain, shine, dusty traffic, cows crossing and again through beautiful scenery. We drove on average a little over 100KM each day until reaching the center of Vietnam — Hue. Along the way we stopped by a few towns to rest and explore a bit. Our frist stop was in Ninh Binh to rest for a night, spent an evening playing badminton at a sports center in the city of Vinh, experienced a very rainy ride through to Dong Ha and to Hue the following morning. I never thought I’d get to travel through half of Vietnam by motorbike and though our bums were extremely sore — it was definitely a memorable ride and really one of the best ways to explore a country.
Admittedly, I’d been bitter towards my father nearly my entire life because he was not a part of it. Oddly enough with all the changes that I’ve been through this year and the outlook I’ve adopted; there is not an ounce of bitterness within me and there could’ve been no better time for me to finally meet my paternal family. As I arrived in Saigon I gave them a call and my cousin came to pick me up, neither of us knew how the other one looked but as soon as we saw each other we knew we were family. As soon as I arrived at my grand father’s home and looked at all my aunties and my grand father — it felt so natural. They were all blown away that I was able to speak Vietnamese though I was born in America, shocked at how “dark” I am and that I was carrying such a large backpack, haha. Immediately they pulled out a huge box of photos and began showing me photos of my immediate family before their journey to America after the Vietnam war. I even got to see so many photos of my father throughout his childhood and as a man; I had the biggest smile on my face the entire time with endless tears falling down my face as I was overwhelmed with so many mixed emotions; mostly so happy for this opportunity but also my heart ached to see photos of the siblings I had lost. My parents came to America in the early eighties leaving everything behind in Vietnam. They lost one of my older brothers due to a severe illness; gave birth to me and about two years ago I lost my eldest sister. In total there should be five of us and looking at all their childhood photos made me realize that we never even had the chance to take one photo together.
I spent a brief couple days with them sharing so many stories and enjoying a few nice home cooked meals. While I was there I even received a call from my father and am now looking forward to welcoming him into my life.
My siblings in birth order not including myself as they have never even seen a photo of me!
My 94 year old Grand father
My pops (on the right), as a young man…what a stud!
My parents when they were dating 😛
This was definitely a “spur-of-the-moment” trip in every aspect. A year ago this would’ve never happened because I always had to know the details of what’s coming next. This trip was the longest of all my travels this year and one that I will hold dear in my heart. It allowed me to really push my comfort levels, see so many different aspects of the country which my family is from, finally meet my paternal family and mostly appreciate my Vietnamese heritage. It was such a pleasure traveling in a country where I can speak the language and introduce my pals to a few “strange” Vietnamese customs and foods; was quite entertaining 😉 Altogether, one heck of an exhausting but amazing trip. — until next time!
Oh! and I officially got sick for the very first time this year — food poisoning!! Luckily this came at the end of the trip but the five days that followed were not pretty. >.<
A few more photos of my travels through Vietnam, enjoy!