Venturing into Vietnam

Another two weeks have gone by in our journey through Southeast Asia and we are now on the coast of Vietnam. Throughout the past fortnight or so, we crossed the border from Cambodia to Vietnam, biked through some beautiful river valleys, climbed over a little mountain range, and started our coastal journey along the South China Sea. It has been extremely interesting to be travelling through a new country and we were surprised at how dramatic the changes between Cambodia and Vietnam were. Some of the most significant changes we have noticed included the food, landscape, architecture and government. Overall, we are really enjoying Vietnam and I have begun to like the country more and more as we continue to bike north towards Hanoi.

Since my last blog post in Cambodia, I have become extremely busy with courses for online school and taking the time to really enjoy where we are travelling. The heat has also been quite exhausting and for the past few days, we have been riding into an insanely strong headwind along the eastern coast. Therefore, I have been going to bed almost every night knowing that I have used 110% of my energy, yet I am still able to physically and mentally get through the next day with between 6-7 hours of sleep. I have been slowly trying to make my body and mind work with fewer hours of sleep as I am becoming somebody who just wants to do it all. I have actually been waiting to write this blog post for over a week, so I decided that I would take a break from school today to inform you about what we have been up to recently.

Vietnam is a country that is quite different from the countries we have visited so far on this trip. For one, it is under a communist government and there seems to be a very clear line between the people who work for the government, and everyone else. Even though communism is supposedly a political theory that eliminates different classes and leads to a society where everybody is somewhat equal, it is very evident where government buildings are located and who is associated with the government. It has been very easy to spot out the large, dominant buildings that are surrounded by walls, Vietnamese flags and a few guards. It has also been really interesting to pass by some ginormous, well-kept, and often empty monuments that are located in some of the bigger towns that we have passed through. We have met a few local people that have shared their thoughts about the opportunities and challenges with the government, and all and all, the people that we have encountered have been very pleasant and enjoyable to be around, despite the significant language barrier. Other than the obvious buildings, monuments, decorations and billboards, the communism hasn’t been too evident when it comes to the way of life for southern Vietnamese people.

After our first few days riding in Vietnam, we ended up in a town called Phuoc Long. While trying to find a place to stay, a man came over to us and introduced himself. It was a little surprising to speak with a Vietnamese person who spoke English as everybody else we had met in the Vietnam didn’t speak English. We mainly get by with hand gestures and make-shift sign language. Anyways, he ended up inviting us to stay at his house in which he hopes to make into a Guest House for travelers someday. We spent the afternoon and evening discussing our route through southern Vietnam, learning about the Vietnamese culture and enjoying some delicious food. We also had a mini lesson of basic Vietnamese where we learned how to say hello, goodbye, thank you, how to count to five and other commonly used numbers and phrases. It was really nice to meet him and his family and get some more information about Vietnam. We continue to use the words he taught us and he messages me on Facebook every once in a while checking in with where we are and what we’re up to. He is also not the only person we have met during the trip who we have stayed connected with. It is fun to get the occasional message from Rithy, a monk we met in Cambodia, and other friends of ours in Bangkok, Thailand. It will be interesting to see who we will see again in the future!

Another significant change that we have noticed between Cambodia and Vietnam is the fact that almost every single road we have ridden on in Vietnam has been paved. It has been extremely enjoyable to ride on smooth roads which gives us the chance to fully take in the surrounding sights instead of just focusing on the road. Southern Vietnam has been beautiful so far. For the first week or so, we rode through lots of hills that were covered in rubber and cashew trees. It was interesting to see how cashews grow and learn about how they get from the tree to a little plastic bag on the side of the road. Markos even went on a bit of a tour with Mr. Ha, the man we met in Phuoc Long, who showed him all around a cashew tree farm. From there we started biking into some more vigorous hills that were cut through with river valleys. I was happy to get a shot with a rice-farmer working in the fields with hills in the background while we biked through the valleys. We had to climb quite a bit before we descended down to the coast, but overall, we really enjoyed inland Vietnam.

As for the coast of Vietnam, we have found that it is quite different from inland as the landscape and terrain has changed quite a bit. It has actually been quite diverse throughout the last 250km as we have seen dragon fruit farms, barren desert landscapes with sand dunes, rocky mountains, jungle, and much more. As I indicated before, we have had some very strong headwind for the past few days, but before then, the wind wasn’t too noticeable and it has been quite amazing to ride along the South China Sea. We plan to continue heading North until we get to a point where we want to cut over into Laos. I am excited because we are going to be reaching a surf beach in two days called Bai Dai Beach and hopefully the waves will be decent.

