Aboard the MV World Odyssey, we are taught from day one that we must learn to be flexible. Flexible with ourselves, the staff, the seas, but most importantly, the journey. This got put to the test pretty early into our voyage, as we learned that due to the Coronavirus, our itinerary was shifting. Rather than traveling from Japan to China like originally planned, there was a quick detour to Vietnam. We extended our original stay of around 5 days, to a total of 11 days. This was the longest in-country experience that we would have, and we were told that if any port, this was the best to be extended. When I heard the news, I was disappointed about not going to China, but also hopeful for this new country I had never been to.
In my mind, Vietnam was complied of lush green fields of rice famers, great tasting food, and the Mekong delta that transported small fishing boats. While this was partly correct, it was only a small glimpse into what Vietnam had to offer. To start off, I absolutely loved my time in Vietnam. I was fortunate enough to visit multiple cities including Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Da Nang, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay. Each place was more unique and spectacular than the next, with interesting food and people at every turn. Personally, I found Hoi An to be my favorite stop. Hoi An is a more quaint take on Ho Chi Minh city, where we had enjoyed time three days prior. We took a plane ride from Saigon, lasting
around an hour and 20 minutes, and landed in Hoi An for a 3 day stay. We arrived right after the lunar new year celebrations. Decorations from the celebration still remained; colorful flags and lanterns hung from tree tops and electrical lines crossing over the streets of the town. Underneath the colorful sky of decorations, people on motor bikes and on foot were bustling through the streets in the warm heat. Hoi An, as is Vietnam in general, is a pretty inexpensive area that offers a lot of rich history.
Within the first day, my friends and I fell in love with the 10 dollar massages, fresh mango, Bahn Mi street vendors, and new languages ringing in our ears. Similar to what I had experienced in Japan, the inhabitants of Vietnam were hardworking, helpful, and curious. Whether it was someone giving directions or anxiously waiting for our expressions after trying food they prepared, people were just as interested in us as we were them. While I was there, I went on a day long bike tour led by two local women. They took us all around Hoi An and onto the two small islands that are not far away. We were able to step away from the main streets and tourist traps, and into the real lives of people. We biked through the green lush lands of rice fields, past run down looking schools, next to open homes with young kids waving to us from their visible living rooms, and through the voices of congregated men singing karaoke. The sun was shining at a temperature of about 85 degrees. On the tour we were able to step into the life of a true Vietnamese native, and hear the perspectives of the two tour guides. We interacted with locals who were constructing fishing boats, a worker creating shell art, a man driving a moped with chickens in the back for sale, and smiling faces as we biked past people tending to their needs of the day. We finally arrived at a family home, where we were able to observe their traditional house and eat a meal from their kitchen. Once the meal of fresh morning glory, rice, and tofu was consumed, we met the man who owned the house. He was a local craftsman who hand wove the traditional mattresses that are used in Vietnam. He was an older man, and he worked all day long to produce the mattresses with his 90 year old mother in law by his side, helping him along. It was there that I got to experience the true reality of Vietnam.
After the bike ride, my friends and I were able to step back into the tourist role and get custom clothes made. Many people travel to Hoi An for this reason. Leather products and clothing being hand made is everywhere you look. I was able to have two articles of clothing made. I decide on designs I liked after perusing the internet, picked out my preferred fabric, got measured, and before I knew it, my dresses were done in less than 24 hours. Suits, dresses, shoes and more were able to be custom ordered and produced within hours. We topped off our Hoi An trip with a group Vietnamese dinner in our new apparel and reflected on the great moments we had shared. It was an amazing time and the stops that followed only exceeded. Vietnam was an extremely unique and interesting port on the itinerary and I can’t wait to make it back sometime soon.