Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Road Babe Dispatch From Vietnam

Diving head first into a new culture, specifically an impoverished one, was quite intense. It shocked me, exhilarated me, and most importantly gave me a perspective on strange places and people who were vastly different but still presented familiar values I saw reflected in myself.

I experienced culture-shock as soon as I stepped out onto the taxi curb at Ho Chi Minh International Airport around 11:30 p.m. The air was thick with humidity and polluted with the bitter aroma of petrol fumes. If that hadn’t overwhelmed me enough, the transportation was even worse. Throw in some congested swerving traffic made up of whole families huddled onto single motorbikes, plus constant loud honking, and you have yourself a nice big culture-shock welcome to Vietnam. 

While there was some adjusting to do, it was a life-changing journey of over a month that broke cultural boundaries, tore down language barriers, and ultimately transformed me into an experienced traveler, a more mature teenager, and overall a person with an open heart and mind to what this big world has to offer.

The first of these adjustments was the seatbelts - or rather lack of them. None of the taxis had them I noticed as I held onto the seats for dear life. The next hurdle was adjusting to the friendly and sometimes overly-enthusiastic hospitality of Vietnamese people. As soon as I sat down on a travel agency’s moth-eaten couch, I was offered a piece of fruit and some water by the kind travel agent, who peeled the skin off the yellow fruit with his long fingernails before handing it to me. I politely accepted, while feeling a little nervous about the hygiene. I had been warned previously about the importance of food handling modes in Asia.

Another travel lesson that night was the strong work ethic of those humble people. That city never sleeps, which was evident when they handed us brochures and attempted to arrange our itinerary right there and then in the middle of the night. While I protested that I preferred to arrange things the following morning after a good night’s sleep, they insisted on confirming an itinerary that included exploring the whole of Vietnam. The major cities, the unbeaten tracks, and the most relaxing beaches: a month-long Vietnam crash course.

I admit to having a very na├»ve view of Vietnam before visiting all these places and to being quite ignorant of the vast differences between various parts of the country. Each region, city and town holds some distinct beauty. The Cu Chi tunnels with their historical evidence of war artillery, the murky canals of the Mekong Delta with friendly village folk playing exotic instruments and catching fish in their nets,  beautiful nightime Hoi-An with people riding bicycles past brightly-coloured-lantern-lit cafes, the ancient ruins of the Royal Citadel in Hue, the shops in the bustling capital of Hanoi, Halong Bay’s junk boating through mysterious waters and around jagged rocks, and the trip highlight: a small town called Sapa in the mountains bordering China, where the air was fresh and chilly but sitting by the pub fireplace with a drink in hand worked wonders.

When the time came for returning to Australia, my view of Vietnam had truly changed. I felt a strong sense of connection with this country, which had endured the painful trials of the Vietnam War then risen to welcome and embrace people from all cultures and walks of life, asking only that visitors embrace Vietnam as well.

Kelly Boag is a creative writing student at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She has authored many short stories, poems, articles and blogs. Her main passion is writing about travel, so she is currently doing a novel about her adventures in Vietnam. Her inclusion in the Road Babe Dispatches column reflects only the view of Lyn's "editorial staff."


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  2. Great post, Kelly! It's a part of the world I haven't gotten to yet.