I literally had no clue what to expect upon arriving in Hanoi.  I had just spent a sleepless flight from Atlanta->Los Angelas->Taipei->Hanoi.  I showed up absolutely exhausted, not knowing a soul, close to an hour away from my hotel and no real clue how to get there as I hadn’t arranged any type of transport.  The only thing I was advised to do up until that point, was set up my Vietnamese travel visa and my first night at the hotel as I showed up 36 hours before my tour started.  So there I was, a 6’9″ white American trying to fit in and not stand out in the Hanoi airport.  Didn’t go well.

Luckily there were 2 American women next to me in line at the Visa approval area, so I decided to chat them up.  I forget their names now, but they were both teachers who explored the world during their summer vacations.  They were a few years younger, but seemed adventurous and may have some words of wisdom, so we decided to go thru the whole transition process together.  We went thru and got our visas stamped, which seemed a bit shady as the guy took our cash and just put it in his pocket, found the best way to change our money to the Vietnamese currency, and arranged a taxi as they were staying right down the street from my hotel.  We exchanged simple chit chat throughout the ride, and as i got dropped off first, I got their hotel name, but somehow lost the piece of paper I had with it, so unfortunately, lost the first 2 friends I made while there.

After checking into my hotel, took a nice long shower, despite it being one of the smallest showers I’ve ever stumbled across.  The accommodations were surprisingly nice, so I settled in and after a short while of playing on Facebook notifying everyone I arrived safely, I decided to go for my first adventure.  I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what i was about to experience tho.  The heat, people, poverty, aggressiveness, smells… All were absolutely overwhelming!  Everywhere you walked, you had to avoid people whirring by on motorcycles, food and trash in the streets and sidewalks, people grabbing and trying to pull you into their shops, and because of my height, nonstop questions on how tall I was, where I was from, etc… But mainly what I got, was, “2 meters?!”  2 meters is roughly 6’6″, so I just kept giving them the hand motion for taller, so I was an instant celebrity there!  Was an amazing experience to be treated like a movie star!

I hate to attempt to sum up my entire trip to this amazing country in just 1 blog post, as there were so many unique and amazing experiences, people and sites.  I’ve been able to break some of the more memorable moments down in individual bucket list items or other random adventures chronicled in various adventures throughout my site.  But from here on, I will try my best to give this experience justice while trying not to repeat myself from other posts…

So, back to the first 36 hours on my own.  It mainly just involved walking around for maybe an hour so and attempting to keep track of my wanderings with a not-to-scale map.  Streets were misnamed, randomly changed names, veered off in different directions, and of course, none of this was in aggreeance with my map.  So, at best i could wander maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile and then turn around and come back.  Plus, the humidity and heat took such an amazing toll, I had to come back just to get some air conditioner and water before I could go back on out.

But during these wanderings, i definitely got to experience some things most of my future tourists would not.  To wander about completely on my own without knowing a soul or having anyone to turn to for advice.  Made for quite the adventure.  Wandered through the markets, shops, parks and anything else that seemed like it would be interesting.  My favorite stop, at least at the moment, was to get freshly squeeze sugar cane juice and sauteed beetle larvae.  Always wanted to try both, so there they were, so figured why not, they should be safe!  Hindsight is 20/20 my friend.  About 2 days later I realized my mistake as I prayed for death while spending the night on a boat.  But, get back to that later…

So, eventually I get to me my group and we all exchange hell’s and basic personal data.  Was quite an eclectic group,  1 couple in their 70′s from New Zealand, 2 men in their 70′s from Australia, a couple from Finland, and 2 women from I forget which countries, Denmark and Sweden maybe.  Either way, diverse enough to make the trip that much more interesting and enlightening.

