Arriving in Ha Long after spending the better part of a week in rural Vietnam is a bit of a shock to the senses. Parts of the city along Vietnam’s most famous bay feel like they have been transplanted from Europe; the French architectural influence is unmistakable. And whereas we hardly saw a soul in Pu Luong, at the Ha Long boat terminal we found an assembly line-like tourist infrastructure designed to process thousands of visitors per day. Six million foreigners visit Ha Long Bay each year, making it far and away Vietnam’s top tourist attraction.
Posts tagged ‘culture’
We didn’t quite know what to expect in Vietnam, but Trang An – the first place we visited after transferring from Pu Luong to Ninh Binh – matched to a tee the expectations we did not realize we had been harboring. After spending a few days off the beaten path in rural Vietnam, Trang An – a UNESCO World Heritage complex of caves, water canals, and temples – was a sight to behold.
The last couple of months, Junebug has hit the sweet spot of toddler babble, thanks in no small part to her weekly speech therapy lessons. After being almost completely non-verbal at age two, Junebug has become a regular chatterbox just six months later. Although we understand her quite well, her speech remains muddled, as she mixes up letters, speaks in incomplete sentences, and trips over herself in her exuberance to articulate her thoughts. The result is an immensely adorable toddler diction that makes us want to record every one of her monologues for posterity.
Kathmandu has a peculiar time zone – coming from Manila, D had to set his watch back two hours and fifteen minutes. It wasn’t enough to cause major jet lag, but the time difference did work in D’s favor when he set his alarm to go off before dawn his second full day in Nepal. After wandering around the heart of the city the previous evening, D wanted to venture farther afield – and see some of the Kathmandu Valley’s seven UNESCO world heritage cultural sites during daylight hours – before his work meetings commenced.
Certain countries possess an undeniable mystique, holding sway over one’s imagination long before one has the opportunity to visit. For D, Nepal was high on this list, though his fascination had more to do with the country’s landscape than its reputed spirituality (as one travel guide puts it, “Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination: every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots…”). Ever since D got into mountain climbing during his Peace Corps days in Ecuador – and especially after reading a handful of mountaineering books – he had longed to see the Himalayas.
Since returning from Japan, we have visited Vietnam and Laos, and D has also traveled to Nepal for work. Those trips did nothing to dispel a notion that began forming in our minds as we made our way from Kyoto to the Japanese Alps and back, and which has solidified with our subsequent travels. Part of Japan’s mystique, and the reason we think Western travelers find the country at once alluring and bewildering, is that it feels uniquely foreign in a way that other foreign countries do not.
We didn’t quite make it to midnight, seeing off the last few hours of the decade without fanfare at a transit hotel outside Noi Bai Airport. We did get an early start to 2020, however, rising before the sun for our return flight to Manila after splitting the last dozen days between Vietnam and Laos.
As Americans living in Manila, we are frequently struck by how much the Philippines— much more so than other countries where we’ve served — reminds us of home while simultaneously retaining its own distinct cultural identity. This is to be expected, of course. Not only do our two countries share a long history, but also the four million Filipinos who call the United States home ensure a continuous sharing of cultural customs and traditions. This is especially evident during the holidays.
We saved the best for last, spending the tail end of our journey to Japan at an onsen in the Japanese Alps. Fresh mountain air and spectacular scenery greeted us in the mornings. Elaborate home-cooked meals and a natural hot spring right outside our door awaited in the evening when we returned from the day’s adventuring. At the outset, when our kids were putting us through our paces, we had caught ourselves looking forward to the end of this trip. As soon as we had checked into the onsen, donned our yukata robes, and taken a hot dip in the chilly shadow of the Hida Mountains, however, we wished our sojourn to Japan would stretch on indefinitely.
Sampling various cuisines is one of our favorite aspects of traveling, though at times the local fare can be disappointing. Given the popularity of sushi, teppanyaki, and udon, we were certain this would not be the case during our recent visit to Japan. In fact, we were practically salivating at the culinary prospects that awaited us.