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In Northern 'Nam

Our emails from Thammasat always seemed to happen in this fashion: We'd be having one of the most amazing days, and one person casually stops by a computer to check their email. As dorky as it sounds, we were always checking in hopes of receiving a confirmation letter that school was about to start back up again after our hiatus. From all we'd been hearing in the news and from the daily "Urgent: Flood Notice" emails that the government sent out (which, ironically, absolutely flooded my inbox), we had no reason to assume otherwise. This one special day however, we were sitting around the dinner table at our friend Brian's dad's place, and one person had mail informing that school was cancelled for one more week, racking the total up to three weeks!
The least fun part about travels during this time were our constant return-flight tickets, meaning that no matter what, we had to keep returning to the land of the floods in-between each adventure. I even tried to play around with the Kuwait Airways website, seeing if I could simply change the destination of my ticket! But considering that is one of the tiniest airlines around, my options were limited to the actual country of Kuwait, Paris, and New York...not really practical for a SE Asian traveler.
I ended up flying back with half of the crew, and we figured that because we had not received word that our places were actually uninhabitable, as long as we could get home we would sit down with our laptops and figure out travel plans from Bangkok! Vietnam was always on the radar, but I never imagined how spur-of-the-moment that decision would have been made. I went to sleep that first night to a dry Bangkok outside of my apartment, and woke up in the early morn to water creeping up the curb across the street from my place. From there on out, my existence seemed to be dedicated to trying to book myself on a flight out that day. My friends at the apartment down the road had to trek through waist-high water to vacate their places at this point, and I did not want to wait until it got to that point! A slough of price checking, credit card declining, and parental Skyping ensued for the entire day until I had finally succeeded in getting myself a spot on a Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi the next morning. We called one of the few taxis left in the area and made it to the airpot on time, and so very thankful to have the means to actually leave during the flood.

My street on October 26th, just on the other side of the median than where my apartment building is located.

My street on October 26th, just on the other side of the median than where my apartment building is located.

Water taking over the bus station I generally use.

Water taking over the bus station I generally use.

In Hanoi, we had a silent pact to not talk about the floods back home, ate bowls and bowls of fresh pho, and basked in the glory of bread, wine, and cheese all around the city! The French influence on Vietnam is so easily seen--in the architecture, cobblestone roads, and certainly food. I was traveling with my friend Mathilde, who is an exchange student from Paris, and even pointed out a building that reminded her of her apartment back in France!

A millionaire in Vietnam! Their currency was at about 20,000 Dong to the Dollar

A millionaire in Vietnam! Their currency was at about 20,000 Dong to the Dollar

Living on a strict diet of pho and baguettes mmmmm

Living on a strict diet of pho and baguettes mmmmm

Vietnamese traffic is killer. If only you could hear the insane horn-honking that is going on here as well.

Vietnamese traffic is killer. If only you could hear the insane horn-honking that is going on here as well.

An afternoon at the Hanoi Hilton, the prison-turned-museum where John McCain spent time as a POW

An afternoon at the Hanoi Hilton, the prison-turned-museum where John McCain spent time as a POW

We were without a Vietnam Lonely Planet or much other information about the place, so thought it best to book a few tours during our stay. The first of our trips consisted of a night train to the north and card/bonding games all along the way! That 2-day trek and home-stay in the H'mong village of Sapa that followed has got to be the greatest investment I've ever made. We hiked through mud and across streams, while taking in the beautiful view of rice terraces all the while. And oh boy, that dinner we all helped cook at the home-stay's kitchen was the greatest food I ate in 'Nam. There were spring rolls and stir fries galore!

Rice terraces surrounding us during our hike in Sapa, near the border of Vietnam and China

Rice terraces surrounding us during our hike in Sapa, near the border of Vietnam and China

Our Vietnamese crew with Sue, our Sapa guide, along the hike!

Our Vietnamese crew with Sue, our Sapa guide, along the hike!

Cooking a dinner for 20 people in the home-stay's one wok in Sapa

Cooking a dinner for 20 people in the home-stay's one wok in Sapa

Stopping to take in the view along the trails--this stop was right in front of a beautiful waterfall

Stopping to take in the view along the trails--this stop was right in front of a beautiful waterfall

Next up was a 2-night stay in Halong Bay filled with beach time, Halloween night on a boat, cave exploring, and kayaking!

Laying out on the deck of the boat in Halong Bay

Laying out on the deck of the boat in Halong Bay

Exploring the oceanside hills of Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay after a group hike

Exploring the oceanside hills of Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay after a group hike

On the back of a bike in Nihn Bihn! We all switched off driving until all of us had driven a motorcycle in Asia

On the back of a bike in Nihn Bihn! We all switched off driving until all of us had driven a motorcycle in Asia

After climbing up to what we dubbed "The Great Wall of Vietnam." What a viewpoint!

After climbing up to what we dubbed "The Great Wall of Vietnam." What a viewpoint!

Our time in Northern Vietnam was especially wonderful because the our group had not known each other insanely well before the traveling. There were 5 Americans, 1 Frenchie, and a Swede, and we had so much fun learning each other's languages (as best we could, at least) and getting to know even more tourists that just happened to be on the same sorts of transportation as us. And although I cannot find a way to upload it right now, we made the coolest of videos--of us dancing through Vietnam!

Don't let this minimally-described journey fool you here, I had more than a blast in the beautiful country of Vietnam. It just happens to be that right now, I am back in that Poli Sci library on campus, have just cranked out a 6-pager for my 24-hour Art and Architecture final, and am using writing to you all as wonderful procrastination until I finish a 10-pager, 15-pager, and study for an in-class exam that's held at 1pm tomorrow! Thammasat sure is keeping their promise of having us thoroughly catch up on the classes that we've missed during the past two months. We figured out that one while in Chiang Mai, the second to last of my travels before finally returning to Bangkok, but that one will have to wait a little longer. I'm off to turn in this paper and my completed sketchbook for once and for all!

Posted by jenfeen 23:31 Archived in Vietnam

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Hello! I just saw this blog and have to do an account because I couldn't send a message to you. My name is Tatiana I am from Puerto Rico. I am planning to do an exchange in Thammasat University also for the fall semester 2012. I would love to have a friend that can send me tips on how to survive on the asian community lol! If you have a facebook account add me please ... Tatiana Mendez Toro , or my email is parchi_7@hotmail.com. I have also made an exchange to Finland and visit many places like Russia, Norway and Sweden. Hope you have a nice day! Looking forward ! Cyu!

by lambi

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