I went to the small indoor/outdoor cafe that was at the hotel to eat breakfast. I asked the woman at the front desk (who also took my breakfast order) about the hot water because I couldn’t shower the night before without it. She explained that they don’t have a water heater and the pipes are heated by the sun.
I looked through the brochures that were available while I waited for my food. I was feeling overwhelmed by the choices, and the woman told me, “You don’t need to go to too many places in Vietnam. It all looks the same.” I decided on an afternoon bike tour.
The property owner came over to my table and apologized for the lock, air conditioning, and cold water in my room. She switched me to a larger room by the pool. After I finished eating, I packed my bags and moved them downstairs to the back of the property. I had double glass doors that opened to a patio. On the other side of the patio was the pool and then fields across from that. The room was large, modern, clean, and comfortable. I could hear the neighbor’s roosters more loudly in my new room, but the air conditioning unit helped to block it out. I still wasn’t feeling very good, so I took some Emergen-C and Mucinex, hoping to shake my cold.
The hotel offered old, rickety bikes for the 20-minute ride to the city center. I decided to take a Grab car to the bike shop where we were meeting to start the tour. On the way there, it started pouring rain. I wasn’t sure what to do because the tour said it operates rain or shine, but it was a complete downpour.
I arrived at the shop and took shelter under their roof. They explained that the tour would still go on, but we’d wait a little while for the rain to lessen. We met our guide, Lola. She appeared to be in her 40s, had shoulder-length black hair, was wearing black sports sweatpants with two white stripes and a hooded sweatshirt. She was sporty.
There were two other people on the tour, Helen and Darren. They were from England and were celebrating Helen’s 50th birthday. They were both wearing gray tank tops and tan shorts. Helen had dark blonde hair with some gray pulled back in a ponytail, and Darren was bald. Their tattoos made them look younger than they were. The couple was traveling around Vietnam for three weeks. Helen was a nurse, and Darren was an engineer.
After 15 minutes, the rain lightened up, and we put on ponchos that the bike shop provided. We walked down the street to a boat, and the driver took us across the waterway to an island. There are a lot of rivers and passageways leading to the nearby ocean. We passed massive suspended fishing nets on the way to the island. Helen and Darren told me to go to Phu Quoc, an island in Vietnam. I appreciated the tip because I wasn’t sure where to go next. Helen was also fighting a cold, so we bonded over our sickness.
When we arrived on the island it wasn’t raining, so we took off our ponchos to cool down. We walked on a narrow path through the jungle for five minutes until we arrived at a house where our bikes were waiting for us. They were creaky and didn’t turn very well.
We only rode for a few minutes and made our first stop at a local house. Lola walked us around the small wooden house and explained Vietnamese culture to us. She showed us old bomb shells that have been turned into vases and oil lamps. She repeatedly told us she’s a feminist and that she likes to have friends, not enemies after the wars. “Except for the Chinese,” she said.
As Lola showed us the old bombshells, I couldn’t help but notice a very young child sleeping on a wooden slat bed. It looked very uncomfortable. A woman outside was weaving a rug. Lola told us that it takes three to four hours to finish the rug, and they sell them for $100,000 dong ($4.30 USD), but the supplies cost them $75,000 dong. They make the rugs in their free time. The woman we were watching was 94 years old!
We rode our bikes down the narrow dirt road, trying to avoid puddles of water. We stopped at another property and walked to the back. Lola showed us a huge vat of rice laying out to ferment so they could turn it into rice wine (happy water). We were in a small stone and wood building that was in the back of a house. The room was dark, the floor was wet, and there were open cutouts to the outside.
There was a mamma pig in a concrete pen, and in the pen next to her were six piglets. Lola grabbed some food and gave it to the piglets, who crammed in to eat. This was all in the same area as the rice wine, and I couldn’t help but be concerned about cross-contamination.
Lola put small shot glasses on top of a barrel and poured rice wine for us to try. Trying to ignore the smell from the pigs and the fact that those glasses likely weren’t sanitized, I drank the first glass of rice wine – 40% alcohol. Next, Lola poured us a shot of 65% alcohol that had a banana flavor to it. She then showed us bottles full of wine, but also with animals and insects inside.
One bottle had a King Cobra, which is very expensive. Another had a huge centipede. They use the wine in those bottles for massage. As Lola showed us the bottles, a child around eight years old walked in, poured rice wine from a barrel into his jug and left. We looked at Lola confused and concerned and she said, “We like rice wine. Kids will come and get it for their families.”
We kept riding our bikes down the narrow island road and then came across about eight cows wandering on the road and on the sides of the path. They didn’t look very healthy as they drank from puddles of water.
We needed to cross to another section of the island and Lola had us take a floating bridge. She said we could ride our bikes or walk it, and then she took off. The floating bridge was in bad condition. Some areas were missing slats because they had deteriorated. It was also lop-sided and warped. Sometimes it leaned to the left and shortly after, it leaned to the right. The water moved the bridge and once we got on it, it was more wobbly. I decided to walk my bike because I did not want to fall into the brown water.
