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Travel Diary: Hanoi, Vietnam (pt. 1 of 3)

May 27, 2015

Hi everyone!

Finally, the long-awaited post about my trip to the motherland. It took 500 photos, 3.5GBs of iPhone data, a lost video camera, two months, and a broken heart to finally review the trip and curate this post - 1 of 3. This will probably be my most wordy post, so I hope you're comfortable.

Where do I begin? The trip can be described in a plethora of adjectives - and while I'm having trouble articulating this, I can tell you that trying to think of just one word makes my throat tickle with sentimentality. Maybe it's this song. Maybe it's the wine. Maybe it's my home away from home that took me 25 years to discover. Maybe it's the reconnection I've made with myself and Weston. It's a lot of things, so if I had to encompass it all into one word: magical.

Make sure you click through the break and for the rest of the photos and story. 

We traveled quite a bit through northern and central Vietnam - each so incredibly different thus deserving a post of its own. Hanoi is of course the capital of Vietnam; it's hustling and bustling. Many parts of the city are vertically growing. Motorbikes are absolutely nonstop. Streets are littered with plastic stools, stray roosters, restaurants signs that read the one dish they serve, and... nostalgia. I've never been outside of North America; mine and Weston's life has been comfortable in the states with trips to Mexico here and there. The nostalgia didn't come from a past life other than my own in San Jose, CA... where dinner was served on plastic stools, Vietnamese was spoken unvaryingly, and anything and everything was my own playground (at least what my parents allowed).

This nostalgia feels different. It is this sinking feeling of heartache. I'm not sure why. Have you ever locked eyes with an endearing, elder woman and became overwhelmed with admiration and hopelessness? That's how I felt. After the delusional 22 hour commute and getting dropped off a block away from the hotel, unsure how to properly cross the street without getting run over - hint: you just walk - I wanted to wallow and engulf myself in this country.

I didn't realize that Vietnam is a lot like California, in the sense that the north is bitterly cold and the south is warm. Weston and I sort of gave each other a look outside the cab as we were hit with brisk weather and grey skies. Needless to say, we felt uncomfortable. Hanoi was not initially a comfortable and accommodating city compared to the cities towered with resorts (Da Nang, which is the next post). But we had made it safely through check-in then subsequently scavenged for food.

It took us about 40 minutes to finally find the street for our first meal: Bun Cha - pictured directly above the polaroids. The first meal was exactly what I hoped for, something that tasted like early adolescence. Weston wasn't a fan... which worried me because we had two whole weeks of this. We walked around a bit after lunch, but being so incredibly jet lagged, we ended up staggering back to our hotel room at 4pm for some rest. Whoa. Jetlag is so, so real; we unwittingly woke up at 11pm. Without anything to do at this time, we popped two melatonin and slept the rest of the night.

Alas, we had energy! We woke up the next day at 9am with skies still grey and we were greeted by our theatrically kind hotel employees. After two days of getting through the travel bug, some English hospitality was refreshing. With fresh eyes, curious minds, and our own motorcycle to explore, the rest is the end of the beginning. We fell in love - immediately! - with the food, culture, and people. All of which triggered a hidden memory that has been desensitized by living in Los Angeles, yet a welcome memory that I was happy to relive and share with Weston.

Instagram is kind of a crazy place. We met a girl, Trang, who showed us around her hometown the rest of our two days in Hanoi. She taught us a lot about the culture: how it's common to feel intimidated by the government; how many residents long to visit the states but to get a Visa is near impossible; how people live day-to-day; how being a model (her career) in Vietnam is incredibly limiting; how she absolutely loved her mom and never wanted to move-out from home; how she finds our American habits to be jarring. I like to think I'm open-minded, but these are things I've neither thought about in depth nor experienced first hand. Everything she told us was accompanied with an "oh, really???" or a "no way". That was how it was processing in my head though; just things I've never thought through a foreign perspective.

