Our flight home to Calgary leaves early on the morning of December 6. We will spend 25 hours in transit – insanity! We are far from home indeed.
In the meantime, we have a few days to explore Vietnam’s economic capital and biggest city. Ho Chi Minh City feels so much larger than Hanoi, less gritty. It has highways and districts. It’s crowded and the traffic is also chaotic – herds of motorbikes and cars vying for space – but somehow the streets feel wider, more open. I can walk down the sidewalks here, whereas in Hanoi and Hoi An I was usually clinging to the edge of the street, the sidewalk taken up with parked motorbikes, fruit sellers, streetside restaurants, etc. But who knows – it may just be that the neighbourhoods we’ve happened to visit during our week in each city have given me a skewed perception.
We’ve ventured out a few times. On Saturday, we went to the enormous Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park and had a blast. Today, I took the boys to explore the city while Roman got some much-needed rest and did some work. The boys and I went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, but were sad to see it was closed for renovations. We visited the Central Post Office and had lunch at the rooftop Secret Garden Restaurant with roosters crowing in nearby cages. We wanted to go to the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum, but it was also closed! Some bad luck, but we enjoyed walking around the city a bit, and also wandered into Ben Thanh Market which sold everything from fruit and vegetables, to meat and seafood, to all sorts of souvenirs and knick-knacks. I was on the lookout for gifts for family back home, but though beautiful, the coconut bowls, handicrafts, magnets, bags and wallets all seemed like so much clutter that nobody really needs.
We’ve also spent much of our time just hanging out in our airbnb, and enjoying the two-bedroom apartment after a week of living all together in a single hotel room. This apartment has funky decor. The beds are Vietnamese style – the mattress on one bed in particular feels like sleeping on a wooden board and is hard on my soft, fat Western body. However, the hammock and the comfy bean-bag chair make up for it. We’ve been relaxing, reading, watching movies and letting the kids play their tablet.
Of course, we are also preparing for our return. We’re figuring out housing, contacting the kids’ school, and trying to reformulate the next seven months in our minds.
We’ve considered the possibility of resuming our trip in a few months, once everyone is healthy. However, realistically once we’re back home, leaving again becomes very complicated. To put the kids back in school, and then take them out again a few months later would be disruptive. Once I find a new job, traveling long-term becomes impossible, yet surviving in Calgary on a single income for very long also isn’t feasible. On the financial side, we were counting on these three months of living cheaply in Southeast Asia to be able to afford our time in Europe. It looks like this might be the end of the road for us – not for all travel, of course, but for this long-term traveling lifestyle. However, we are already hatching new travel schemes, planning shorter trips that we might take in the near future.
It was a bittersweet morning for me, knowing that this will be the last time I walk through these types of markets and bustling roads, that I’d probably drunk my last cup of Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese milk coffee) this afternoon.
Some images of Vietnam that have stuck with me:
Sitting in a metal row-boat with Sam on a slow river while a woman of indeterminable age rows us forward, not with her hands, but using her leathery feet to expertly push and pull back the paddles.
A lanky girl sitting sideways on the back of motorbike driven by her father, a notebook and pencil balanced in her lap as she reviews her schoolwork, the motorbike weaving impossibly through a dense sea of traffic and disappearing into it.
The discordant rumble of the train from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh, waking me in the night, shaking me back to consciousness. Blinking past the darkness I lay awake, anxious that the train’s rattling jolts will cause Sam to roll from the top bunk onto the floor.
Making my way through the narrow, chaotic streets of Hanoi with one eye on Google Maps, and the other swiveling around to mind the motorbikes, the foaming puddles, the squatting woman who hollers at me to buy her fruit, and the boys walking ahead of me, hand-in-hand, oblivious to the chaos around them as they earnestly discuss monsters and secret clubs.