Discovering Asia

Ha Long Bay- Vietnam

The trip that we took to Vietnam and Cambodia imparted many life lessons;  I enjoyed it especially because I wasn’t really crazy about going there, even though that part of the world intrigued me, but these two countries were not the first on my list to visit.
But when you are in a couple, decisions are taken together, and it was a destination that Barnaby had wanted to visit.  Thanks to his insistence I agreed to go, not completely convinced (besides the corona virus showing up, giving more emotion to everything) but I have no regrets and am very happy to have had this opportunity, and to correct some of my misperceptions about that part of the world… trips are for that, don’t you think?
For many of us it is a long distance trip, we picked only Vietnam and Kampuchea (the real name of Cambodia) for our 18 day journey because we did not want to rush.  It turned out not to be enough time.
I like to show on a map where places are, I used the big globe we have at home (love them!!), and I took a picture of it to show you.

I have to confess that I like geography but I didn’t know where these countries were with certainty.  I knew that they were far away but I really understood that after spending so much time flying there 🙂
If you decide to visit keep in mind that you will need visas for both countries.  In Cambodia the visa is good for a month and for three in Vietnam, but be careful if you are thinking in coming and going more than once, for you will need a multiple entry visa.
My first step in Asia, because it was my debut in this big continent, was in South Korea, at the airport in Seoul.  We flew Korean Airlines and I loved the very cool security video where the guys SuperM do their thing.

The airport was amazing too, maybe because I was excited to put my feet on the ground after so many hours flying or just because the aestethic of the place with the puppets and the design of the stores looked extremely beautiful.

From there we flew to Ho Chi Minh City, the city that used to be Saigon until 1975. We didn’t stay too much time there, but we visited some of the recommended places such as the Notre Dame Cathedral (same name as in Paris, built by the French in 1863) which was being repaired when we were there :(, and the Post Office built by Gustave Eiffel, yes yes, the same guy from the tower.
We walked through a street where only sold books were sold, and I was especially happy to be there because it was beautiful and no motorcycles could enter.  Motorbikes are used everywhere, which made street crossings feel like adventures:  they sideswipe you, you have to walk calmly and never stop;  just go, go, go and good luck.  The sidewalks are full of parked motorcycles and, as in the picture, you will see vendors cooking on the sidewalk and people sitting around in low seats enjoying lunch. All very different but fun, being a pedestrian could be a high risk activity.

I would like to share some interesting things about Vietnam.  For example, it is the second largest coffee producer after Brazil, besides which, they prepare coffee in some unusual ways, for example “egg coffee” which contains egg yolk, condensed milk and coffee (of course) … don’t make a face, it’s delicious, very sweet, so you can treat it like a dessert. They also have “coconut coffee”: very refreshing since you drink it cold. And avocado coffee, which I didn’t try:  it didn’t sound like a good combination for my palate.
Of course Vietnam produces a large amount of rice and they export very good quality pepper. I will post more about the food on this trip that I liked a lot.  Anthony Bourdain was also a big fan!

Our trip started by cruising up the Mekong River, which is long and crosses several countries: Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  We only saw a small part of it. We have not been big cruise lovers but this ship was small, just around 60 passengers, mostly from Australia, United States, Canada and Great Britain.  I was the only Argentine. We met some nice people and we had fun and we hope to keep in touch with them. The boat’s crew were very nice, helpful and made the trip very smooth.
We started the cruise on our wedding anniversary and were greeted by a spectacular sunset.  We learned some of the basic and very helpful words like Xin Chao (Hello) Mot, hai, Ba, Yo (Cheers) y Tam biet (Goodbye) and Cam o´n (Thanks)

The next day we went to Cai Be which is a floating market, where we saw (and sampled) how they prepare different rice products;  also we saw some bottled snake wine, which they called the Vietnamese Viagra… we didn’t try that 😉

In the afternoon we visited Sa Dec, a very interesting place where you can see French architecture from the past.  We visited the Wet Market where they sell all kinds of foods, things that you never thought might be edible (I decided not to take pictures of these items).  Here was my first revelation of the trip:  these people lived through several wars for many years, one of the consequences of which was hunger.  Therefore they took advantage of the entire animal or ate everything;  the banana plant is an example, so who I was to judge what people eat?  They have my respect:  I know nothing and I have to be thankful for what I have everyday. That was one of my big lessons of the trip.

Have you seen the movie The Lover, the one that was at the cinemas in the 90s, which was the love story of Marguerite Duras as a teenager with a very wealthy Chinese man called Huynh Thuy Le?  We visited the house that belonged to his family.  Looking at pictures of the guy, they obviously improved his looks in the movie to make the whole love story thing work.

During excursions on shore from the boat, I realized that Robyn, one of the Australian passengers, was keeping a book with her drawings of the different places we visited. I love people that draw and paint so I approached her and asked her to show me her work.  So beautiful.  But the nicest surprise was that, after coming back home, she emailed me and gave me this beautiful present. The house of lover in Robyn Diener’s version. Lovely … I told you that was a very emotional trip.

The art of Robyn Diener

Thanks for coming with me to re-live this journey. There’s a lot more to share.

I want to thank Barnaby Sheridan for helping me in the corrections 🙂

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