An Unconventional Driving Tour of Vietnam

I'm so lucky to have Becca Stanley as my blog friend AND my down the street friend. I met her in both worlds about the same time. Every now and then she mentions her "work trips to Asia," and I'm excited she wrote more about those experiences here. You can read more of her writing at her beautiful blog, The Stanley Clan.

When I went to Vietnam, I never expected to love it so much.

What seems like multiple-lifetimes ago, I used to travel to Asia several times a year for work. Visiting bustling trade shows and towering factories, picking out the perfect pottery and glass designs. For those of you who know me and my life now, this might seem like such an incongruous picture that it’s hard to believe. I completely agree. 

But indeed, my dad and I would spend two weeks (twice a year) visiting several countries in the far east. It amounted to an exhausting and grueling timeline including much time in airports and taxis, leaving little-to-no time for sight-seeing. Most of what I experienced of Thailand, India, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam was from the windows of cars flitting from our hotel to factories and giant convention centers.

When our plane landed in Vietnam, I didn’t know much about the country or what to expect. Now though, every time someone asks, I will tell them it was my favorite place we visited. I loved (and simultaneously also feared) driving chaotically down roads lined by shacks, houses, old buildings, junkyards and barbed wire fences. Everything lies inches from the busy road. Scooters (the preferred mode of transportation) weave in and out with amazing precision, along with a decided lack of attention to road signs, lines in the street, and even the direction of traffic. Loud honks signal bikes to get out of way of cars, and even louder honks signal cars to move aside for trucks.

The shacks lining the streets house small shops hawking wares which I cannot even imagine anyone here needing: beautiful clocks next to brightly colored backpacks and Adidas t-shirts; gleaming wood furniture and sturdy safes (to hold what valuables I wonder?) Carts vaguely reminiscent of hotdog stands offer corn on the cobb and fresh fruit; women squat on street corners in traditional hats, unidentifiable smells wafting from their waffle makers and kettles. 

We pass an old man sewing with an antique sewing machine on one street corner. A surprising number of these stores offer internet connection. We weave in and out of small roads reminiscent of alleyways, our driver expertly laying on the horn and rarely stopping for such inconveniences as red lights. We pass chairs set-up stadium style in cafes and large empty rooms filled with hammocks. I try to imagine it: sleeping in a hammock surrounded by 27 other people, in the 96 degree humid-heat, amidst the constant honking and distinctive scents of this place.

Every so often we pass a guard in his uniform - his stiff clothing and rigid posture in stark contrast to the chaos of his surrounding citizens. Likewise, we will sometimes pass a lush, beautiful garden surrounding an even more lavish home - always flying a large Vietnamese flag on top. Despite the oppressive heat and squalid conditions, the Vietnamese people seem irrepressible. 

On every street I see women carefully and proudly sweeping out their crowded storefronts, while children walk hand-in-hand through the dust and swerving scooters - eating ice cream cones cheerfully. And when I walk through the factory, trying desperately to ignore my impending heat stroke, wearing a Vietnamese hat, the women nudge each other and giggle loudly - before pointing to my hat and telling me they like it.

I repress the urge to ask the driver to stop so I can wander the streets with my camera to my eye. It’s impossible, of course, to capture the spirit of the place in pictures or words. Maybe a video could translate the loud chaos and cheerful life that oozes through the decided smog.

I no longer travel for work, something for which I am both glad and occasionally disappointed. With a six year old and a three year old at home, leaving for two weeks on a whirlwind trip across the world seems distant and impossible. Though if I’m honest, sometimes I wonder if my remembrance of the chaos might pale in comparison to our own chaos these days.

I’m learning to embrace life on the floor making puzzles and picking up scattered goldfish. Helping with Kindergarten homework and editing pictures late into the night in front of Blacklist. Life certainly leans less glamorous, I suppose. But I am content with where God has our little family right now, and I am grateful for the lessons I learned by traveling. For knowing there is a vast world outside of Atlanta. Cultures and people who work hard and long, who live a life so foreign to mine that it can be hard for me to remember how we all sit under the light of the same moon. 

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  1. Marla Taviano8:55 AM

    I love this, Becca. And I never knew this about you! So... Vietnam is a next-door neighbor to Cambodia... if you and your dad decide to take another trip together sometime soon... (COME SEE ME!!)

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Marla. Becca is full of surprises! ;)


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