Throughout the next 14 days or so, we got to experience some absolutely amazing sites and adventures.  I heard stories of all their travels around the world and received warm welcomes to all of their homes around the world, so a trip to Fiji and Auckland is definitely in the works!  As per Ellen’s recommendation, I took advantage of all of their knowledge and experience and just listened to all of their stories about life, travel, work, love, etc…  Their varying professions and life’s travels really opened up my eyes.  Really made me think.  1 man built up a sheet metal company from the ground and it gave him quite the luxurious lifestyle and he got to marry his best friend, a psychiatric nurse.  Took that as a sign and did a lot of soul bearing to her and got her professional advice.  Very enlightening.

Another had had several jobs, but it seemed his main profession was an author.  he had written for Reader’s Digest, several books, ghost written for others, and done a lot in the aboriginal communities as far as writing down their stories and having them published for the general public to read.  He had been accepted by most of the tribes and told me he was the only hwite man allowed to participate in several ceremonies and had several passes that would allow me to accompany him on certain occasions.  That I could fly in to wherever he was, go walkabout for a month or 2, just take our camping equipment, shotgun to hunt, and that was it.  Can’t tell you how excited I am to take him up on that offer.  An absolute dream!

Another individual, a bit pompous and know it all, was from S Africa and was a former insurance adjuster I believe who seemed like he came from an elite class and now was a Buddhist healer and massage therapist.  We had some deep talks about life, religion and what all he had learned during his life.  Not sure if I really connected with him or took much away from our talks.  Probably the best part was him explaining Buddhism and how it worked, how to meditate, and what to do to attempt to clear my thoughts and let some peace come in and push out all of the negative energy.  The first time I tried, I didn’t think it had a chance of working, but we were at some 1,000 year old pagoda, and there I sat, kneeling and praying, when suddenly that gong hit, and I had my clarity.  I had my peace.  In my life, I don’t get many moments of zen, where my mind is just clear, focused on nothing and I just take note of everything going on around me, all while not really paying any of it any attention.  Was amazing.  Just typing about it, I felt at peace, took several deep breaths and just instantly felt myself relax…

As much as those talks were therapy for me and their company really did constitute half of my trip, the other was obviously the country itself.  I thought I had it rough growing up with poverty and other problems, but these people… There’s no word in our language to describe how bad they had it there.  And the most interesting part was, none of them knew it.  They all seemed happy.  Worked hard, were grateful for what they did have.  Focused on their family and just took every day as a gift.  Was humbling to say the least to see that.  In America, all we do is complain about how bad we have it, and here are these people, well below our 1% poverty line, living away with nothing but a smile on their face with no hope or aspirations of anything better.  Was amazing.

Another of my favorite aspects of the trip was the food.  Every morning waking up to fresh fruit, eggs and juices.  Not sure I’ve ever felt to healthy.  Fresh mango smoothies with every meal, obviously increased my bottled water intake, fresh seafood with almost every meal, fresh rice grown right down the street… And every meal was an explosion of flavor and textures as many different elements went into even their most basic of cooking methods.  1 of my favorite combinations was a very simple dessert… Fresh pineapple dipped in salt mixed with chili pepper.  Who ever would have guessed such a combination even existed, let alone worked?!  Had fresh oysters and crab at the beach, BBQ’d chicken and shrimp on our private beach, hand-picked my own starfruit off the tree at one temple… The list just goes on and on.  But by far, my favorite food adventure was the beating cobra heart while drinking its blood mixed with vodka.  The cobra was caught in the fields that day especially for me and kept alive until I walked into the shop.  They then butchered it right there and prepared it several different ways.  The whole process can be viewed here at Cobra .

I’m not sure what all else there is to say about this leg of the trip.  There was so many unique adventures and aspects that it’s hard to sit down and write about them all individually.  As a whole, of all the places I’ve visited in my life, I would definitely say Vietnam was the most memorable and definitely plan on going back, especially given the knowledge I gained while there.  It renewed my self-confidence given all of the attention I received, gave me my next business idea and opened up my eyes to a world I knew absolutely nothing about.  Absolutely life changing!




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