Vietnam is the perfect country to explore. One of the reasons for this is very simple: it geography. It’s elongated along the South China Sea and relatively thin from East to West. It’s difficult to stray away from a general route without crossing into neighboring Laos or Cambodia. We got to experience, once again, distinct cultural differences as we traversed from the Southern tip all the way up to the capital, and beyond.
The South is closer to the Western world than the North is, to put it bluntly. The majority of Vietnamese families that I know in Canada have come from Saigon or the surrounding areas. That being said, it is still unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. The streets were as condensed with motorbikes as I’d ever seen. On average, about 3 people die in Saigon every day in motorcycle accidents. We definitely witnessed a few here and there, but they were never serious.
I loved driving in Saigon. I meet people in Toronto from Saigon who tell me they’d never drive there, but I really don’t think it’s that bad. It’s crammed, definitely, and I wouldn’t recommend it as the first place in Asia to decide to get behind the wheel, or handlebars. It’s a lot of fun though, and there are bright lights and food stalls and everything glorious as you ride around the streets at night. We purposely got lost on countless occasions just to see what a neighborhood was like. There was this one tall building in the center that we used as our point of focus every time we’d stray off. It was always easy to find our way back because it stuck out from miles away in every direction.
I had pho every day I was in Vietnam. The first time was the first evening we’d arrived. It was already dark out and we were just walking around the city, taking in all of the sights and sound. It was lively everywhere, every day. Millions of people about in the city, working, eating, talking, driving, everything. We found a little pho stall outside, tiny little plastic chairs and tables lining the gutter. Cockroaches scuttled about out feet, and it actually didn’t matter to us. Not much, anyway. It was my first bowl of Pho in Vietnam. I always enjoyed Pho before this point, but I never loved it. I will never not love it now. It became part of a daily breakfast routine that could not be broken. $2.50 for a bowl was paying too much. We often got it for $1-$1.50. In Saigon, they hand you a plate full of various aromatic leaves, basil, bean sprouts, and a few wedges of lime. I like to squeeze chili sauce and hoisin into my spoon and dunk it into the broth, swirling it around before I squeeze in the lime as a final touch. It’s the best thing ever and I’ve been privileged to enjoy authentic pho all the way over in Vietnam, and here at home in Teresa’s mom’s kitchen.
The atmosphere was incredible. Some of the streets were lined with tropical trees at least 6 or 7 stories tall. It was totally surreal, but not altogether unsurprising. At some point in Vietnam, we would be passing the halfway mark of our trip. The reality only became stronger, that this wouldn’t be happening forever. Looking back, it’s more of an overwhelming thought now, than it was then. Then, it was more an awareness of something we had already accepted. The gravity of how the trip would change Teresa and I would not hit until sometime after we’d returned. I know that if we felt what we feel now, back then, there’s a good chance that we may not have left. We thought we had to come back, that regardless of what we were doing at the time, life was back home, in Canada. Speaking for myself, now I’m not so sure. At the very least, I’m certain that the city that I live in is not necessarily the city for me, the one that I see myself settling in. And that’s just it: the notion of settling. This trip has left me unsettled, in a literal sense of the term. I’m not sure if I can feel fulfilled staying too long in any one place. Maybe I’m saying that because it’s been well over a year since I’ve left the country. I’m also leaving it again in about a week, at the time of this writing. [**Note** Evidently, I’ve posted this a few days after returning from Peru, a few weeks after writing this article.] I’m very curious to see what I get out of this truly brief excursion to Peru. It’s funny how 2 ½ weeks would have felt like a very long trip a few years ago; I wanted to cry after returning from the best week in Mexico ever, when I was 23. Now it feels like a tease. I can’t go in with the exact mentality I did for our trip to Asia.
That was quite a digression, and I owe it to the immensity in which a country like Vietnam has affected me, even through the memories of that very first day.
I said I was biased towards it, and I was/am, but it’s certainly a lot more than that. And Teresa made it a whole lot different, not just for her understanding of the language. She has family there as well, and we would be driving down to the Southern reaches of this amazing country to visit them very shortly. Saigon was the beginning of an incredible journey that saw no shortage of excitement, relaxation, and freedom.