after another 24 hours of traveling, I am home. I settle in and begin to unpack. for the first few days I wake up in the middle of the night not knowing what country I’m in. and already I wonder: what will I remember most?
memory is strange. it picks and chooses. it changes moments, maneuvers them, works them. things fade, and others become brighter.
I know that the difficulties will fade. things that once held the weight of the world, moments of fear and frustration and discomfort – standing frozen in the middle of the street in unceasing traffic, showing up 24 hours late for an overnight train, the sight of a spider the size of a baseball scurrying up my apartment wall – will become less so, become lighter. have already become funny in retrospect, thankfully.
the good things, the truly unique and exceptional, will become brighter. the first bowl of bún riêu. the first sip of vietnamese coffee. the look of the streets at night on the back of a motorbike. the mountains in Mai Châu, the beaches in Hội An, the blue-green water in Ha Long Bay.
there are things that will become lost entirely, and it is sad to admit that the loss is inevitable. but writing it down slows this process. even when the writing is a simple recollection – I did this, and then I did that – there is a kind of magic to it: it pins the moment in place, leaves a mark, a record. I’m in awe of that magic. I’m grateful for it, too.
Mai Châu is about four hours outside of Hanoi, in northwest Vietnam, but as all the guide books and tourist literature will tell you: it feels a world away.
it’s a bit of a cheesy ploy, a blatant advertising tactic, but it works. I am sold. I’m looking for a break, again, from the dizzying pace of Hanoi, a city I love, but a challenging place to live nonetheless.
A ride through twisting and turning mountain roads leads to the lush rural valley town of Mai Châu. I check into the Mai Châu Lodge and go on a small group bicycle tour through the nearby villages of Ban Lac and Pom Coong. we ride on dirt roads through rice paddies, and the fields are vibrant shades of bright green, lighter green, yellow, brown. we pass by stilt houses made of bamboo and timber. we ride alongside cattle and hear roosters crowing. we pass people sorting through grains of rice on bamboo mats. on the horizon, always, looms the jagged outline of the mountains.
the villages have adapted to the call of tourists: many open up their homes for homestays and sell handicrafts for souvenirs, gorgeous embroidered bags and scarves in rich, bright colors. as we bike through we see many women outside working at looms. it is a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new, of traditional and modern, like so much of Vietnam.
the lodge at night is every bit the peace and quiet I hoped it would be. in the morning I wake up feeling more clear-headed and rested than I have in some time.