In the words of Anthony Bourdain “Vietnam it grabs your heart and once you love it you’ll love it forever and you must keep coming back”. Well I loved it and I went back. Four weeks ago, I returned to Vietnam for a personal visit to reconnect with colleagues and friends. After, being away just 10 months it was amazing to see the progress that was made around Hanoi.
Progress on many fronts:
Work; I visited the CHAI office where I worked, there was some new faces and some empty chairs for a few that moved on to other things. Great to reconnect and rewarding to learn that many of the recommendations I made during my assignment have been implemented and are helping to patients with HIV and TB. It was also nice to connect with the 2017 PULSE volunteers Tommy and Ann Marie who were working in Saigon and Hanoi.
Food; Visited all my favorite restaurants and started every day at 23 Phu Doan Street for the best Pho in Hanoi.
From there I would cruise on my motorbike around Hanio’s Old Quarters visiting friends looking for what looked interesting for lunch. There is nothing better than exploring the streets of Hanoi amongst the sea of motorbikes. It was very relaxing stopping and just hanging out and people watch for a while with a cold Bai Hai (local fresh beer). The pleasures one has when they are on vacation with no schedule and plenty of time to just relax and reflect. I also had a check list of must try restaurants that I collected from Anthony Bourdain’s and Andrew Zimmer’s cooking special on Hanoi, like Bun Oc (Snail Soup), Bun doc mung (pork noodle soup), Banh Cuon (Stamed Rice Pancake Roll). Check list complete by far my favorite was the Bun Oc, soup with snails, fresh herbs, tomatoes, noodles and broth. Delicious!
Around Hanoi and Tay Ho it was amazing to see the progress that took place with completion of several high-rise construction projects new street lights that the motorbikes totally ignore, perhaps they are only intended to cars or most people were like me and did not realize they were there. Welcome to the chaos of the streets of Hanoi.
People; Only way to describe it is “Welcome Back”! The people of Vietnam are so welcoming. Those who don’t speak any English I could just see it in their faces when I would visit my favorite restaurants, they shared a smile and a conveyed it’s been a while Welcome Back please join us.
Kevin and Hai Lynn my colleague at work left CHAI to pursue their dream to open a pizzeria. This had been a long-term dream of theirs so it was nice to visit them and see their vision come true. Great Pizza and homemade Belgium brew that Kevin makes himself.
Visited Sapa and spent time with Sapa Su, Su was our trekking guide for us last year. At the time she was 7 months pregnant and still trekking. Great to visit with her family and 2 healthy and active baby girls. Sapa like the rest of Vietnam is changing quickly, new power plant under construction to support the increase in tourism, new hotels, restaurants etc. Changes that are not exactly welcome by the locals but a clear sign of the times….. With all the progress going on in Vietnam it was extra special to spend time in Su’s home village with her parents and sisters. She is from a very small self-sustaining village community outside of Sapa. Her parents raised 7 girls in a very modest 3 room home. During our visit Su’s mother and sisters prepared us an amazing lunch over the open flame fire pit which is actual inside her parents’ bedroom, the same fire pit they have been using the past 50 yrs.
Progress is taking place across Vietnam which is a positive sign they are a thriving country. Vietnam is an amazing country rich in culture, history, beautiful landscape and the people.
I hope you get the chance to someday visit this special place. I leave you of with a couple of my favorite photos which says dispite all the progress in Vietnam some things remain the same…Take care.