Our next stop was watching how they make circular boats. They’re small, round, and weaved together. We even watched an old, wild woman get into one without tipping over and row herself around. Helen and Darren each tried it out, but I was too afraid of tipping over. They cautiously got inside with the help of the woman. They kneeled and tried their best to paddle in one direction without just spinning around.
Lola told us that the island gets a lot of flooding each year. When the floods come, they get inside their round boats and wait it out. All of the flooding creates a lot of mud, which we could see left over on the buildings. There were markings that showed the highest level from a severe flood a few years earlier.
We rode around the island as it sprinkled on and off. It was also hot and humid. The mud made it all feel dirty. We passed a few rice fields, which were bright green and refreshing. Our last stop was to watch dragon boat making and other craftsmanship.
We loaded our bikes onto a boat and took it back to the mainland. Once back, we all said our goodbyes. The night market was just beginning and I didn’t want to go all the way to my hotel to change, so I started walking around. There were frogs and octopus hanging on the grills, but I decided to eat at a restaurant that had happy hour.
I sat outside and enjoyed a platter of breads, tomatoes, and cheese while watching people walk by. Once I was finished, I walked around self-consciously in my spandex shorts. I saw ice cream that was flattened on a cold plate and then rolled up. I enjoyed a cup as I continued walking around.
It was now dark outside and all the lanterns lit up the sky! Hoi An is known for this. Beautiful colored lanterns hung from shops, trees, and from strings connecting the buildings as they hung above the road. Cars aren’t allowed in that section because of all of the booths and pedestrians walking around.
There was live music coming from every other restaurant, which was very romantic. Sculpted neon hearts lit up the riverfront. As I approached the river, the lights reflected on the water and people slowly crossed the bridge. I saw a sign proclaiming, “Hoi An, one of the ‘World’s Most Romantic Cities’ by Indiatimes.” Great, I was alone in the most romantic city.
I walked around, feeling lonely and sad. I wanted to be there with a partner. I wanted to hold hands with someone as we strolled along the river. A friend messaged me, and I told her that I was feeling lonely. She told me that I should “find happiness within myself.”
I walked around, feeling frustrated by her comment. Human beings are made for companionship. I am happy within myself, and I’m more independent than most people. Just because I want to be with someone in a romantic sense doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me pathetic. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not happy alone. I dislike the trend of “self-improvement” mantras that make it seem that happiness is only found within yourself.
It’s possible to be happy and also want something more. It’s like a woman who wants a baby but is unable to. She can adopt or do in-vitro. It’s ok to want more. At my previous job, I was happy, but I always strived to keep challenging myself. I wasn’t moping around feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t have a romantic partner. I wasn’t saying that I needed someone. I was saying that I wanted to be with someone. Pretending that I didn’t want a partner would be dishonest.
Humans were made to be around people. When people talk about what is important in life, they debate about the importance of a job or material items, but usually end up discovering that family is what’s important. Having a romantic partner is having a family. It’s human connection. I don’t understand how we can say that family and human connections are the most important things, but criticize single people for wanting a partner. It also seems easier for people with spouses and/or children to be critical of single people for desiring a partner. It’s not weak and it should be talked about more often. I’m ok with being single and independent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel sadness from time-to-time without the connection of a partner.
As I continued walking around, I came across the famous bridge that reminded me of bridges and canals in Florence, Italy. It is a small bridge that looks like a fairy tale with lanterns hanging above. The Asian architecture was beautiful.
Next to the bridge was a street full of shops. I wandered around and found myself in a store full of unique items referencing movies and books. I found a coaster from the movie, Into the Wild, that had a picture of the famous bus and the quote, “Happiness only real when shared.” I also bought a magnet that said, “It is such a mysterious place the land of tears.” Perhaps my souvenir choice reflected my current mood.
It started to rain and people were leaving. I tried to order a Grab car, but none were available. Instead, I ordered a Grab motorbike. I was carrying a large bottle of water with a handle and a bag of snacks from a convenience store. I got on the back of the bike and held my water and snacks in my left hand, making sure they didn’t hit the wheel. I used my right hand to hold on to the back.
The driver got lost a few times and used his phone while driving in his left hand to navigate. I felt like a local riding on the back of a motorbike in the rain and carrying some items that dangled on the side. We eventually made it to my hotel, and after a warm shower, I climbed into my plush bed alone.
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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
I really like the pictures and descriptions in this post. I am wondering more and more about what you are learning as you travel.
I believe humans are created to be in relationships. Loneliness is an outcropping of the dissonance we feel when they are less than ideal or absent. Those deep connections feed our souls, don’t they? I think you are beautiful and brave to keep seeking and searching for love and adventure. Keep hope fresh!
Thank you! Relationships definitely feed our souls. 🙂