One of the most wonderful parts of travelling with teenagers is that one gets to experience the joy of seeing a new country with fresh eyes once again. Here are Martha’s descriptions of arriving in Vietnam:
My first impression of Vietnam was of a flat, lusciously green world, vibrant in contrast to the grey sky. Palm trees of all shapes and sizes covering vast stretches of land as we made our way from the airport further into the city. Many strangely familiar plants lined the sides of streets and highways as our driver wove in and out of traffic with only a hair’s breadth separating us from the next two cars, the three of us sharing two lanes. Despite a few nervous moments, we at last pulled up to a narrow alleyway that hid our surprisingly luxurious apartment. It was surreal finally settling into our own space after nearly 24 hours of sitting, cooped up with restless legs.
As we left our apartment to get a sense of our surroundings, I noticed that each narrow building had as stove of some sort, fireworks, knock-off Chanel, or counterfeit North Face gear spread out in front. People on mopeds flew by, rain ponchos billowing in the wind. Cigarette butts and crushed flowers littered the sidewalks. Old ladies squatted on street corners, selling soup from giant cauldrons. The air was humid in a subtle way. One could look up and see it, but it was so light and warm that one could not feel it coming down. Somebody even told me that it was not rain, but rather the runoff of air-conditioning units several stories above. Mopeds lined the sidewalks, leaving us pedestrians to walk in the cobble gutters.
After some meandering through the chaotic streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, slowly learning the subtle art of walking slowly and deliberately as traffic weaved around us, we found ourselves at Ho Hoan Kiem, the Lake of the Reclaimed Sword. All along this lake in the middle of the city were wide pedestrian boulevards and trees that look very different from the conifers that dominate the Pacific Northwest. On the far side of the lake an island with a small temple makes the scene feel even more like something out of a fantasy tale. But for many, the real fulfillment of fantasy happened later in the evening.
Bún chả is one of those concoctions whose sum is worth so much more than its parts. Fatty chunks of pork, cooked over a charcoal grill before being added to a rich broth. Mountains of noodles dwarfed by platters of greens. Chiles, garlic, and every possible addition one could dream of. All these were present and incredibly delicious, perhaps made even more wonderful by the ambience. The tiny shop opened to the open air kitchen, two tables, and a narrow winding staircase that gave way to floor after floor after floor of people from all over the world slurping noodles between rounds of laughter. Everyone was perched along cheap plastic chairs and benches. The servers all spoke only Vietnamese, but that is not an issue when the restaurant only serves one dish. One simply needs to indicate the number of bowls to be served with his or her fingers to be transported to a land of culinary bliss.
Satiated, we all returned home to finally lay down in real beds after what felt like an eternity of travel, already dreaming of how the next day could possibly compete with our first in Vietnam.
It is wonderful to be on the ground in Vietnam. Thanks to all our generous donors who make experiences like this possible.
It’s not too late to make a gift that will enhance the experience for all Explorations Academy students.