Our in-country partner Kelly uprooted from her native Yorkshire to develop and deliver our Vietnam experiences with travel loving locals. Here she shares her story and insider insights into life in this intriguing destination.
So how does a forty something girl from Yorkshire end up living, working and loving it in Hanoi? I guess I am just quite lucky!
I have always worked in travel: airlines, tour operators, hotels, cruise lines etc. and I have been fortunate to have travelled extensively throughout Europe, the US and many other exciting destinations, but Asia, other than Thailand, had for some reason always eluded me….until 2 ½ years ago!
That’s when the stars aligned and I had the opportunity either to do something different, or continue as I was. I chose ‘something different’, sold almost everything I had, put what was left into storage and headed off on my rather late gap year.
I can’t say I was a ‘backpacker’, as not once in my 5 ½ months travelling through Asia did my sturdy 30kg Samsonite suitcase go anywhere near my back, nor did I choose to ‘share’ a dorm with a bunch of 20 somethings; age does bring some privileges. My end destination was always China, as ever since I saw the film The Last Emperor I have had a fascination and romantic idea of the country and wanted to see it for myself, but on the way I decided to ‘fit’ in as much as I could.
I made it!
First stop Saigon…it could not have been further removed from anywhere I had been before. Yes, I had done my research, I knew about the traffic, the war and history, I even re-watched Good Morning Vietnam, but none of that prepared me for the fact that I actually loved it.
I was alone at the start of a big adventure and what I didn’t expect was to feel really at home amongst the chaos and noise that was as far removed from Yorkshire life as you can get. I couldn’t stop smiling as I walked the streets, grew my road crossing confidence (albeit with a few close calls!), and ate incredibly well.
I was a very happy tourist and I did it all…. the locals didn’t always appreciate my enthusiastic attempts at the language, but looking back now I can’t say I blame them.
From Saigon I headed north to Nha Trang, then Da Nang and Hoi An and I continued to love the mixture of beautiful beaches, diverse landscapes and changes in the food styles. Every different location brought new experiences. In my first Asian country, the people were so gentle and I quickly learnt that the more effort you make by being calm, respectful, appreciative and willing to interact with them, the more time they have for you.
All roads lead to China
I travelled on through Bali, the Gilli Islands, Thailand, Cambodia, back to Thailand and finally on to China…but always Vietnam came into my mind. I spent a year in China and as a tourist I loved all the sights and history…the Forbidden Temple did not disappoint, but as an expat I found the lifestyle quite ‘challenging’ in many respects, so I made the decision to move on. Friends of mine were in Hanoi at the time and told me if I liked the rest of Vietnam I would love Hanoi…that was about all the encouragement I needed to book, pack and head off.
Landing back in Vietnam I got a feeling, no – not an ‘iffy’ tummy from the airline food, but a pleasant familiar emotion. Hanoi is not like Saigon. If possible, it is more chaotic and bonkers and my smile returned. The Old Quarter was an assault on every sense; coffee cafes available every few steps were a welcome sight, and I loved the French architecture; the grand government buildings, the tree lined avenues, the old traditional houses. I was back to being a tourist again, but I knew that wouldn’t last as within a few days my mind was made up: I was staying.
Still living in Vietnam now there are many ‘unusual’ aspects that have assimilated into the norm for me, such as: having a spare pouch in my purse where I used to keep coins; seeing people walking around in pyjamas at all hours, handy if you need to nip out at night though; the noise of horns being blown, but no road rage; not separating my rubbish into recyclables because that is someone else’s job; no central heating – or real seasons; getting no mail, not really a bad thing! Sure, sometimes it is time consuming hunting for things like a hard-medium bristled tooth brush (they only seem to stock soft) or non-whitening face cream so I don’t look ill, a hot water bottle would be nice… but things like this are small in comparison to the pure joy of living here.
Finding the unusual
I really enjoy working with the ETG team. They, like me, look for the more unusual in a place, where things are different. They appreciate, like me, that we are often fascinated by the daily life of locals and how their seemingly mundane activities can amaze us just because ‘that’s not how we do it’.
I had so many questions about why or how things should be done when I arrived…and even now I still find curiosities that are wonderfully surprising – this is definitely not a country I will get ‘bored’ of anytime soon and sharing these ‘titbits’ of information with ETG is just part of my job.
Nothing wrong with a ‘little’ crazy
Maybe I am a little crazy for learning to ride a moped in a city with over 4 million bikes, or calmly walking across 5 lanes of traffic without blinking an eye, getting up super early to watch the ‘fan dancing’ or Tai Chi in the park, popping to the flower market at 5am purely for the adrenaline buzz and breakfast, or meeting friends for egg coffee….but, these are just a few of the things that I couldn’t even have dreamt of in Yorkshire…. and if it does make me sound a little crazy, well, I can live with that.
Vietnam is so different and diverse from north to south…personally I am a ‘Northern’ girl …but I think everyone should try a little of each area before they agree with me!