This may be as close as I ever get to Hong Kong but by golly it felt cool to be sitting in the departure lounge Thursday afternoon knowing I was in HONG freaking KONG. Until recently, the script of my life didn’t contain any scenes set in the Far East, let alone shots of me screaming through Hanoi and Saigon on the back of a motorbike, or sweeping dew from a deck chair at 5:30 AM as the sun snuck up on Halong Bay.
Thanks to Vietnam’s ludicrously low airfares I can now say I’ve been a jet setter. I took five flights in three weeks, not including the trans-Pacific trips to and from Toronto. It was pretty great to be on the move jumping from country to country, from city to island, from south to north and back again. I barely scratched the surface of Vietnam but I feel like I’ve seen it, seen a lot of it.
And now here I am at 3:44 in the morning, trying without success to get back on schedule after living on the opposite side of the clock for the better part of a month. Not even my best friend had a tear to spare: “Poor baby,” she texted. “I feel no sympathy given the amazing trip you had.”
And it was an amazing trip. These are a few of the shots I wasn’t able to squeeze into other posts; memories come flooding back when I see them again. There are lots of reasons people opt not to travel alone and I think one of them is because they want someone to share it all with. Fortunately, I have you, dear readers, and it’s been a joy to share my travels with you even though my globetrotting has nothing whatsoever to do with real Canadians decorating.
In Saigon I was touring “antique street” in search of a post but what really charmed me was the shopkeepers out front playing a board game, killing time on a slow afternoon. From inside the shops I could hear the clink, clink, clink of dice spinning in a bowl and the cheers and guffaws of a game in progress.
I bought nothing because I had no way of knowing whether things were legitimate antiques or replicas that were made yesterday. Certainly haggling over price is a given but I had no frame of reference for what the smalls were really worth. And smalls were all I could possibly take home with me. If you travel to Saigon and want a Buddha head or a celadon vase, Duong Le Cong Kieu is the street you want to find.
My souvenirs were clothes. Everyone buys a t-shirt when they’re abroad and I could not resist the cheeky humour of the iPho shirt below. The trouble was finding one that fit me. The Vietnamese are small people and their sizings reflect this. At the first shop where I tried to buy the shirt the sizes only went to XXL and even that wasn’t big enough. Eventually I found an XXXL but can you imagine? I wear a 42 jacket and have a size 16 neck and this constitutes triple X?
I also bought an amazing bike helmet for a fraction of what it would cost here at home and some smart summer sandals for a little more than $10 USD each. And then there was my custom clothes odyssey. In the pic below I’m being fitted for a light wool blazer, which sadly went off the rails. When I went to pick it up, the jacket was a mess, the sleeves were puckered and the sides did not hang flat. The tailor worked and worked to make it right but in the end I was disappointed. I agreed to take the flawed jacket for half price, $90 USD, and will see if my Toronto tailor can do anything with it. Next time I’ll buy in Hoi An.
I did strike gold, however, with my custom linen pants. I’m a big fan of summer linen and I badly needed some new trousers for work this season. At a linen specialty shop I had three pairs made from their finest quality fabric. The pants are gorgeous, they fit like a glove and cost a little less than $50 USD each, a fraction of what I would pay at home and I’d never find the same quality. What’s more, the tailor assured me they would keep my measurements on hand and I could order subsequent pairs by email if I ever felt the need.
The Vietnamese are uncommonly fond of Chihuahua dogs and I saw one get his ass kicked by the rooster above who felt it necessary to remind the pooch who was boss. My camera, like the Chihuahua, was too slow, but the rooster was ready for his close up.
In Hanoi I stayed at the very good Art Trendy Hotel in the old quarter, an urban setting to be sure, yet still I was awakened each morning at 5 am by the crowing of cocks followed by the sounds of motorbikes and the pho shop across the street setting up for the morning rush. I’m not complaining, I found the experience to be part of the charm of the place, so old world and yet so new all at once.
In Vietnam I was constantly amazed by the jumble of tangled cables and wires adorning virtually every street pole (see below). There’s a popular t-shirt with a silhouette of a similar image and the slogan, “Vietnam Telecom.” I pity the cable guys in Hanoi and Saigon, honestly, can you imagine trying to make sense of it?
I was also struck by how deeply the Vietnamese are attached to their iconic, conical hats, which keep the hot sun off their faces and necks. It’s not some quaint tradition, you see them in the fields and in the streets no matter where you go in Vietnam.
On a sadder note, I have to acknowledge the desecration that has befallen most of the ancient temples in Angkor. The sculpture below greets you at the gate of the amazing Angkor Thom, also known as The Bayon. The sculpture depicts a Hindu myth, the churning of the sea of milk, but most of the demons and gods working together have lost their heads to treasure hunters.
Inside the temples, it’s the same story, over and over and over again. My guide assured us that the robbers would receive the worst of black marks on their karmic records but the damage is done and it’s very sad to see.
At least the 200 towering heads of the Buddhas of Bayon are mostly intact, an advantage of their being too enormous to steal. The elements are taking a toll on some of them but I’m certain they’ll survive for many, many generations to come.
And I’m going to leave you with this shot of an alter in front of a shop in Hoi An. Virtually every retailer in this city of retailers ends the work day by burning incense alongside offerings of fruits and flowers. It’s a charming custom and the night air is pungent with sandalwood, frankincense and myrrh.
I give thanks of my own for the sensory memories I accumulated in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was the trip of a lifetime and it inspired me to adjust my personal priorities, to travel more, to seek out adventure, to suck as much juice out of this life as I possibly can. Toronto is a wonderful city but it’s just one tiny corner of a very big planet. I’ve got some catching up to do.