My trip to Taiwan and Việt Nam
Well. Finally got around to putting this old website together. Neat thing about it - powered by Jekyll and I can use Markdown to author my posts. It actually is a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.
Preparing for Travel
Last year I finally bit the bullet and decided make it a goal to do a major trip each year. Part of the mentality, required me to step out of my comfort zone of life and routine, and just go for it! Literally buying a plane ticket to Iceland and planning the trip afterward is what it took. I am new to CS but willing to give it a shot in light of meeting some cool people and friends. Traveling is certainly a privilege, and I am thankful to be able to see new places and meet new folks. By seeing the world, I can step out of my local bubble and begin to form a more global perspective. While I do enjoy passions like music, running, and being outside, global perspectives can introduce me to things I wouldn’t have dreamed of. On top of that, checking out new areas and getting a feel for the local vibes is interesting.
This trip is a personal experiment and the idea of leaving the English-speaking world fascinates me. The trip begins!
Day 0: Travel
I left Dallas Texas and flew to La Guardia in NY. I had to transfer airports in NY so I hopped on the NY subway. I rode 1 bus, 2 trains, and stopped at a little deli en-route to enjoy one last U.S. meal. I arrived at JFK airport and had time to spare so I walked around and marveled at all the Duty-Free luxury. I mean, there is duty-free shops everywhere. Although not as bad as in Europe where you are forced through the shops to leave. I called my brother Andrew and friend Jesse before departure and I boarded China Airlines at midnight. The flight was great food, service and I actually slept. I arrived in Taipei at 6AM local. Everything at the airport was still closed so I decided to enter Taiwan since there is no visa required. I had 4 hours until my flight to Ha Noi. I marveled at the new land and language. I began by purchasing an MRT card so I could board the subway. I ordered a matcha for breakfast and boarded the purple MRT and headed to the next small village Qingpu. I walked around the village and took in all the sense. Motorbikes, signers in Chinese, and new landscapes. After a while, I found a little food stand and ordered using sign language. Delicious soup and friendly locals.
I headed towards the airport after wandering the next village Pingzhen unsuccessful to find a SIM card. Next stop Viet Nam.
Day 1: Hà Nội
I board the flight to Ha Noi with my pineapple juice and I am again blown away by the level of service on the Asian airlines. An entire meal for a mere 3-hour flight. Unheard of in America. I met some local Vietnamese fellas on the flight. I arrived in Noa Bai Airport in Ha Noi in the early evening. Time to test my Vietnam visa. Success! I got in and now time to purchase a SIM, Nuoc, and find xe buýt 86 to the old-quarter.
I rode the bus and took in Viet Nam for the first time. I remember smog, motorbikes, and tropical. Right away I was confronted by folks offering bus and taxi to Ha Noi. I found my bus and paid 40.000 VND. I arrived in old quarter to find accommodation: Eric’s hostel. I walk around the market and eventually find a narrow alley between between two un-appearing shops and follow it to find the hostel. I check in finally and unload my baggage. I am now free to explore the old quarter. I am confronted by motorbikes everywhere. It is so different and traffic is only a suggestion to motorists. It is a free-for-all and eventually am comfortable with walking through traffic. I buy some banh cam and am ripped off for the first and only time this trip. They wanted 300NTD they saw and then another old lady asked for even more. I said không, NO! Persistence and then I left. Next, to find luggage.
I found a marketplace with shop owners trading and selling goods. I found a shop with bags and wanted to get a Nike clone. The price was 400.000 VND. I offered 300.000 VND in Vietnamese and we settle on 350.000 VND. Fair enough, a mere tourist tax. I go on to explore the old-quarter lake and next buy Nuoc ep buoi. Delicious. Tired, I return to my accommodation and chat with the clerk at the hostel, and then retire to my chamber.
