After nearly eight years of scrawling on these pages, I’ll be shutting down CNG in a few weeks. Until then, I intend to start my day here.
It took some decompression before I could really grasp why Vietnam hadn’t been as much of a killer time as I’d hoped it would. The weather had begun to turn in the north. We were nearly two months in to the trip, and stepping on each other’s toes. Getting our entry visa was a pricy pain. And like two independently-minded people, we sniped a fair bit in this stretch. I felt (still do) that because I was still working part-time while we traveled, that obliging the Girl to make the bulk of the accommodation bookings wasn’t a huge ask, but hey, traveling is a learning experience, no matter your level of experience.
But that wasn’t it. It was the canned experience. It was the led-by-the-hand nature of it all, whereby every trip and experience seemed to be produced by the tourism bureau or rent-seeking operators. They were packed, the guides were friendly and caring and spoke good english, and I really had no reason to complain about it – apart from the fact that it did not feel much like a genuine taste of the country. It was more of a highlight package, built to circumvent the nasty realities or less-than-marketable settings.
Tourism is a world that I’ve lived in and worked in, but it isn’t something that I choose to invest in. To most, travel is intended as a form of relaxation and enjoyment, a sort of breather-slash- live-action-theatre. It’s not my cup of tea. I struggle to relax if I don’t feel accomplished, if there wasn’t a struggle element to the day, a slog, or a something earned, even if it’s just a hike through town to the museum.
It can be frustrating, but at least through all the awkwardness, it’s still real. You are living as a foreigner, in a strange new place. So unless it’s 2am in Caracas, there’s no real reason short of cowardice not to take a damn walk.
Two close friends of mine have ridden from north to south through Vietnam, and kamikaze drivers aside, that strikes me as the way to go. They got a taste of the truest cuisine, the views that aren’t hidden behind hordes of trinket-sellers, and met that curiosity and kindness that comes from people who aren’t treating you as a target. Go and find those spots, if you want to travel. Otherwise, it’s more of a parade.
Nonetheless, the food was excellent, many people were very friendly, and the landscapes striking. We took the train from south to north, along the old french route carved out of the floodplains and mountainsides. We drank well, heard some truly striking tales of the war, explored some of the world’s biggest caves, and met some interesting people. It’s a striking, unique country, and I’m excited already for an inevitable return.