I remember sitting in my London office back in 2012, reading travel blogs and trying to figure out just how people could afford to travel full time for years on end, it seemed so unachievable. Now I occasionally get a little shock when I realise that it’s been two and a half years since Andrew and I left the UK and we’re still travelling and unbelievably, we’re not broke!
It’s been almost 10 months since we arrived in Vietnam and during that time Hanoi has become a home of sorts; a crazy, chaotic, often frustrating one, but a home all the same. This week we dismantled our lives here and closed the door on this chapter of our adventure.
Our time in Vietnam is drawing to a close; we have just two and a half weeks left in the country and it feels like time is speeding up. This is our last week of teaching and we're struggling to fit in all the last-minute tasks we need to complete; packing up our apartment, sorting out finances, planning for the weeks ahead and saying our goodbyes. We’re also trying to squeeze in trips to places we haven’t had time to visit over the hectic school year; this past weekend we finally made it to the stunning country getaway, Mai Chau.
We’d been sat on the bus for an hour, yet we still hadn’t left the station. The sun was heating up the inside of the vehicle in sync with my rising temper and the beat of the awful music blasting us at full volume. We’d been waiting months for this holiday, this precious escape from the city into the countryside, and we couldn’t even make it out of the bus station in Hanoi.
We’ve spent the last few weeks trying to transfer the bulk of our hard-earned teaching dollars safely back to the UK. After four trips to Vietcom bank, multiple phone calls to our English bank and the help of a Vietnamese colleague to translate, we heaved a huge sigh of relief when the money finally landed in our account. That is, until we saw that we’d lost £300 in the hefty exchange rate. Oh, and we still have another instalment to transfer next month but hey, we’re halfway there!
It’s hard to believe that in two months’ time we’ll be relaxing on a beach in Thailand. As we’re nearing the end of our stay here in Hanoi we often find ourselves thinking about the things we will and won’t miss when we leave Vietnam.
I found myself alone on the path, surrounded by trees all clamouring for the grey sky. Groaning, I felt my thighs start to burn as the road sloped upwards once more. How long had I been cycling now, three hours? I wasn’t even at the park centre yet and I still had to make it all the way back to our hut by the lake before nightfall. This wasn’t quite the relaxing break from city life I’d been expecting. Instead, our trip to Cuc Phuong National Park had turned into the never-ending bike ride from hell.
Our living costs in Vietnam are so low that we could afford to eat out every day if we wanted to. While this might sound like heaven, searching for decent places to eat three times a day gets exhausting pretty quickly; after a year and a half of travel we were excited to finally move into an apartment in Hanoi and have our own kitchen to cook in. I’m also a vegetarian and a fussy eater who doesn’t (shock horror!) particularly love Asian food. Despite my picky habits, we still eat out at least twice a week and after seven months here we’ve developed a list of our favourite places to eat in Hanoi.
One of the great things about living in another country as opposed to just travelling through is that you get a more in-depth taste of the culture you’re living in. I’m not going to pretend I know everything about Vietnamese life after being here for just seven months, but I have learnt that festivals are very important and none more so than TET, the Lunar New Year holiday.