I’ve had a lot of fun counting down my favorite Asian places. Once again, these are only places that I have actually visited. Many of you have offered up some other incredible destinations perhaps worthy of another list. I hope to get to them all some day. But on top of my list, and it will come as no great shock to anyone that knows me, can only be one place – the place I hold dear in my heart for many, many reasons – northern Vietnam.
I shall attempt in two blog posts to break down why northern Vietnam is my favorite. I realized that I couldn’t do it in one. There’s just too much information. So here goes.
This is where it begins for me. The Vietnamese people are precious and I have been blessed to know so many wonderful people. We lived in three different locations in northern Vietnam for a total of almost 10 years and in each place we had special friends and neighbors who always made us feel welcome. Let me outline a few of the types of friends and situations I am talking about.
Neighbors – A couple across the street from our house in Thai Nguyen had a small drink shop. I could pop over at any time just to chat. I remember one time in particular that I hate translated an English article about Vietnam into Vietnamese and I wanted someone to check my grammar. I walked right over and uncle and aunt drink neighbors were ever so happy to read my work, compliment me on my Vietnamese, and help me fix my mistakes.
Students – I taught hundreds of incredible students in my years in Vietnam. They made me feel too special, really, always complimenting me about something or other. Always wanting to do things together and, especially, always wanting to speak English. I do miss those incredible students who made my years so wonderful. I remember the times I would invite them to try pizza for the first time ever. Or we would invite them to experience a typical American Christmas. I had two students who took me by motorbike about 20 KM out of the city to find these scraggly old pine trees. They climbed to the top of one and cut me off the top, then they flagged down a bus and tied it to the roof, bringing it home to our house so we could have a real evergreen in our house. Truly special.
Strangers – Strangers were some of my favorite people of all time in Vietnam. Friendly doesn’t even begin to describe it. Once I got used to the ritual of tea, and I understood the language, there was no amount of time that I couldn’t waste. Countless times I would be invited by strangers, or sellers, or whomever, to just sit down and drink strong green tea with them. Not the whoosey kind of green tea you get in the west. This is the real stuff. Thick dark yellow that will burn a hole in your taste buds. Bitter as anything, and I miss it. I miss the random kindness of strangers.
Friends – I miss playing basketball with my friends there. I was so tall I felt like an NBA star. I miss the shoe shine boy in Hanoi who used to come around a couple times weekly and taught him how to play catch with a baseball and glove. I miss the talks and invites I would get to other peoples’ houses.
I love northern Vietnam for the people, and it that was all it had going for it it still would be enough. But I’m just scratching the surface here. I also love it for its places (the raw beauty is unparalleled – Sapa, Hoa Binh, Halong Bay, Cao Bang, Bich Dong, Hoa Lu, Huong Pagoda, Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu), its food (I miss bun cha!), and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I’ll touch on all of these in Part II.
I’ll leave you with a few photos I took of the beautiful Vietnamese people.
A friend’s father saying some prayers.
A bird catcher. A friend on her wedding day.A friend who later became our landlord.
Friendly kids in the countryside happily pose for the strange foreigner. Working hard in the rice fields of Thai Nguyen. Tam Dao mountains in the distance.Some of my students.
10. Malacca, Malaysia
9. Chiang Mai, Thailand
7. Hong Kong
6. southern Vietnam
5. Sabah, West Malaysia
4. Beijing, China
3. Siem Reap, Cambodia
2. Penang, Malaysia
1. northern Vietnam