Blog #5 – Settling In / Halong Bay

My second full week in Vietnam was about establishing a more consistent routine, while also marked by a spontaneous trip to Halong Bay (see bottom for more details on that).  Having my friend Quentin in town for four days provided a much needed sense of familiarity in this vastly new place.

After my blog post last week in which I aired the struggles I am dealing with adjusting to Vietnam, I didn’t know how folks at home would react, if at all.  The messages of support and encouragement I’ve received over the past week have rejuvenated my belief in self and filled me with the comforting knowledge that, though they are half a world away, there are many people who are supporting me in this challenging journey I am just undertaking.  Messages from family and friends received this week were invaluable and though I could not respond to all of them, know that if you sent anything I received it, took your words to heart and put your advice into practice.

Sunday night / Monday morning was spent celebrating the gift to humanity that is Tom Brady, as I stayed up til 7am local time watching the AFC Championship game.  Luckily the Super Bowl doesn’t start til 6:05am local time next Monday, so hopefully I can snag a couple hours of sleep before the big game.

Monday night was spent downtown at a hostel with Quentin and Kenny, though it may as well have been a Friday night because days of the week (or nights of the week) do not exist in Backpacker Hostels across Southeast Asia, every day is the weekend and every hour is Happy.  Tuesday was spent sipping on lots of water, sleeping in, and supporting the Vietnamese U23 soccer team as they defeated all odds and Qatar in the Semi Finals of the AFC tournament to advance to the finals against Uzbekistan.  I also tried Bun Cha for the first time and I could swear I heard angelic biblical hymns during the meal. 

Wednesday and Thursday provided my first escape from the bustling chaos of Hanoi as I awoke at 6:30am and boarded a bus which took us roughly four hours to the East, to a magical and unique place called Halong Bay.  While the reflection on the beauty of the place can be found at the bottom of this blog post, I have a couple thoughts on the place that I found rather ironic.  The first is how capitalism has invaded even the tiniest niches of this overtly communist country.  In the bay, women rowed small boats loaded with Pringles, Wine, and sea shells to each of the larger tourist barges, becoming a sort of floating connivence and souvenir shop. Another souvenir shop waited for us atop the one island we were able to summit, selling photos of the bay, other little nic naks, and beer.  It was incredible to see the places in which people had set up shop in order to make a couple bucks selling things to readily ready to spend tourists.  The other thought I had was that even out in one of the most majestic places I had ever been to, the sounds of construction could not be escaped.  At the first island we went to, they were (I guess?) working to expand the dock, and our time on the island and exploring it’s caves were punctuated by cityesque sounds of industry, continuously reminding us that not even the most sacred places on earth can outrun modernization.

Upon returning to Hanoi Thursday night, I was so exhausted that I fell into a peaceful and content slumber which extended well into the late morning Friday.  More job search emails sent out, laundry dropped off at the laundromat mere steps from my house ($3 paid for all the clothes I brought with me, save for the outfit I was wearing, to be washed, pressed, dried, and folded, looks like I won’t be doing my own laundry the entire time I’m here), and attending my first Expat party.  It was certainly one of the most interesting parties I’ve ever been to, meeting people from Australia, South Africa, all across Europe (a lot of Brits), and a couple fellow Americans.

Saturday I went downtown to watch Vietnam take on Uzbekistan in the finals of the U23 AFC Tournament.  Originally given 350-1 odds to win the tournament, the Vietnamese took the Uzbekistanis to extra time, surrendering a heartbreaking goal in the 119th minute.  Though the team lost, the patriotism displayed by the Vietnamese over the course of the week, both after the victory on Tuesday in in the face of defeat Saturday, was nothing short of extraordinary.  I always thought American patriotism set the gold standard in the world, but I am now not so sure after seeing how fired up this country got for a regional, U23 soccer tournament. 

This upcoming week looks to be more settling in, more job searching, and planning a trip for the rapidly approaching Tet festival, during which I’ve been told the entire country shuts down for over a week.  On the short list of destinations are Ankor Wat, Cambodia, or Chiang Mai, Thailand, or perhaps even somewhere in Cambodia or Laos.  If you have traveled in Southeast Asia and have any suggestions as to where a great place to spend about a week would be, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Until next week,


(Now for the part about Halong Bay)

  To say Halong Bay blew me away with her jarring and sharp natural beauty would be vastly understating my thoughts on the place. Though the sky was filled with clouds the near entirety of our time on The Viet Beauty, the misty ambiance added a compelling mystique to the experience. The natural beauty of the massive limestone pillars which shoot directly up from the tranquil waters was unlike anything I had seen before.

The name Halong Bay derives from the Vietnamese for “descending dragon”. Legend tells of an ancient people who struggled to fend off adversaries as they sought national sovereignty. Seeing the suffering, the Gods sent a family of dragons to protect the birthing nation. According to myth, these terrific beasts spat not fire but jewels and jade which formed the sharp towering spires. The dragons willed skyward rock pillars which exploded from the waters ahead of invading ships, dooming the aggressors, creating a protective wall and ensuring Vietnam its sovereignty. The dragons then made their home in the bay.

I possess neither the vocabulary nor the poetic ability to impart though words the unique beauty of this place. I think no one does. Nor do the pictures and videos taken here do any justice to the immensity of the jagged towers which escape their earthly bonds and reach seemingly forever towards the sky.

Words such as “awesome” and “spectacular” have become bastardized to the point that they no longer hold any weight. They are casually attributed to a fun weekend we had, a good burger we ate, or a cool movie we saw. Though equally as guilty as everyone in this dumbing-down of language, I now know a place which inspired awe that I felt acutely throughout my body as my eyes struggled to digest the spectacle which they were beholding. I know of a place forged by legend and dragons, coated in a mythic veil which engenders the entire bay.  I know of a place I shall certainly return to hopefully several times before I depart this land (ideally under fairer sky’s and for longer than a day), to again experience in person that which anything else fails to capture.

Please enjoy this video featuring clips from the Bay and the musical stylings of The Doobie Brothers.

One thought on “Blog #5 – Settling In / Halong Bay

  1. Thatcher!! I am so happy to see you taking this next part of your journey. Even though you may face some tough times or challenges, never give up!! These will help you grow. You are going to do some remarkable things for people there. I am excited for you and know you will have a great experience. Remember through tough times and struggles, those will be the time you grow and move forward. Keep learning and giving!! Lisa 🙂


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