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I Left My Heart in Hoi An

I Left My Heart in Hoi An

What. A. Week. It’s been an incredible, exhausting, hilarious, crazy, and absolutely wonderful ten days. I’m so tired but also so delightfully fulfilled. This past week was our North and Central Vietnam excursion, planned and led by the Loyola program. It was so much fun, but so much traveling … We flew into Danang, spent a few days in Hoi An and then drove to Hue, the imperial city. And then we flew to Hanoi, took a day trip to Halong Bay, and ended with a weekend in Sapa, a northern mountain town. It was a lot of moving and schlepping our bags, but we saw so many beautiful things and hit so many famous tourist sights. To be completely honest, I don’t even know how to fit everything we saw into this post–but I’m going to try!! Here we go …

We flew into Danang on Thursday morning, and then drove about an hour to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An, where we had a delicious lunch and checked into our cute hotel. We spent the next four days touring this wonderful little village … biking the winding roads, sampling local street food, shopping in the most adorable boutiques, making multicolored lanterns, and relaxing on the sunny beach. It was so much fun to just chill and appreciate the lively, happy culture that just seeps from every corner of this little town. I fell absolutely in love, if you cannot already tell!! We also took two morning excursions–one to a local organic vegetable farm (YUM!) and one to My Son, a cluster of ancient Cham ruins located in the nearby mountains … both were absolutely gorgeous. Hoi An is also world-renowned for its incredible tailor shops … I had my absolute dream J.Crew navy blazer made overnight! So convenient, so cheap, and one huge item on my (already extensive) wish list checked off! Sunday was our final day in Hoi An, which we thankfully had “off.” I spent the day relaxing by the pool and biking around with miss Ashley (and maybe doing some more shopping. Who knows.)

We checked out of our hotel on Monday morning, and drove four hours north by bus to Hue, the imperial city. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this city was a lot less touristy than Hoi An, but not nearly as adorable. That afternoon, we saw the ancient imperial citadel, followed by a evening boat ride down the Perfume River and a tour of a beautiful tiered pagoda … it was all so beautiful. Sadly, I had a slightly bad taste of Hue–quite literally! Hue is known internationally for its local delicacies, but after sampling some dishes, such as bun bo hue, both in Saigon and Hue itself, I was totally grossed out. Not my favorite. Oh well, Tuesday afternoon we were off to new places (and better foods) … this time on a flight up north to Hanoi!!

Bright and early Wednesday morning, we drove four hours to Ha Long Bay, where we embarked our own private boat and spent the day cruising. I had been looking forward to seeing this UNESCO World Heritage site (what, another one?) during my entire semester in Vietnam … the mossy rock formations are exactly what I picture when I think of Southeastern Asia. It was everything I had expected and more–I was in my element, sitting on the top deck of the boat, enjoying the cool breeze and taking in the beauty around me. It was so wonderfully quiet and peaceful. I couldn’t stop smiling!! Throughout the day, we made a few stops, including a trip to one of the famous caves and an hour spent kayaking through the rock formations. It was a lovely, calm day compared to all of other time spent traveling and sightseeing. I was sad to leave the bay; but I happily welcomed a very deep sleep, back at our fancy hotel in Hanoi (hello white cotton duvets and air conditioning).

Most of Thursday was spent touring the city of Hanoi. This French-influenced, chilly capital of Vietnam definitely has its own unique flavor compared to Saigon … I loved it! The streets were more crowded, but the food and shopping was fabulous. We saw the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Ethnology Museum, and the Presidential Palace. Everything was beautiful, per usual; but by 4PM, we were all completely exhausted. We had done a lot of traveling (and were nowhere near done!). Luckily we sat down to a water puppet show, a Hanoi specialty. It was pretty cool, and it was the perfect opportunity to chill for a little bit. The down time was appreciated … afterwards, we were off on the next leg of our journey–a night train to Sapa, a northern mountain town close to the Chinese border. The train experience was so freaking awesome–the train cabins were so old-fashioned and cool. We had four people to a cabin, and we each had our own bunk … we brought snacks and giggled as we watched the bright lights of Hanoi disappear into the night. All I needed was a fur stole, pin curls, and maybe some diamond chandelier earrings, and I could’ve been a starlet from the 1920s on her way to Hollywood!

The next two days (Friday and Saturday) were spent in this chilly little mountain village. Our hostel was nice, but certainly not a place to hang out … we wandered the tiny main drag and outdoor market of ‘downtown Sapa’ and were finished within an hour. It was super foggy outside and we were so cold … the 40-degree weather was simply shocking after three months of Saigon heat and humidity. Friday night, Dan, Tori, Ash and I snuggled into a cute little restaurant and ate pasta with mulled, hot wine and then went to bed early–the four of us had planned a trekking tour for Saturday morning. Thank god that we did, because I honestly don’t know what we would have done in that tiny town for another full day. We spent most of the day wandering local villages and hiking the rice paddies, and getting really freaking muddy. It was hilarious, but so worth it–with mud caked on my shoes and feeling completely exhausted, I felt like I had truly experienced Sapa.

Saturday evening, we took the night train back to Hanoi, and crashed in our hotel at 4 o’clock in the morning. Sunday was pretty relaxedand we caught a flight back to Saigon in the evening. Altogether, an absolutely incredible vacation. Which was also so completely exhausting … I’m heading off to bed now, darlings.

Stay posted!!

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