I haven’t blogged in a while because I have bene crazy busy. About a week ago we finished up our classes in Ho Chi Minh City, took our Vietnamese language final exam, said goodbye to our homestay families, and departed for the “Grand Excursion.” This period of travel is two and a half weeks before all of the students begin their independent research projects or internships throughout Vietnam.
Grand Excursion holds up to the name. Within two short weeks we manage to travel from one end of the country to the opposite end. Intense traveling like this has allowed me to be able to see many parts of this country but it has taken a toll on my mental and physical health. I am not one who enjoys constantly relocating and living out of a suitcase gives me anxiety. However mentally and physically exhausting these days have been, I am so fortunate for the chance to experience this journey.
And while this blog post is not a ton of writing, enjoy some photos from adventures that will forever be some of the greatest memories I have.
Our first stop after leaving Saigon was Hue City. A city filled with history and pagodas. It is famous for the Royal Citadel also known as the forbidden city. We also spent the days on dragon boats down the Perfume River, indulging in banana crepes and tourist-y bars. Hue is a much smaller city than Saigon but it is packed with so much history and culture. We went clam fishing in a lagoon outside the city, ate some amazing food, and got to experience traditional Vietnamese music at dinner over looking the river.
Next we drove for an entire day stopping to plant trees at a local NGO working to remove landmines from Vietnam and educating the youth about safety. We finally arrived at Phung Nha in the late evening. The sky was dark when we arrived so I had no idea where we were but we woke up surrounded by the most beautiful rock sculptures and mountains. We spent three days here exploring giant caves, zip-lining over the bluest water, kayaking, and swimming the days away. We even went exploring in a “Dark Cave” where we were led by headlamps into a giant mud bath.
We boarded a night train at 12:30 am for Ha Noi, the capital of Vietnam and after a “great” sleep on the train were excited to be back to a busy city with motorbike traffic and coffee shops on every corner. In this city we were able to walk around the lake, eat amazing street food, and see a traditional water puppet show. It was a nice introduction to the city that I will be living in for a month when Grand Excursion ends.
My favorite leg of Grand Excursion was the last trip. It was the part I was dreading the most. I was tired and exhausted of living out of a suitcase. However, Sa Pa Vietnam proved to be the most rewarding place I have visited in this country. Sa Pa is a mountainous area that borders China. It is the homeland to many ethnic minority groups. We spent the morning having dance parties with children a local elementary school and then departed for an overnight hike down the rice terraced mountains to stay with a local ethnic group. There is nothing that I could write here to describe the sight and feeling that the area gave me. The experience was once in a lifetime and I am so grateful to have been able to travel here. I spent the majority of Holy Week in the villages of Sa Pa. It served as a time to reflect and truly stand in awe at the image of God in the landscape and people that I interacted with.
Then it was back to Hanoi for the end of Grand Excursion. I spent Sunday at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral for Easter mass at 6:30 am. It was the first holiday I have ever had to spend alone and while I was blue to be away from my family, I couldn’t help but be joyful for the resurrection of my Lord and Savior (and I treated myself to an Easter lunch at my favorite pizza place).
See you in six weeks America!