I am a little surprised that I haven’t gone into too much detail about Vietnamese food yet as it is probably one of my favorite aspects about Vietnam. The assortment of rice, spring rolls, and rice noodles accompanied by different types of meat, vegetables and greens have been phenomenal and I always look forward to what we will be eating for lunch as we typically eat out for lunch. We have also been having our daily snack of Vietnamese Subs which consist of meat, cucumbers, cilantro, hot peppers and a variety of different sauces and spreads. The sandwiches generally cost 10,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND), which is about the equivalent of $0.50 USD. The food overall has been fairly affordable but a little more expensive than Cambodia and Thailand. We can generally get lunch for 20,000 VND per person and the produce that we buy at the local markets have been fairly cheap as well. I always enjoy the shopping part of the day where we find a large local market and pick up our supplies for the following 24 hours or so. We buy the fruit and vegetables that look good and are generally able to find different snacks. Our current snacks have consisted of a trail mix bag in which we mix corn-nuts, peanuts, raisins, and sometimes wasabi peas. We have also been able to find little packaged pastries that are good for a little sweet snack, but it is interesting as they all taste a little different, even if they look similar. Mangoes, bananas, and pineapples have been the fruit that we have been eating quite a bit. However, yesterday, a man stopped on his moped and gave us a large dragon fruit that we enjoyed later that day. It was super interesting to cut it open and see the vibrant, exotic, pink color inside and we ended up really enjoying it. Anyways, as you can probably figure out, I am really enjoying the food here and we are definetely eating our share of Vietnamese food.

Another aspect that has been interesting as we travel through southern Vietnam includes the architecture and the style of houses that they live in. It’s a little bit hard to explain, but the houses generally have a well-kept, completed front side which has double doors right in the center. The one-story houses then continue on from the blockish front and slowly descend in roof height for two or three rooms and then cuts off at the back. I have a photo on the photography page with a woman riding a bike in front of a few of these houses which would give you a better idea of what they look like.

One thing that we have really noticed about Vietnamese people is that they know how to relax. Every day, we pass by hundreds and hundreds of hammocks which are hung from many different places. The locations of the hammocks we see can range from between pillars at a house, in the center of restaurants, in the back or underneath trucks, inside houses and almost anywhere else you can possibly imagine a hammock. They even have hammock café’s where the tables are surrounded by hammocks.

We are enjoying our travels and continue to move down the road. Although, we have recently had some more trying times when there are different ideas about where and what we are eating, where we are sleeping, and different things related to school. We have started doing more intentional morning and evening check-ins as a family and I have found them really beneficial. In the mornings, we come up with a random question which could be something such as, “What has been your favorite part of the trip?” or “Where is a good place to park the bikes when taking a break?” Essentially, it’s a question that adds a little interest to our trip. We also rate our self on a scale of one to ten about how we are feeling that day. In the evenings, we do a BOSS (Burn Off Some Steam) circle or something of the sorts. With this, we bring up some good parts of the day, and some things that maybe didn’t go so well and then we try to find a solution to whatever issues may be brought up. These check-ins are elements that my Dad has used on his bike trips with work and we are finding that they are an effective way to work through some of the problems we are having and a good way to check-in with each other. One of my friends told me that we probably sometimes get annoyed with each other as it has been quite a while since we’ve had usual social interactions with people other than ourselves. However, I know that we will work though the few issues that we are having at the moment and we will end up being a family that is very close. But, I also know that I will really enjoy spending lots of time with friends once we return to Calgary.

To finish off, regardless of my extremely busy life with keeping in touch with friends, maintaining the blog, keeping good grades in school, and working on family and travel dynamics, I have been really enjoying our time in Vietnam and I am excited to be travelling north and towards Laos. I am doing my best to do everything I want to and I am extremely happy to have the opportunity to travel through such amazing parts of the World. I am realizing how much I have learned to value travel as I am currently talking to my friend Timo about travelling together after we complete high school. Although it’s a little tough to grasp the idea of travelling for a long period of time while we are doing so at the moment, I enjoy looking at a map of the world and seeing all the places we’ve been, and all the places I want to go in the future. Enjoy the photos on the photography page and I will keep you updated as we continue our travels through Southeast Asia.

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