It seems almost fitting that, thanks to widespread blockage of WordPress in Vietnam, I had to leave the country in order to say this: Vietnam and I got off on the wrong foot. I wouldn’t say I was predisposed towards saltiness for the country from the start, but, well… let’s just say my trip did not exactly have auspicious beginnings.
Leaving Vientiane, Laos, for the airport to catch our flight to Hanoi, there was a tuk-tuk that wouldn’t start without being pushed halfway down the street by two grown men. There was a last-minute dispute over the fare to the airport that nearly saw Hayley and me tumbling out of a moving vehicle, hugging our backpacks, as if escaping the villain in an action movie. There was a woman at the Vientiane airport who told us, with a look that was not in fact overestimating our stupidity, that the Vietnam visas we’d secured wouldn’t be valid until the following day. (Maybe Laos was trying to tell me it wasn’t time to go just yet?)
Then came a taxi ride, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of our entire budget while in Laos, to the Vietnamese embassy. Ten minutes of pleading with the official there to fix the dates on our visas. A mad dash to find an ATM in order to pay for our new, outlandishly expensive visas. A frenzied return to the airport five minutes before our flight took off.
By the time I’d actually boarded my flight to Hanoi, it was already clear that Vietnam was going to make me work for it. It would show me plenty to love, of course, but first it was going to slap me around a little just for fun.
Now, five hours after crossing over into Cambodia, I can look back at the whole of my time in Vietnam and realize that this became a recurring theme. That’s the advantage, I suppose, of being all but forced to wait until you leave a country in order to write about it: Reflections become a bit more cohesive, a little easier to tie together with a neat little thematic bow.
I’ll be posting quite a bit about Vietnam over the coming days and weeks as I attempt to clear a backlog of cities visited; veggie pho slurped; thresholds of anxiety nervously, thrillingly crossed — often by motorbike. There will be, I predict, equal amounts of frustration and amazement.
And I’ll be writing about them all from the unrestricted-Internet utopia of Cambodia.