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Day #155 Traveling with our new Vietnamese family

The first time I came to Vietnam it was on a special family trip which included my grandparents as well. This was a few months before my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I loved that trip for the memories I still hold with me. This time, I was coming to Vietnam with a new member of the family: my wife. In a way, Vietnam reminds me that we have to accept that we are all bound to loose in life, if we want to create space for new and amazing things. What’s lost is not forgotten and it teaches us the wisdom of embracing the waves of change.

Jess and I were very excited to visit Vietnam because we planned this trip so that it would coincide with the wedding of a cousin of our friend Ha. Jessica became friends with Ha during her exchange program in Melbourne and since then they have been good friends. When Ha invited us to join him, we couldn't refuse the opportunity to visit Vietnam like a local.

After an exhausting 26h bus trip from Luang Prabang, without any local currency cash to buy ourselves breakfast or lunch in Vietnam, we finally arrived to Hanoi. Its buzzing streets were still impressive to experience even for the second time, particularly the infinite number of motorbikes that constantly floods the streets. After finding our way in the infernal traffic, we were delighted with a warm welcome from Ha and its family. Everyone was super kind to us and made sure that we were being taken care off in every possible way. We were offered a comfortable place to stay at Ha’s uncle and all our days had been planned for us. It felt like we made part of the family and we were so grateful.

I especially loved Vietnam for the true local food experiences Ha’s family took us to. The first night we met the family's younger generation at a small restaurant located in the second floor of a random residential building. It seemed like the owner had transformed his own apartment into a restaurant. I believe even locals have a hard time finding this secret spot for hot pots. I felt privileged as I would never had found my way there without these savvy locals. I loved their sweet fried chicken. I could sense how important going out all together as a family for dinner was for them, particularly when all the family was reunited for the wedding. Every night a different restaurant was lined-up and one of the main topics at the table was to chose what would be tomorrow’s restaurant. I loved that!

Our next stop was the famous Ha Long bay. Before catching our bus, we couldn't resist to stop for breakfast to rejoice ourselves with a so desired beef Pho. This typical and basic vietnamese noodle soup is by far my favorite vietnamese dish. For me, it is the perfect comfort food that I could never say no to for breakfast. We finally arrived to Ha Long bay after a 2h bus ride and we jumped on one of the thousands of sleeping boats available. Ha Long bay is no longer the magical place it once was. Massive Chinese tourism has invaded the area and we shared our ride with hundreds of other boats. Also, weather wasn't on our side. Nevertheless, Jess and I really enjoyed the time we spent with Ha and his girlfriend Jasmien. It was a great opportunity to catch-up, enjoy some views, explore beautiful caves and discover Ha’s skills at fishing squids.

Back in Hanoi, we had a couple of days ahead before the big wedding. This was a great opportunity to visit some parts of the old town, look for a suit for me, a dress for jess and enjoy a few other moments with Ha’s family. I was very lucky that Ha's cousin owned a suit shop so I could borrow one. Finding a dress was an easier job. After a few hours of shopping, we joined Ha’s family for another epic dinner. This time we were invited to eat in the streets of Hanoi. Small plastic tables and benches were set-up on the side of the street for people to enjoy their meal. This was known for being the best place for beef hot pots in Hanoi amongst locals. No tourists seemed to know about it and to be honest the setup wasn't the most appealing :) . However, the food told us otherwise. I loved this experience because it was a great opportunity to get know Ha’s cousins as they made me try some of their most beloved and hardcore ingredients: pig’s brain, chicken’s and pig’s heart, embryo duck egg amongst other things. Most of the time Jess would close her eyes. To be honest, I couldn’t make this a habit but I found it difficult not to satisfy my deep curiosity for new flavors and textures. It was so worth it. Jess and I had never got out of a meal as full as in this one.

The big wedding day had come! Traditional Vietnamese weddings are usually a long process that starts way before the wedding day itself. Jess and I were invited for the final rituals of this Confucian and Buddhist ceremony. As per the tradition, these two last days, the groom’s family was invited to the bride’s house for a gift exchange and for the last family consent. Then, the groom took the bride followed by her closest relatives to his family residence to seal the bond. Advice was given to the newly married couple and speeches were exchanged between the families. Other close family members and friends were invited to sit and enjoy tea. We were honored to be amongst them. Finally, two receptions were organized: one from the bride’s side on the first day and one from the groom's on the last day. These receptions usually happen with a late morning lunch entertained by music and the bride and the groom are presented on stage. It all seemed very confusing at first from a western perspective but after a bit of explanation we could grasp the flow of the wedding. Compared to vietnamese marriage, western weddings seem to be more glamorous and focused more on celebrating the union of two people by “true love”. Vietnamese weddings seem to involve more both families in a long process of bonding and transformation. There is a deeper sense of involvement and exchange of respect.

The last part of our stay in Vietnam we decided to stick with Ha and his family and travelled down to enjoy the beach of Da Nang. We were invited to stay in the same all-included resort which ended-up being a great opportunity to relax and recharge our batteries before heading off to Australia. Before reaching Da Nang, Jess and I decided to go on a one-day adventure to explore the biggest caves in the world in the area of Phong Nha. After a long hike in the deep jungle, we finally got to the monstrous entrance of the cave. I was astonished by the fact that time and water were able to carve hard rock into such a majestic opening. We got to explore a kilometer deep inside of the cave. All sorts of beautiful rock formations have been taking place for millions of years but what most stroke me was the profound silence and dark we could find there. For a few moments of quiet, we let go of 2 of our main senses. This provided us with the perfect environment for relaxation and meditation. It is probably the most refreshing place I have ever been.

We are waving goodbye to Asia where we spent these last 5 months and we are heading to the Land Down under next!

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