The long and winding road: Goodbye to Vietnam, hello to Hong Kong

As I’m writing this, I’m in bed, in yoga pants with unbrushed hair, enjoying my Friday off from work due to a “level 8 super typhoon” that’s raging outside my apartment. Oh, and I’m in Hong Kong.

I’ve been here over a month (since September 11), so this post is a bit overdue. But as you can probably understand, moving to a new country/new city, with no job and no support network save for one person, was somewhat stressful. I had just started to feel comfortable in Hanoi when I decided to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.

My decision to move was prompted by a few factors, but mainly my desire to stay in Asia, albeit in a more modern city with better transportation, more opportunities for career advancement (debatable), and just more of everything. I love Hanoi and I’m sure I’ll be back, but after living there for one year, I started to feel a little bored. I’ve found that Hong Kong is better suited to my lifestyle for longer-term living.

Amazingly, I was able to land the second job I interviewed for, a writing position for a lifestyle magazine. I was working by my second week in Hong Kong, which far exceeded my expectations. I later found an apartment, a tiny one with 3 other flatmates. We have no living room — only a sofa situated in the open space (more like a corridor) separating our bedrooms. Our kitchen has only a hot plate and a microwave. Lying on my bed sideways, I can touch both sides of the room without even stretching my arms. Such is life in Hong Kong.

But to back up a bit, on my last day of work at Viet Nam News (and my tenure as a fellow with Princeton in Asia), my office threw me a nice party with matcha (green tea flavored) cake, a staple in Asia, along with lychee, watermelon, and mini baguettes and pâté. Very French-Vietnamese.

Straight from work, I took a taxi to the bus station, where I met my friend Duc. We then took an overnight bus to Ha Giang, the northernmost province in Vietnam, where we would set out on a 3-day motorbike trip through one of the most beautiful areas of the country, up in the mountains where several ethnic minority groups live. You didn’t think I would leave Vietnam without having one last adventure, did you? As for the bus ride itself: it was my first “sleeper” bus with actual beds. I had been on overnight buses in Myanmar, but those just had regular seats. Despite the comforts we were afforded, neither Duc nor I was able to sleep well. I am cursed with the inability to sleep anywhere other than a bed. Planes? Forget it. Buses? Nope. There are photos of me as a child sleeping while standing up, or while sitting up in the bathtub, or with my legs hanging over the edges of the wooden doll cradle I had climbed into, and I’m disappointed that I’ve lost that ability to doze off any damn place I please. But I digress.

Day 1: Sleep-deprived but ready to hit the road. I know that my fashion choices are questionable with the yellow jacket and pink helmet, but I wasn’t out to impress anyone.

We arrived at our destination at about 2 am, then sat in the traveler’s hostel where we had planned to rent a motorbike until 7 am, still not sleeping. Then we got on a semi-automatic bike and drove on incredibly dangerous, mountainous roads for 90 miles straight. Smart? Probably not. But did we die? No! And that’s really all that matters.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great. It rained a lot and was foggy. Like creepy Stephen King The Mist fog. Duc was more freaked out about mist monsters, while I worried about getting hit by a bus. For a trip like this, weather really makes all the difference. Compare the following photos from the same location — the first taken on day 1, and the second taken on day 3.

Day 1 photo from Quan Ba, or “Heaven’s Gate”
Day 3 photo. Looks a little more like heaven.

In effect, we drove in a loop through Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac, and then back to Ha Giang City, which is what most travellers do. The Ha Giang motorbike trip has become fairly popular among tourists, but not nearly as popular as it should be considering the breathtaking scenery. The views are so varied along the way, from lush green and gold rice fields to karst peaks to the best part of the trip: the Ma Pi Leng Pass, which is so stunning that we stopped there for over an hour just to take in the views. I’ll just let the photos do all the talking. By the way, I’m not a photographer so you should really check out my friend Duc’s photos from the trip. He knows what he’s doing and the images are incredible!!

Photo: http://micasaesredonda.com

Day 1

Attempting to pass huge trucks was a bit of a challenge on these narrow roads…

Day 2

Some shaky footage from the bike
Saw lots of kids on motorbikes driving crazily fast
Ma Pi Leng pass is not only the most beautiful place I’ve seen in Vietnam, but also one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in general.
As is the case in most impoverished areas of developing countries, the women are the hardest workers. They are the ones out there doing the back-breaking labor.
A faint rainbow emerges after the rain ends
A woman takes a rest with her goats
This restaurant had amazing service. A rough bridesmaid for less than $1! (I think it’s tofu. Translation is a bit off.)

Day 3

The creepy mist!!! We couldn’t see anything in the valley below.
Luckily for us, it cleared up later
The photographer/driver at work
A wider angle view of “Heaven’s Gate”. Those two cone-shaped hills to the right are said to be a fairy’s bosom, according to Vietnamese legend.
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