Editor’s note: In case you missed it, one of our good friends, Shirin, traveled with us in Hanoi and Halong Bay. She is a terrific writer, so I asked her to write up a little post for our blog – and to give you readers a chance to finally read something worth while.
With muddy pant legs, unwashed hair, and the departure of Tina and Stuart for Hue, I sit on a train to Danang anticipating the second phase of my Vietnam vacation. After almost a week of trekking through the mountainous thickets of Halong Bay, toasting to frosty mugs of Tiger beer with fellow Western travelers in the beach town of Cat Ba, and sitting down to bowls of delicious pho on the sidewalks of Hanoi’s Old Quarter after experiencing the rush of dodging throngs of tour buses and hog-laden motorbikes, I’m beginning to appreciate both the charm and the sturm und drang of this country so affected by us a generation ago.
If I’ve taken anything away from this trip so far, it’s that the Vietnamese prioritize Taking Care of Business. Sure, there were guys like Cuoc, our lazy lothario tour guide from Halong Bay; but by and large, a strong work ethic here reigns. One might regard incessant begging, unrelenting street vendors, and chronic foreigner overcharging as pushy at best, but viewed another way, you could say the people here are simply direct–they don’t waste time messing around.
As we Westerners huffed and puffed our way up the (mostly vertical) Cat Ba mountains, our spry old guide hopped from rock to rock in sandals and a puffy coat, and swung from vines in a way that Cirque du Soleil can only hope to imitate. Instead of finding quiet streets and a sluggish dawn when I awoke, jetlagged, at 5:30 a.m. those first mornings, I rose to the sound of competing roosters, squealing pigs, and blaring horns in a town already bustling with activity. Where in San Francisco I might grip a friend’s sides with trepidation as we ride his scooter around town, in Vietnam the second (and third, and fourth) passengers breeze through rush-hour traffic with their hands sitting casually in their own pockets or clasped behind their backs. Hardcore, for sure.
So I know I’m in for a ride that’ll keep me on my toes all the way down to Saigon! To Tina and Stuart, who graciously shared some of their travel time with me, taught me the invaluable skill of crossing the street in Hanoi, and offered me this guest spot on their blog, I wish them a safe, fun journey and give them a heartfelt “Cam on!”