There is so much to look at in Hanoi. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been suffering from jet lag after having traveled across 8 different time zones, but there is no doubt that I’ve had a certain amount of sensory overload that happened in less then 24 hours after arriving. In a very broad sense, things here seem very familiar yet, of course, so different in many, many ways.
For the next 2 months we now live in the Tay Ho area which is situated on a lake appropriately named, Ho Tay, which is just north of the bustling city center of Hanoi. This neighborhood is less crowed and quieter than the city center. It also appears to be filled with expatriates and foreigners. Most of these foreigners are from all over the world with a high concentration of people from the UK, Australia, and other Asian and European countries. We actually heard a group of people speaking Mexican Spanish yesterday while we had lunch and it made us smile. =)
Our housekeeper set us up for our stay here with an almost-new scooter rental that has plenty of storage under the seat for all our groceries and supplies. We started with exploring our neighborhood – first on foot and then on the scooter. Though it was a challenge at first, it was still quite manageable. Scooters rule the roads here, and driving a car seems absolutely ridiculous and very difficult to maneuver in traffic. Walking can be equally a challenge since the sidewalks stop and start abruptly with over grown grass, rocks, and other not-so-friendly obstacles, leaving you vulnerable to traffic in the roads.
The Tay Ho area is filled with restaurants, bars, coffee houses, specialty shops, and just about anything else you may need. International products can be found in just about every bodega on a street corner. Our first Saturday was spent collecting organic food at a weekly market and organic store very near to our house.
CROSSING THE STREETS IN HANOI
There’s a strange – but understood rule here with crossing a street in Vietnam. When it appears to be no way to cross, somehow, people find a way. Nobody will stop for you, yet everyone will let you cross. It’s almost an energetic game of “Frogger”. There are people texting on their scooters who never look up, yet they avoid hitting and being hit by others. It’s when you don’t “let go” of your notions of what you think it should be, and allow the system to just work, is when there could be trouble. And in most cases, you probably won’t die. =)
PHO FOR EVERYONE
We rode our scooter to the best Pho (pronounced fah) we’ve had so far, and I hope we can find it again. It was a perfect combo of broth, veggies, and spicy/sour flavors. I do, however, find it difficult to understand that when it’s 32° celsius (89° fahrenheit – but feels like 106°) with a humidity level of 90%, that anyone in their right mind would want to sit outside in the sun and eat hot soup. But everyone here does it and loves it. Surprisingly, it was kind of cooling in the end.
MY NEW HABIT
Then it happened. We found our second favorite thing in Vietnam. Yogurt coffee (ca phe sua chua).
OMG. This is stuff dreams are made of. The combination of lightly sweetened yogurt and rich chocolate-y coffee – with the light bitterness of the coffee bouncing off the creamy sweetness of the yogurt – is just heavenly. I am now planning on setting aside 15,000 dong ($.70US) each day for one of these lovely drinks. Normally I only drink coffee in the morning, but when in Vietnam, coffee drinking is an integral part of the entire day and I will be happy to make it an afternoon delight also. I’m sure I will talk more about this in later posts. Thank you Vietnam Gods.
To be continued….
Imagine living for a few weeks or even months in an Italian village, buying fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market every week, sipping coffee on your terrace, and taking easy going day trips to neighboring villages and chateaus when you feel like it. That’s what slow travel is all about. Where the emphasis is less on constant sightseeing and more about taking in the surroundings at a relaxed pace.
So many people I know return from a vacation feeling exhausted and in need of another ‘vacation’ just to relax for a few days. It seems like so many of us already live hectic and busy lives, so how is activity-intense vacations suppose to help us unwind? Spending 1-2 weeks of intense tourist attractions and sightseeing does not make for a relaxing holiday. At least not for us.
Fortunately, Adam and I have been doing this kind of travel – that’s now part of a larger movement – that has emerged over the last 10 years as a solution to tourist burnout. It’s called “slow travel”.
The two of us started doing slow travel after our very first trip to Europe – where we were doing the typical American vacation thing of trying to pack in as much as we could in a short period of time. It only took us 2 weeks before we were exhausted and couldn’t bare to go on and see one more church.
Then while in Spain, we met an American man on a train who told us he was on a mission to see 8 different countries in only 2 weeks. Hearing his agenda exhausted us both – and we knew then that this would never be the way we would want to travel. Spending more time on a bus, train, or plane, then in the actual places we were trying to “see” was never going to be us. It was at that moment we decided that we need to actually spend more time in less places.
So, what is SLOW TRAVEL?
Slow travel is like slow food. It’s about taking your time to create something more meaningful and healthy. By traveling slow, you’re able to appreciate and respect local flavors, traditions, art, culture, local farming, and environments – and end up spending a lot less money then moving around so much. It’s about getting to know one small area really well instead of getting to know very little about a whole lot of places.
It’s a mindset.
Slow travel is not always about renting a small house or room for a week or more – though this is a great idea and I highly recommend it. It can also be about taking the less traveled road. Going to places no one else has heard of. Getting on a bus just to see where it may go. It could also be about taking a train across land instead of flying. Or riding a bike from pub to pub. The idea is, no matter what floats your boat, is to slow down, take in your surroundings, smell the roses, and be here now.
Why I love Slow Travel
I feel a much stronger connection to the places I’m visiting – and of course the people too. We’re not trying to check things off a bucket list, or see every site in a guidebook. We prefer getting to know our neighbors, shopping in the local markets where people get to know who we are. I love finding favorite places to eat or have coffee, or a park where I can go sit under a tree and read a book.
I also believe slow travel is cheeper on many levels. Transportation costs will go down significantly when you are not moving around so much. Long term lodging is always less expensive. And now with Airbnb, there are lot’s of options for weekly and monthly rentals just about everywhere in the world. Also, when you take your time, you will be allowed to cook and learn from the locals how to use local ingredients therefore saving money from so much time eating out.
Another thing that I love about slow travel is overcoming language barriers, differences in customs and other stumbling blocks to make connections with the people I meet along the way. This is the most fulfilling part for us both.
Once you slow down, it’s hard to go back. Few places in the world move as fast as American’s do, so when you get on the same pace as those around you, it’s easier to escape the stress of a fast paced life.
How do you slow travel?
to be continued….