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!
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.
Being up in the mountains empties my mind and soothes my soul in a way that nothing else does. As soon as I catch that first scent of pine needles on the wind, fill my lungs with clean, cold air and look out at the endless peaks on the horizon I feel calm wash over me. My love of the mountains is a discovery I’ve made only recently in life, a gift from my travels. Now, I dream about the mountain towns I’ve loved and left behind and I long to discover new ones.
There’s one thing I definitely won’t miss when we leave Vietnam: the traffic. There’s no way I’m brave enough to drive through these hectic streets myself but Andrew tackles them daily and he has plenty of terrifying stories to show for it. Just the other day we were driving innocently over a crossroad when we almost collided with a crazy Vietnamese man who was speeding through a red light – did he even slow down when he saw us? No, Andrew had to give way to him! It often feels like the Wild West on the roads out here.
Where were you this time last year? We were in Thailand, relaxing by the river Kwai in Kanchanaburi whilst preparing for our trip to Burma. I’ve written many times about our love for the Land of Smiles and now that the weather has turned cold and wet here in Hanoi I often fantasise about heading back to the warmth of one of our favourite Asian cities: Chiang Mai. We have fond memories of this northern Thai oasis; volunteering at the nearby Elephant Nature Park, hanging out with visiting friends and family and celebrating the New Year’s water festival, Songkran.
I fell for Hanoi when we first visited over a year ago, but has living and working in the city changed the way I feel? It’s true that since we moved here to teach English, Hanoi and I have had our ups and downs, but here are five reasons why I continue to love this crazy Vietnamese Capital.
We’re half way through our time in Hanoi and there are just 18 weeks of the semester left before we leave Vietnam – how did that happen? I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions but this has led me to a startling realisation. In short, our experience here, which seemed to stretch onwards forever when we first arrived, now feels like it’s running out fast. This is it - we have just a few months left of our life in Vietnam and we need to make the most of it.