Trang made the rest of our Hanoi trip incredibly commemorative. Hopefully the photos,  the map of where we visited, and these links can speak for the rest of the trip. Cafes. Food. Highlights: getting on a motorcycle and driving 30 minutes to Bat Trang (pottery village). Must: transport only via motorcycle. Lots more to come about my experience in Vietnam, so stay tuned.

Thank you to Soludos to making this trip possible and for the 10 pairs I packed saved my feet.

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39 responses:

  1. amazing

  2. Hey
    i love the way you arranged all the photographs the whole this so artistic and dope, how did you achieve this? I recently got fired lol for real so i just want to learn as much as possible really so a reply with help. Like program you used for the collage etc please. Thank you. Dope post too btw.

  3. Rachel, you have true talent when it comes to storytelling (through words and multimedia). I can't wait to hear more about your time in Vietnam -- thank you for taking us along with you. ;-)

    Dee |

  4. I love love love the way you structured this post, what a stunning travel diary and what a beautiful country!! Looking forward to seeing more :)

  5. Amazing. The song in this post made me feel like as if I'm watching a video. Looks a lot of fun, can't wait for your next post!

  6. Anonymous

    Love the post! I get this sense of nostalgia..bittersweet. (:

  7. That was so lucky that you met Trang! It must be so much better to travel with a local so you can see things through their eyes


  8. Anonymous

    Hi Rachel, I'm so happy to hear that you had a great time in Vietnam. Did you visit Ho Chi Minh city?

  9. First time reader here - GORGEOUS collages and layout! Your blog makes my graphic designer heart sing. Your Hanoi trip was certainly a lot more emotionally engaging and evocative than mine - I literally zipped in and out of the city in 48 hours on business, it was so hectic. Your post reminds me that I should go back and give it a better chance. x

    Jasiminne | Posh, Broke, & Bored

  10. This is really such a beautiful story (you are a natural writer!) and I love the collage that you made. I can say I've definitely had a similar experience when I first went to Iran. My parents are immigrants and I was born and raised in the USA, and my first trip to the motherland was so similar--the nostalgia and deep connection with a land and people I've never seen before but could so easily call home. Definitely a life-changing experience. Does some of you family live in Vietnam? I know when I went to Iran for the first time I had so many cousins and aunts and uncles I'd never seen before and it was such a beautiful feeling! I can't wait for the rest of the posts and stories from your trip! xx

    <(') Hoda | JooJoo Azad, a fashion + social action blog

  11. Rachel, I really enjoyed this post. It reminded me a lot of how I felt the first time I visited Vietnam but you put it in much better words. You're a really good writer!! Can't wait to read the rest of the series.

  12. Oh and the song is so perfect for the mood you put me in!! So happy I had my speakers on.

  13. Anonymous

    you spelled ninh binh incorrectly. it's "binh"... not "bihn. :)

  14. So excited to read more about your travels in Vietnam! Born and raised in the US, I haven't been there since the age of 2.

  15. This is such a lovingly, beautifully put together post.
    I really enjoyed the music, the photos, your accompanying words - everything altogether. This is only a small window into what sounds like was a life changing, life affirming experience for you and it is wonderful to be able to experience a little of it for as brief as a minute or two as a third person on the other side of the globe. Thank you.
    (I apologise if this is a re post - I keep on signing in/out by accident and in the process I can't keep track of whether I've posted the comment or not.)

  16. Lovely Post Rachel :) btw is Trang the Asias Next top model finalist on S1? Not important but im curious tho :)

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  19. Found your blog from your Vietnam vlog on Youtube!
    I'm in love with your photos and layout! All around wonderful website~
    Looking forward to reading more!


  20. I adore your collage editing style.

  21. Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.
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  22. Loved this! The story, pictures, and music just fit together so perfectly. I'm still hoping for parts 2 & 3 of this ;)

  23. Anonymous

    Hey Rachel, do you plan on finishing parts 2 and 3? I've been eagerly anticipating the rest of this blog series!

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