On the way to our “very special, traditional Vietnamese lunch,” our schoolteacher-cum-tour guide pointed out a Greg Norman golf course. Tee time in a communist country. Isn’t that a little bizarre? Read more
Hoi An is the most popular destination in Vietnam. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and going there is like buzzing back to the seventeenth century when it was a major port influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, and Indian traders.
Because the Old Town area was relatively untouched by the Vietnam War (or the American War, as the Vietnamese call it), the townscape still holds its old world charm. At night the streets glow with handmade lanterns in red, purple, green, and gold. Vendors sell votive candles for buyers to float down the Thu Bon River with a wish. And the smell of white rose dumplings and incense fills the air.
But make no mistake. Read more
Wikipedia still lists the cause as “unknown” for its entry on the “2016 Vietnam Marine Life Disaster.” But many knew the cause—including the Vietnamese government—weeks before villagers in the central region were told not to eat the estimated 115 tons of fish that had been mysteriously washing ashore since early April. Fishermen still fished. And restaurants and markets still sold the sea’s sickened bounty. Read more
We had just emerged from a lazy lunch at a French noodle bar when a pair of breathless tourists stopped us on the street in Saigon. “I wouldn’t go that way if I were you,” said the Englishman in khaki shorts, safari jacket, and tall black socks. “Unless you have a death wish.” His red-cheeked wife nodded in agreement. “There’s a riot happening,” she said in a shout-whisper. Read more
“Let’s go this way,” Chris said and folded the map.
We were supposed to be in District 1, the part of Ho Chi Minh City known for its luxury boutiques, white-tablecloth restaurants, and world-class people watching.
But the more we walked, the more obvious it became that we had gone the wrong way. Maybe it was all the bloody meat laid out for sale, or the squirming fish in buckets, but I felt pretty certain we weren’t about to stumble upon a Tiffany’s. Read more
On the way back to our hotel in Hoi An one afternoon, a young woman offered to pop my zit. The whole thing started with a long white string she held to my face as I tried to squeeze through a throng of sweaty shoppers at the outdoor market.
From her seat in the tuk-tuk, Nita held her palm above her eyes and scanned the roadside. She looked not unlike a game scout on safari. Out here in the middle of a large stretch of barren, dusty land, we could have been scouting for an oasis. The air smelled like spicy wood and baked dirt. The earth hadn’t had a satisfying drink in three long years. Even the fish cried for rain.
Despite our early start, we didn’t beat the heat. Cambodia was in the chokehold of a record-setting heat wave, and outsmarting it was laughable. As blasts of thick air and sand exfoliated my face in the back of the tuk-tuk, I thought of all the ways one might describe such a nauseating temperature—blast furnace, chicken roaster, Dante’s Inferno, Death Valley with a monsoon season, or maybe the innards of a Brobdingnagian steam machine.
As I pondered how long it could possibly take to find some kind of village near Beng Mealea, a pig whizzed by on the back of a man’s motorbike. Crusted in dried mud from hooves to spine, the animal was tightly trussed, upside down, alive.
Things could be worse, I reminded myself.
Two shots of rice whiskey and twelve hours of sleep didn’t help. My head and chest felt like pressurized powder kegs filled with snot. My throat like a cheese grater. I stuffed every pocket with face tissues, double-checked my supply of Advil, and hoisted my daypack over my shoulder.
“Let’s go before I change my mind,” I said to my husband, Chris. Blame my lack of enthusiasm on the respiratory infection I picked up in Saigon, but I felt like our side trip to Cambodia from Vietnam would be a lackluster exercise in checking off sites from someone else’s do-before-you-die list.
Back at my desk in Montana, I stare at the Rocky Mountains and try to remember the rooftop of the world. It seems like a dream to me now. All the waterfalls, roadside monkeys, misty valleys, rhododendron forests, and faces that felt familiar even though they belonged to strangers. I see them in my mind’s eye, but it’s like someone rubbed Vaseline on the lens. Sikkim seemed like a dream even while I was there.