Day 2: Meeting Friends
I rose this day early to head over to the old quarter for some breakfast. I found all the elders were out exercising really early. I found a street lady selling congee soup and I bought some. I was also offered tea by some locals sitting nearby on the stools. I walked for a bit in the morning and called a Grab to meet up with my friend Giang. He invited me to his family village Cầu Đã Xá. The driver was surprised I was going there but I still got out and saw the village of furniture making. Giang shortly arrived on motorbike and took me to a family gathering. So many people! Nhều người! The gathering was to commemorate the year passing of an elder’s death. They had lots of different food like cá, dê, and phở. Stuff I don’t remember too. We toasted as a table and drank rượu chuối (banana vodka). After, Giang took me to various relative homes, including an elder relative, an uncle, and a married cousin. At one of the uncle’s homes I even tried betel nut, a tobacco thing that you chew. It gave me a buzz and makes your face turn all warm. You spit it out as a red clump.
Following, we visited Giang’s Chinese tutor and we studied beginner Chinese in a cell phone repair shop. We return to explore the village afterwards.
Day 3: Cầu Đã Xá
I slept at Giang’s family home in a spacious accommodation. I walked the village alone in the early morning before folks woke up. I returned and talked to Giang’s family in limited Vietnamese. They always had tea at the table, and this type of tea was more bitter than I was used to, but it was served in very small cups making it enjoyable. Giang woke and we explored his village and market for a little bit. I purchased sandals since mine broke earler that day and we made it back for a delicious lunch. We ate on the floor traditional style some fish, various side dishes, and Bia Heineken. His family was so generous to invite me over, not only a stranger, but to provide such lavish accommodations such as the meals and attention. This was a great impression of the culture of generosity expressed by the Vietnamese. And this would only be the beginning of a week of these observations.
We left his family village by motorbike to visit Giang’s own place in Ha Noi. His place is on the outskirts in a less touristy area. He told me that this part of town retains the small village feel. We explored this part of Ha Noi together and purchased ingredients to cook a dinner together. I bought a VN flag to bring back and we cooked chicken and a soup with leaves that we pulled off. We ate the delicious meal on the floor and Giang showed me to the bed.
Day 4: Ninh Bình
We woke early and I talked to Giang’s local food stand seller near his home. The lady sells fried cake things. I tried the banana one and then Giang dropped me off at the bus stop. I will ride xe buýt to Ninh Bình. I arrived at the bus station and was asked by a guy if I wanted to go to Ninh Bình right away. Like he could tell exactly where I want to go. I decided to go straight to the counter to buy my ticket because for some reason I didn’t trust the guy. However, the guy was helpful. After the purchase, he let me grab cà phê sữa and I boarded the bus. I met a Vietnamese couple who were friendly and we talked for a bit. We shared snacks and then another guy sat down next to me at a later stop. He knew English. He works in Phu Ly village and commutes there by bus. He helped me and suggest I visit Chùa Bái Đính. This would require me to get off at the Trang An bus stop and get a taxi. We talked and the first family was headed that direction! I got off at Trang An with the family and they offered to taxi me with them to the temple. We squeezed 5 people in and got to the temple. It was so beautiful and I never saw such a large temple. I found a walking entrance and I finally felt being the only American and people treated me especially well. I took many photos and climbed many caves and saw the temples with the Trái cây. I talked with folks limited and to a girl but a little difficult to understand. Folks wanted pictures with an American.
After seeing the temple, I went to the market at the entrance and grabbed some Pho. I hung out with some local Vietnamese. They treated me so well and we shared food together. They enjoyed my wasabi almonds. I received a medallion with my lunar year, the goat from one of the ladies. After food, I decided to hike to Trang An to find accommodation. Folks insisted to give me a ride but I insisted on đi bộ. Walking! Eventually after a few KM, some motorbike folks gave me a lift to Trang An for free!. I made it to Trang An to get a drink and ten hike to hike to find an accommodation, the Farm Homestay. I walked right in!
I check in just in time for a beautiful Ninh Bình sunset. It was spectacular with the sharp pointed rock formations. I then rode bicycle to find dinner. I found a nearby restaurant specializing in thịt dê and to talk and chat with some locals working there. Delicious! After, I return to the homestay to find some Juice. I go to a nearby hostel and get some nước ép xoài. I chatted with a girl Quy and hung out for a bit. After, I returned for bed. The homestay was an amazing open-air bungalow.
