Faces In Vietnam

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“What do you like most about the new park?”

“I like that the children have somewhere to play, I like seeing their smiles.”

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“I don’t care much about modernisation, as long as it keeps growing in a sustainable way.”

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“Can we take a picture of you?”

“Yes, but I want the beach in the background.”

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Tan, who runs his own sustainable bamboo shop, talking at the round table meeting –  “Step by step I’d like to encourage more people to live like this, that’s how I want to make an impact, that’s the path that I chose.”

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“Is it better for things to be easier?”

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New Years Eve In Halong Bay

On the first day of 2017, I thought I was going to die.  After traveling around Vietnam for about a week, I’ve quickly discovered safety checks and procedures are non existent here.  There is a casual nonchalance amongst the tour guides, where being paid is the main priority – after that – anything goes.  So I began the 1st of January climbing up (or should I say pulling myself up) a massive, jagged cliff.  It was a group of us, some people were still hung over from partying the night before, some people were still drinking and smoking, most of us were in flip flops.  The tour guide said, “I take you on the money walk, and then we go to monkey beach”.  It all seemed innocent enough.  The tour guide led us behind the hotel, up a steep pathway, where trees blocked the view.  This was fine.  We walked up like this for about 10 minutes, and then things got interesting.  The tour guide moved quickly, so we had to hurry to keep up.  The path started getting steeper, and the guide started to rock climb up the cliff.  Some of us looked at each other thinking, this seems sketchy, but okay, let’s keep going.  It just got worse and worse, as we got higher.  There was less flat ground, and eventually we all had to rock climb up the mountain, no equipment, starring down at our imminent death.  I don’t think I’ve done anything this crazy in my life.  At one point going down I felt my whole body freeze up, and I almost lost my footing.  The lesson I’ve learned?  If it seems unsafe – don’t keep doing it.  Maybe this seems obvious, but if there’s one thing social psychology and this trip has made evident, is that in an unfamiliar situation we’re more likely to follow the crowd.  And stupidly, that’s what I did.  I’m still deciding if the view was worth it.

Besides life and death situations, I’m still really enjoying my time in Hanoi.  These last few days have flown by so quickly.  We spent another day in Hanoi after Mai Chau Valley, visiting some tourist sites in the morning, then doing our own thing in the afternoon.  When I enter a new city, if I don’t have a lot of time, I love to just wander around the streets.  I was able to do a lot of filming and sit in cafés people watching.  The next day we caught a bus, then a boat, then a bus, then another boat into Halong Bay.  Jiji was so excited.  She kept giggling and jumping up and down with joy.  When we arrived at the island resort, we hung out on the beach for a bit, before going on a tour of the fishing village.  Then we spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking around the bay, and jumping off the boat into the water.  It was so much fun.  For new years eve, the locals set up a huge bonfire, and we played games, drank beer, and sat around talking.  At one point I fell asleep in the sand, but Ji woke me up in time for the fireworks.  It was a really magical night.

Sadly though, Jiji and I parted ways this morning.  We had dinner in Hanoi last night with our friend Sue, then at dawn caught a taxi to the airport.  We’ve just said our goodbyes – Jiji heading down to Ho Chi Minh City, and myself heading over to Danang, then catching a bus out to Hoi An for my studies.  It feels pretty surreal.  Everything flew by so quickly, and now I’m not sure if I feel ready to get into the study zone.  It will be exciting to learn more about this country though.  From the research I’ve been doing, it seems Vietnam has endured a lot, yet as the country continues to modernise, traditions and ancient practices are still honoured.  This was evident in Hanoi, the capital, so I’m eager to compare this insight with the other great cities.

Happy New Year everyone!  May 2017 bring everything you need.

Love Kat x

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Hanoi, Old Quarter – Lady selling flowers

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Hanoi, Old Quarter – Shops

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Hanoi, Old Quarter – Ladies selling fruit

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Hanoi, Old Quarter – Shops

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Hanoi, Old Quarter – Shops

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Halong Bay – Fishing Village

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Halong Bay

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Halong Bay – Fishing Village

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Halong Bay

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Halong Bay – Fishing Village

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Halong Bay, Monkey Island – Resort

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Halong Bay, Monkey Beach – Monkey eating fruit

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Halong Bay, Monkey Island – At the top of the cliff (Behind that smile is a feeling of absolute terror)

Cycling Around Mai Chau Valley

Today was one of the best days of my life.  We caught a bus out to Mai Chau Valley, and a  local guide from the village lent us bicycles and showed us around.  We followed him through the village, across rice paddies, and down long roads with enormous mountains in the background as the sun was setting.  It was so beautiful and so scary.  The bikes were really old and the brakes on mine weren’t very good.  But it was so much fun.  I have never laughed or screamed as much as I did this afternoon.

It also just felt really surreal.  There were dogs and cattle everywhere, wandering around the village.  A lot of the Vietnamese wore their traditional dress, and hats.  At one point our guide stopped to show us the inside of their houses, on stilts.  The floor was made of bamboo wood, and I felt like I was going to fall through at any moment.  He also showed us how underneath was where the cattle slept.

After the ride we came back to the village for dinner, and there met some more people.  One of the things I really appreciate about travelling, is getting to talk to people who’ve done really different things with their lives.  One guy told us how he was motor cycling across Vietnam, and another woman described how she’d spent her 20’s just moving from country to country.  She didn’t go to university until her early 30’s.  I really loved hearing their stories of getting lost, and living outside of their comfort zones.  Talking to people like this opens you up to all the possibilities in the world.

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Walking Around

The goal for today was to get to know the city more.  Jiji and I walked around the lake, the city and the old quarter.  I love moving in and out between the traffic.  I love the quiet space amongst all the mayhem – every street has a little temple.  I love the combination of modern and traditional.  I feel like I could move here one day.  Here’s a little taste of what we saw…

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