Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Spring Break: Solo in Vietnam

While travelling with friends creates great times and memories, solo travelling has a self-discovery quality that is difficult to replicate. For fours days, I took on Cat Ba, Vietnam by myself and within that short period of time I learned a lot. Along with lessons on booking tours and bus tickets, came lessons on self-confidence, the kindness of strangers, and the biggest lesson of all - that I know nothing. 

The last lesson may seem like an over-dramatic statement, but in the grand scheme of what this world holds, it is pretty accurate. I also don't mean it in a negative way. My eyes were opened to the diversity that exists to learn about and explore, and the wonders that come with it. 

Cat Ba Island and its many small islands is mainly a touristic fishing town. My first day of my travels was spent on a bus, then boat, then another bus. Figuring out what main station to catch my bus proved to be my first challenge, and resulted in my first motorbike ride (the station was 20 minutes from the hostel we were staying at and the gentleman at the front desk called me a bike taxi). I felt oddly comfortable zigzagging through the hectic Hanoi traffic, seeing parts of the city fly by. 

Docked Fishing Boats
After catching my bus-boat combo and arriving in Cat Ba, I checked into a hostel and sat down at a nearby restaurant to have my first ever bowl of pho. The broth was delicious, having been seasoned with cinnamon and star anise among other spices. 

Vegetarian Pho

The next day was when my adventures really began. I had booked a two day tour with Asia Outdoors, and scheduled on this day was rock climbing. I had climbed two times previous to this trip, including the climbing I did at Krabi, which to my frustration had not gone well (I wasn't able to make it to the top with any of my attempts). Warning my two instructors that I was an absolute beginner, I started with the second option along the limestone cliff, which looked like the harder of the two. Haven been given the tips to mostly use my legs and that the wider my stance, the more stable I would be, I set upon my ascend. With the help of hand hold and foot positions to my amazement I made it up to the top, with a couple of slips, taking time to look over my shoulder to admire the view of bright blue water and vegetated cliffs behind me. I would then complete the next two climbs, with the last one taking many attempts. The exhilaration of scaling these gorgeous rock formations and the resulting sense of concentration and staying in the moment was nothing like I have ever felt. Hopefully I will be able to continue this new found love of climbing back in the States.

After becoming hot and sweaty I dipped into the water. Treading water and occasionally floating I looked around and took in the surrounding cliffs and spotted a bird nest. I smile just thinking of how perfect that afternoon was. 

The area I was climbing in 

Enjoying a boat ride
That night I stayed in a resort with my own hut in a nearby village, waking up earlier the next morning for a full day of kayaking through lagoons and around the sky-reaching cliffs. My favourite was when we paddled under a naturally formed archway into a hidden lagoon where it felt like an undiscovered part of the world. 

My fourth day was a half-day since I had to catch the bus back to Hanoi at 1:00 pm. I decided to knock off one thing from my top-things-to-do-while-abroad list and trek through a national park. The round trip of the hike took me less than two hours and resulted in one of the most beautiful views and spotting all different kinds of butterflies and bright red land crabs scurrying along the rocks. 

Cat Ba National Park

On the five hour trip back to Hanoi, I reflected on the time travelling alone. I thought back on the multiple people who had given me directions even with the language barrier, the realisation that I want to take time to become educated on a range of topics (from current politics, to the modern history of Cambodia, to more about plant identification, and more), and wanting to push myself to become less shy. I have a lot of people (mostly complete strangers) to thank for a great trip, so I feel like I can't take credit for the adventure I had. But at the same time I feel pride in stepping outside of my comfort zone and accomplishing something I doubted I could do. 

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