Thing #8 – Noticing Things in Vietnam

I’m not sure where to begin writing about my trip to Southeast Asia, but I’ve been urged not to overthink (as I’m accustomed to) and simply write.  I’ll start here…

Just like that, we were in Vietnam. After 20 total hours in the air and a few nauseating hours in the back of a Corolla, we arrived at our sleepy tropical resort in Tam Coc, a village 100 km south of Hanoi. We planned a cushy start to our trip to acclimate to the new hemisphere and recover from jet lag.

We were tucked away in the mountains, surrounded by rice paddies and lily-covered creeks. Sitting on our patio, I watched hummingbirds the size of my thumbnail bounce between tropical flowers, and neighborhood cows sneak onto the resort grounds to munch on the trees (and subsequently shoo-ed away like bunnies in a garden).

I expected Vietnam would be beautiful, but I hadn’t bargained for how quickly I would fall in love. On our first full day, we rode bicycles into town…because that’s what you do here. We rode along bumpy country roads, whizzing past chickens and women bringing laundry to the river.

The green mountaintops were still covered in fog and their reflection in the river made them appear infinite. The air was the same temperature as my skin and my shirt fluttered behind me in the breeze. Signs in Vietnamese were unintelligible, but somehow also made sense.

Men repairing the sidewalks waved and greeted us with “xin cháo” as we passed. Everyone we smiled at responded with an even larger smile. I closed my eyes briefly and took a deep breath to punctuate this moment. It was only the first day in this tiny pinpoint on the map, but I was already strategizing how quickly I could return to Vietnam.

This happens every so often. Several seemingly small elements line up in a way that feel immense. Clarity washes over me for a few short moments and everything makes perfect sense. It’s the briefest out-of-body experience. And as soon as I acknowledge it, it begins to dissolve. That’s what happened on the bike that morning.

Was it Vietnam? Or was it because I was on vacation? I was relaxed. No calendars bossing me around. I was present and paying attention to every sound and smell (mostly of aromatic pho in the air). If my senses were this awake everyday, would I have more out-of-body experiences? Am I not paying enough attention? Noticing things is an art, and I’m a little out of practice. 

Whatever it was left an impression on me. The slow pace and quiet countryside of Tam Coc was the peaceful entry point we needed on our first trip to Asia. And somehow, each day that followed was even better…

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