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A Weekend in Long Xuyen

A Weekend in Long Xuyen

Exhausted, and a little sore, I hobbled into my room last Saturday still beaming with excitement. Just 30 hours before I was boarding a coach bus, headed for my friend, and cultural partner, Quynh’s hometown.

Having previously taken the Megabus in the States, I expected nothing more than an uncomfortable seat with limited leg room – I could not have been more mistaken. The bus system in Vietnam is run differently than what I had experienced back home. For one, you can book a ticket ahead of time, but do not pay until the trip has started and everyone pays the same price, unlike the tiered price system for Megabus. Secondly, there are three rows of bunked reclined seats/beds, which, unless you are over 6 feet tall, provide ample space for yourself, snacks, and a personal bag. Perhaps the most noticeable difference was that when boarding, we all removed our shoes before entering the main space of the bus and brought them with us to our seats. This is something I have experienced throughout my time in Asia, particularly in guesthouses and some shops or restaurants, but never before on a bus. It keeps the space clean, and is a way to respect both the space you are entering and those around you.

At around 5PM Friday evening, we arrived at my friend’s home and were graciously welcomed by her mother, brother and Aunt. They immediately made us feel at home. For dinner, we were treated to a never-ending array of homemade dishes, including beef curry, mushroom soup, papaya and shrimp salad, white rice and more fruits than I could count (or pronounce). My friend informed me that this type of meal is not typical in their household, but was prepared specially for our visit.

If that meal alone did not make me feel overly grateful – and overly full – our second dinner would. Within an hour after finishing our first meal, another friend, Duyen, treated us to a visit from her family. Mother, father, brother, sisters and grandmother all came to welcome us. With them, they brought snacks, including addictive fried bananas. Around the same time, my friend Quynh’s father returned with live crabs and shrimp. A full stomach was not going to stop me from enjoying the freshest seafood I will likely ever have!

To say this all was not overwhelming at first would be a lie, but I was overwhelmed in the best possible way. I was surrounded by people who were welcoming me into their home or had travelled hours to meet and welcome me, as well as a plethora of new foods they so graciously shared with me. The experience was exhilarating.

Before bed, Quynh’s mother made sure we were all prepared with water and leftovers for our journey the following day. It reminded me of how my own mother would always send me with my favorite foods or any leftovers, no matter how short of a time it would be before I saw her again. It seems that mothers (and fathers, too) are wonderful no matter where you are in the world.

For the night, three of us shared a room with a mosquito net, fan and bamboo mat. It was more than what I was expecting and much more comfortable than my bed at the dorm. But, just two hours later, we were hopping on another bus, heading to Chao Doc and by 4AM, we were riding xe oms through an already lively town towards the trailhead at Sam Mountain.

The hike itself only took a little less than two hours, but because of our lack of sleep, it seemed like an eternity. The trail was lit faintly, and only in random intervals, by roadside shrines and temples we passed along the way, creating a surreal experience. We reached the top just as the light began to peak over the horizon and spent the next hour watching the sky change colors as the sun rose slowly over the sprawling rice fields below.

As I watched, my exhaustion faded and for the first time, It hit me that I was really here.

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