First Week in Vietnam

We’ve now been in Hoi An, Vietnam for nearly a week. The transition was not an easy one. It all started with an excruciatingly stupid plane route that had us fly from Male to Kuala Lumpur in a 4-hour overnight flight, and then rot away for 5.5 hours in wing 3 of the Kuala Lumpur airport. This part of the airport - the low-budget wing, currently in construction - had no place to lie down. Grateful for our kids’ exhausted but unflinching roll-with-it attitudes, we moved over some chairs and slept on the ground for the next 3+ hours. At one point, bleary eyed, I woke up, saw a large brown cockroach scuttling along on Chris backpack, brushed it off, and went back to sleep. I have no idea if that was real or a dream.

We landed in Da Nang, exited customs, found our driver, and made our way to our new home 40 minutes south of the airport. It was rainy and dreary out. Not cold, but certainly not warm, my skin already nostalgic for the luxurious perfection of the Maldives’ cocktail of sun and breeze. We pulled up to the house, and several people began to wave us in, asking our driver to carefully back into a narrow driveway. This passageway definitely was not meant for cars. And slowly we began to carry our bags into our house.

Now we rented this house sight unseen, no reviews, just a few pictures. And you might think – well, that wasn’t your most savvy travel decision. And I would nod affirmatively, perhaps aggressively. It’s been quite an adventure. 

The house is big, much bigger than our Chiang Mai house. It has a pool (why would we need a pool in cold, rainy weather you also might ask?), backs up onto the river, is three stories, and has enough rooms for each of my kids to have their own room (a first!). BUT. It also feels a weird combination of old and never-lived-in, hollow, sparsely furnished. We have found two questionably poisonous centipedes in the house. The first day the water stopped working, and Chris got an electrical shock from the microwave which then began smoking. There was no hot water. There were no lamps, no night tables, no towels, no blankets, no sheets. Roosters wake us up before the sun rises, and our room is covered by a tin roof which blasts its tin drum every time it rains. Chris and I were urgently looking for a way out of this rental contract.

But then, a flurry of activity and humanity. The real estate agent, the landlady, her daughter. A story of her husband stricken by a stroke, no longer able to fix the house. People streaming in, with nightside tables and lamps, a large table and chairs, blankets and towels. The electrician, the plumber, the laundry lady, the pool man.

And so began our adventure in Vietnam. It hasn’t been the easiest. I can’t yet tell you what the tag line will be for this part of our eat-pray-love adventure. But I can say without a doubt that I have already engaged deeply by people here, learned of their stories, and have been jolted awake by a certain dynamism. 

First impressions - this place is alive! Beeping, laughing, loud talking, a lot of hugging, so much music. People love karaoke (I’ve heard it’s 90% men, but still…). Everyone engages us and loves on our kids. The second time we entered our local minimart, the old woman asked Emmet to take her picture, gave the kids lollipops, and proceeded to hug every one of our kids. Here are some shots of our first days...wandering through rice paddies, exploring the currently desolate wind-swept beach, markets, and Hoi An town...

While most of our time here has been setting up the house and the logistics of our stay (bikes, etc.), here are snapshots of two adventures:

Cooking Tour
This was our first experience of a tour in Hoi An. We paddled down a river in coracles, almost caught crabs, and learned how to make Hoi An food specialties.

First a coracle trip with leaf jewelry and crab catching...

Then cooking - fresh rolls, spring rolls, banh xeo, and pho...

Village Bike Tour - 27 km!!!
Now this really should be its own blog post. We went on a boat down the river and then rode 27 kilometers. Asa was on the back of Chris’ bike, but everyone else (including Emmet!) did this ride. Through rice paddies, village streets, around cows, next to pigs, across rivers, over snakes (literally). 

We learned the stories of our guides, how villagers survive annual flooding, repurpose French/American bombs into vases, weave bed mats, make rice, make snake (cobra!) and centipede wine, hug chickens (mortal enemies of centipedes) to heal centipede bites, and more. It was unbelievably awesome.

The elders in the village all seemed to have a story from the American war, including this 99-year-old woman whose husband was killed in the war. In the pictures above: the woman weaving a bed mat with her son, old French bombs repurposed in and around her house, and the hollowed out tunnel where she and her family used to hide. 

Snake wine (only men drink) and centipede wine (only used for massages). Chris tried the snake wine. I tried the rice wine without the snake :) 

And a few more of some training in paddling a coracle...

I was so proud of the kids for heroically thriving from a 6:45 am wakeup until we got home at 6:30 pm at night. The guides said they had never before had so much fun and laughed so much with a group. This trip is nothing but micro-moments, where I find myself suddenly rising above the planning for the next day's adventures and watch my kids interact with the world. Moments out of time, I see how they have grown, how open they are to newness and 'firsts,' and how engaging they are in conversation and curiosity about the world and people around them. 

I'm still not thrilled with the weather, but people tell me we are on the edge of a seasonal shift, so I'm waiting!