The GoGlobal Blog

Cochin-China through Annam to Tonkin: seeing it all.

Cochin-China through Annam to Tonkin: seeing it all.

Note: My sincerest apologies for my blogging sabbatical, it was all with good reasoning.  Pictures will be included in the photo journal.  See Below.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

This quote is indeed true, until you reach that old familiar pillow and realize how exhausting traveling actually is, and you fall into a deep slumber.  These are my feelings exactly.  Over the past 10 days our eccentric group of eight took a journey from the South, through Central, to Northern Vietnam (blog title hint).  Our stops included a return to Nha Trang, Huế, Hội An, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay.  The travel was beautiful, each city held its own distinguished features. But I am in a state of sensory and mental overload.  A state that will probably take a few more days to fully digest because this trip represented the count down.  The 1 more month abroad marker has passed and I can only hope that I have, or by December 15th, will have done and seen as much as I can.

In total we spent about 19 hours on the train, 11 hours on a bus, and about 3 1/2 hours on a plane.  The traveling was mostly done by land, during the day (unfortunately starting each trip at 5 am) so that we would be able to see the entirety of the Vietnamese landscape.  I spent the time staring outside of the window, not bored, but captivated and entertained by the tropical plants, volcanic mountains, vast coastlines, wildlife, and rural communities.  I read two books, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, or I was rocked and lulled to sleep by the train and my newly updated travel playlists.

Our return to Nha Trang was more than welcoming.  I won’t go into much because of a previous blog.  But I will say that 2 days on the beach (especially as I heard stories of snow and low temperatures in Chicago) and eating the best mint ice cream in the world was fine by me.  We left the beach and headed to Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam.  We spent one day learning about the feudal dynasty from the 17th to 19th centuries in the South and visiting the tombs of the late Kings, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. It was a great exploration of the different architectural and material styles of the French at Khai Dinh and the traditional Vietnamese at Tu Duc.

Hoi An, translated as the “peaceful meeting place” was our 3rd stop and the most enjoyable in my opinion.  It is “the place” to go in Vietnam for handmade goods from art to shoes to clothes at reasonable and cheaper prices by American standards.  It was the city in which the stars of Top Gear stopped to tailor custom suits, pamper themselves on the beach, and ride around in the sand.  I have to admit I did tailor a coat at a whopping $40.00 and it fits like a glove.  In the 18th century the city was a trading hub for Chinese and Japanese merchants and remained an excellent trading port thanks to its prime location on the river.  The “old town” is comprised of bold yellow French inspired shops, restaurants, and homes.  Many people were seen walking or cycling along its 4 block radius intersected by three main streets. UNESCO named the city a World Heritage site in 1999 because of its beautiful blend of foreign and local influence.  If members of our group weren’t walking around in town, we could be found at a Vietnamese cooking class, in the hotel swimming pool, or at the tailor’s.  I will miss the calm and beauty of Hoi An.

If we thought Ho Chi Minh was hectic, nothing could have prepared us for Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, located in the north.  Our hotel was located in the Old Quarter, comprised of narrow and winding streets, with a heavy traffic flow and essentially no sidewalk space. Our time in Hanoi was well planned and full of tourist activities.  We visited the Hoa Lo prison, or “Hanoi Hilton,” where John McCain was held during the war, the Confucian Temple of Literature,  a water puppet show (colorful, traditional, and beautiful), the Ethnography Museum of Vietnam’s minority groups, and lastly the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body is kept under tight security (rules are don’t stop, don’t lift your hands, and pull your paints up Pedro).  We ate a lot of delicious dishes in Hanoi.  My favorite dish was at a hole in the wall restaurant that served only one dish, fried fish in vegetables and dill with vermicelli noodles and fish sauce.  You cooked the food at the table and topped it with cilantro and peanuts.  While Hanoi was special in its own way and was worth visiting, I still remain partial to Ho Chi Minh City.

Last but not least our group traveled to Ha Long Bay.  Located in the South China Sea and comprised of about 1969 limestone islets. Ha Long translates as the “descending dragon” and know as a rock wonder of the world.  We spent 4 hours touring the bay.  It is one of the most beautiful destinations I have ever laid eyes on.  But despite the beauty, it has become a victim to several environmental concerns.  These include: the clearing of sea grass and mangroves, overfishing, pollution from boats and industrialization.  In October 2011, the World Monument Fund, included the bay on the 2012 World Monument Watch. Ha Long Bay was also named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and therefore new strategies for protection are under discussion.  I could try to explain the beauty of this site, but the pictures will speak for themselves.

August feels like a life time ago.  When I look at a calendar I realize not much time has passed but so much has happened. Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and risking cliche, I am thankful for this experience and those I have to share it with.  Our group is small, but just the right size.  We are an intellectual group, one that likes to explore and remain open minded (even if our sleeper car is full of birds and Kate loses a shoe).  I am thankful to visit my roommate’s hometown in two weekends and see where she grew up, that her family would open their home to me.

My 10 day “vacation” (or it felt like one) is over and it is back to the grit and grind of school.

Until next week,


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