This is the end
Hanoi was my last stop; seven weeks were coming to a close. I had thought I would spend more time in other areas of Vietnam, so I was left with too many days in Hanoi, but not enough to be able to go somewhere else either. Which was okay; I just took it a little slower here. The majority of my time was spent wandering around, going further outside the center of Hanoi, and just filling in the gaps that I’d missed from the first time I was here.
Also, I got to get a little better glimpse into everyday Vietnamese life. Six weeks earlier, when Matt and Joel and I were in Hanoi, I was approached by a young Vietnamese girl named Nham, who was going to college in Hanoi and was wanting help improving her English by talking to someone who spoke English (I also got the feeling that she was also looking for a husband, but that’s beside the point).
So I met up with Nham when I came back to Hanoi, and she showed me around her school and her dorm and introduced me to some of her friends. I got to see more of the everyday Vietnam, and she was able to work on her English. I was glad that I decided to meet up with her, as I was able to get a glimpse into the ordinary Vietnamese life which I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.
The best of times and the worst of times
I have to say that the worst part of my trip was definitely being sick. There is nothing that sucks more than being sick while traveling—knowing you’re halfway across the world but stuck in bed. I’ll also admit that there were many times when all I wanted was to go home. But I know that the bad times are all part of the experience. And what fun would it be without some troubles as well?
But it turns out, when you aren’t sick, traveling is awesome, so the last part of my trip was great. To be honest, I could’ve easily spent another 7 weeks, or even longer, abroad.
So what was the best part, you may ask? Well, honestly I don’t think that anything was able to top Angkor (see my Siem Reap entry if you forgot about this). It really was incredible. And now reflecting back on it, it was awesome, in the true sense of the word. I would have to place it up there as one of the coolest places I have ever visited. Not only for the beautiful architecture or the unbelievable scale of the undertaking (even by today’s standards), but also just the atmosphere of the place. Wandering around a temple in the middle of the jungle, with the rain sprinkling down and mist lingering through the trees, it’s truly hard to describe. It was almost like I was in a dream.
Taking a look back
Looking back, I have experienced quite a bit in my time here; many things that I knew I would, and many things that were just those great little surprises along the way.
I’ve travelled just about every different possible way. I’ve flown on planes, slept on trains, gotten seasick on boats and ferries, been ripped-off in many a taxi and tuk-tuk, crammed on buses and vans, hopped on and off numerous songtheaus, weaved through traffic on motos, shifted gears on bicycles, sat shotgun in cyclos, and covered countless miles by foot.
I’ve eaten many different types of food, sometimes having no clue what I was getting and just going with it. There were those fruits and vegetables that I didn’t recognize and will probably never see again. And there were those mystery foods I bought for pennies from vendors on the streets. Or the mystery condiments I found on all the tables, including the awful shrimp paste (affectionately called Viet Cong teargas by American troops during the war). And this being Asia, I’ve had rice in all its forms, from sticky to soft, rice paper to rice milk, and just about every imaginable type of rice noodles. Any let’s not forget that time in Thailand when I ate what I think were maggots.
But I have to say that the thing that surprised me the most about my whole trip was just how many people spoke English, and at the same time, how few people did. Just when I thought that everyone spoke English, I would turn a corner only to be involved in a 5-minute game of charades. It also surprised me how friendly some people could be, and just how unfriendly and cold other people would seem. But just like anywhere in the world, not everyone is the same, and that is what makes it interesting.
A new perspective
Given the fact that my plane would be getting in the night before Thanksgiving, I took some time to reflect on the things that I am thankful for. There are certainly quite a few, but I would like to share a few of them with you.
I am thankful for cheeseburgers, soft mattresses, and carpet. I am thankful for emissions tests and non-smoking areas. I am thankful that the seasons don’t all consist of different degrees of hot, and I am thankful that if I am thirsty, I can go to the nearest faucet and drink directly from it, without making friends with the local parasites. And lastly, I am thankful for that wonderful Colorado blue sky!
But despite all of the little things, I am thankful that I have the resources (and the time off of work!) to be able to travel to the other side of the world, see new things, and get out of my comfort zone. I’m glad that we aren’t all the same, so that I can experience these different foods, cultures, people, and places, in all their brilliant (and sometimes drab) colors. And I have a new perspective on how good we have it. Do not be mistaken: we truly are fortunate.
That is the great part about traveling. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand aren’t just some strange names on the other side of the world anymore. I know a little bit more about our world, and that gives me a new perspective on everything. I even understand my home country more, and I appreciate what we have here.
But above all of the things I’m thankful for, I am most grateful for my family and friends, and that wonderful, warm feeling of being home. I missed these things the most, and it’s nice to have them again. I had mixed feelings leaving here, but it is good to be home.