Day 5: Cong Family
I woke up from the Farm Homestay and went down for some breakfast. Immediately I was greeted by a family so I joined them for breakfast. Keeping with the local experience, I was able to communicate with them using my limited Vietnamese. They invited me to join them to Trang An. They rented a mini bus as a family and there was room for me to join. Since I had no plan, I decided to join them. I got my things from the homestay and packed with the Cong family to Trang An. They brought a portable Karaoke and we sung some Vietnamese music the whole way. This is exactly what I want to be part of this trip. Full exposure to pop culture and meeting so may friends. The Cong family immediately embraced me despite being a foreigner. I felt so welcome.
We arrived at Trang An in the late morning and we split into the boats. The Trang An boat tour takes you through the Ninh Binh landscape to some really scenic and beautiful locations. You paddle through grottos, a few Buddhist temples, and eventually make it to a indigenous site in the midst of the jungle. There are straw and thatch huts you can walk and explore. I joined the Cong family on the boat tour and we even brought the portable Karaoke box on board. I was on the same boat as Mr Cong. During this time, he invited me to join his family for the rest of the day. They would be visiting Bai Dinh, and then driving to Hai phong city. I agreed.
Once the boat tour finished, we drove to the village of Trang An for some lunch. We all sat a large table and ate delicious food like thịt bò khô (jerky), fish, soup, and plenty of rượu chuối. I later found that the restaurant will continue to bring out more and more rượu chuối. The key is to take a shot, and leave some of the liquid remaining so that you don’t get any more. Because everyone was drinking, it was easy to keep getting more and more. Mr. Cong, invited me to one last shot, and then I joined the remaining family at a table outside to eat some fruit. One thing for sure, Vietnamese folks traditionally snack on fruit and not typical junk food like I am accustomed to. So many types of fruit!
After lunch, we rode to Chùa Bái Đính. The Cong family was visiting the temple to pray and give fruit offerings. I joined them and Mr Cong even took a photo with me in front of the tall pagoda. I kept the photo as a memory. This is such a friendly family and I am really enjoying my time hanging out with them. We headed back to the bus and rode to Hải Phòng. On the way back, everybody slept and we stopped at a night temple for another offering. Once we made it to the city, we dropped off the family members and we walked a few KM to the house of one of the Cong elders. After brief introductions, we rode motorbike to the Cong household. They invited me to stay the night. I took a shower and we ate some noodle soup and chatted. Their son is practicing English and I was able to talk to him for a little while before he went to bed. We set up a mosquito net bed and I had a great night of sleep on the floor.
Day 6: Hải Phòng
I awoke at the Cong family home in the morning. I was able to say goodbye to his son before heading off to school. Afterward, I was invited to ride motorbike into the city. I was shown the beautiful waterfront park in Hải Phòng. We stopped for Vietnamese coffee. This was my first true experience of cà phê sữa fresh. We stopped at a little cafe and enjoyed drinks. We spoke in limited and broken Vietnamese and still am astonished by the friendliness of this family. I have been with this family for over one day and they are so generous to show me around and spend time with a total foreigner. Maybe not what I am used to back home, but very welcoming!
After drinks, we rode over to a market outside Hải Phòng. Mr Cong’s wife works as a merchant for clothes. We arrive and meet up with his wife and chat for a bit. Then, I walk around the market for a little bit to see the wide variety of goods. There were merchants selling live rooster, live fish, shrimp, insects, meat, and lots of fruit. I bought quả bưởi to bring back. After the market, we rode motorbike back to the house for some lunch. This would be the last lunch with the Cong family, before sending me off to the bus back to Hà Nội. We enjoyed fish, beer, and soup. The children even came home from school for the lunchtime to spend time with family. After saying goodbye to the family, I was brought to the bus stop and instructed where to get off the bus. I rode all the way to Ha Noi and got off at the northern bus stop.
Once in Ha Noi, I was planning to meet with Giang once more. I walked across the bridge and explored the old quarter one last time, then got a Grab motorbike to drive me to meet Giang for dinner. I met with Giang and his friend for some bubble tea, and then we walked over to a dinner place for com. Afterwards, we walked around a lake park near his house, and talked the three of us. We grabbed some che from a local stall, and I headed back to Giang’s for one last night in Ha Noi.