celebrating the new year: round one

Once winter hit Hanoi, I decided to hit the tarmac and fly to southern Vietnam. Some friends and I travelled to Mũi Né and Ho Chi Minh City to ring in the New Year. Now that I am gearing up to celebrate New Years for a second time (Vietnamese New Year which goes according to the lunar calendar), I wanted to remind myself of how wonderful it was the first time around. 

We started our trip in Mũi Né where we enjoyed squishing sand between our toes and cooling off with a swim in the refreshing sea. 

Mui Ne beach Mui Ne beach 2

We visited a fishing village, full of activity and vibrant colours that stood out so beautifully against the water in the morning sun.

Fishing Village 2

fishing village 3

We drove along the coast, enjoying the view and every breath of fresh air that we don’t have in Hanoi.

drive to sand dunes

And then we ended up here.

Mui Ne white sand dunes

These are the white sand dunes (we also went to the red sand dunes later the same day). It was truly like we stumbled upon a desert. We spent a good amount of time just walking across the dunes, in awe that something like this could exist naturally there. After a visit to the Fairy Springs we were on our way to Ho Chi Minh City.

We spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC is so incredibly different from Hanoi. Where Hanoi is very traditional, HCMC is modern and somehow even more full of activity. And, it is home to a Baskin-Robbins so that certainly won me over. We walked around the city at night on New Year’s Eve, enjoying the elaborate decorations, and then headed back to our snazzy hotel to countdown to the New Year.

DSC_0146

We made grilled cheese and KD—a perfect way to start the new year!

For Vietnamese New Year I will be traveling to Thailand and Bali! Although I am sad to be missing the first days of the New Year in Vietnam and all the celebrations (I didn’t think at the time that I would have Vietnamese friends to spend the holidays with!) I am certainly excited to spend the time exploring more of the world.

Ha Long Bay!

I, along with the Vietnam INDEVOURS and some new friends, visited Ha Long Bay, one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world. It is a truly breathtaking place that everyone should visit at some point in their life if they have the chance.

Leaving early Saturday morning, we arrived in Ha Long Bay some three hours later. I was instantly blown away by the unspoiled natural landscape and its perfect blend of blue, green, and grey. Our boat slowly made its way across the bay, allowing me to take in every square inch of the beauty that lies within its hundreds of small islands.

I got to explore a limestone cave that I totally geeked out about (I used to study rocks and had a pretty sweet rock collection, so needless to say, it was amazing to see the rock formations up close!). We also got to go kayaking and swimming.

While floating in the bay, I watched the sun set over the pristine island seascape. At that moment life could not have been any more perfect. Everything was so peaceful. A pretty big change from the past month I have spent living in Hanoi.

It all felt so surreal. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and venture out I still can’t believe I’m actually here! I am so thankful for the amazing opportunity that I have to be in Vietnam, and I want to spend more weekends like this exploring all that it has to offer.

standing out

In Hanoi, I am a visible minority. Walking around the city I get stared at intensely, I am pointed at, and I am the recipient of numerous comments or the topic of many street side discussions.

It’s hard to remain unnoticed here, especially as a foreign woman. I’ve watched foreign men walking maybe 10 feet in front of me be largely ignored by locals. As soon as I pass by though I get hounded by xe om drivers, or anyone with a motorbike really, asking me if I want a ride. Most days I don’t mind saying a simple no thank you to xe om drivers and I can mostly ignore the curious stares of street vendors and shop owners. I know that I’ve probably unintentionally stared at people here that interest me. But some days it just gets to me. Sometimes I honestly dread walking to wherever it is I need to go because I don’t want to deal with the unwanted attention.

Unlike minority groups in Canada or the United States though, my minority status in Vietnam does not significantly disadvantage me, in fact, in many ways it probably grants me privileges. Realizing this makes me feel awful for complaining about stares and comments, but even still it can’t erase my feelings of being out of place.

Sometimes sticking out does have its advantages. It can be a great conversation starter. I have had taxi drivers and security guards make small talk with me in a mix of Vietnamese and English. Children have passed by me excited to say hello, and share whatever other English words they know. Restaurant staff will take extra time to help me with my pronunciation so I can order more clearly the next time. Interactions like these make everything else seem insignificant.

Sometimes though, I still really wish I could blend in.