Holiday Prep Work
The Chinese New Year crept up on us this year in Shijiazhuang. I was fortunate enough to be able to take my paid holiday at the same time as the national holiday which culminated to a whopping 18 day travel. I decided to travel with one of my friends Amber, since she had the same days off as me. We decided that though it is truly a unique experience to be in China during the New Year, we could not waste this long holiday staying local. We wanted to go international and use every day that we had to travel around Asia. Before coming to China, I had a mental list of all the places I wanted to travel to and Vietnam and Thailand were among them. We worked on an itinerary for months before so that we would have everything in order when the time came. We figured out visas, hostels, flights, buses, trains, tours, and of course, food. February came around and it was time to set sail.
The first stop of our travels was Hanoi, Vietnam. It was such a change of pace being in Vietnam and experiencing their way of life. Though China and Vietnam are geographically bordering countries, the cultures are very different. It was very interesting to see how the local Vietnamese lived and to try their cuisines. We visited many attractions such as the Hoa Lo Prison, Women’s Museum, Ho Chi Minhs residence, and famous restaurants. My favorite part of Hanoi was traveling to Ha Long Bay. Ha Long is about four hours East of Hanoi on the Gulf of Tonkin. It is a magnificent bay composed of over 2,000 islands. We visited Ha Long Bay with our hostel and decided to stay overnight on the tour boat. We went kayaking, hiking, swimming, and wandered through a cave. It was so nice to take a break from the fast paced life of teaching English abroad and relax on a boat that took us through the maze of islands.
After a great time in Hanoi, we flew to Bangkok, Thailand for the next leg. Bangkok was so different from Hanoi and other cities in China. We visited some famous Buddha temples while visiting Bangkok such as Wat Pho. Wat Pho is famous for its massive Reclining Buddha and all of the other temples surrounding it. It was great to see and learn so much about Buddhism on this trip. My favorite part of Bangkok was elephant riding and bamboo rafting on a tour we took with our hostel. There are not too many places in the world where opportunities like this exist so we made sure to give it a try. We also traveled to Hua Hin Beach, which is around three hours outside of the main city. The beach was so inviting and beautiful and we relaxed for days in the sun. While in Hua Hin, I experienced a live Muay Thai Match in one of the local gyms. I could not believe that I was sitting in a Thai Boxing Gym, drinking a local Chang Beer, and watching Thai men fight for pride. If I were to create a list of unforgettable experiences in my life, those three hours in that gym would be on it.
Ho Chi Minh City
The last days of our 18 day venture were spent in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The whole vibe of this part of the trip was different from before because we knew that we had to return to our jobs soon. We did not spend every day doing touristy things but rather on mental health and relaxation. After ten months I am fully aware of how mentally taxing teaching can be. It is great to be doing something so important and meaningful but it is also crucial to reflect and take a break once in a while. Ho Chi Minh City was a perfect last stop before returning to work. We drank coffee and read books in cafes. We drank local beer and ate food at restaurants while watching the cars and people go by. We even ended up visiting a gym and relaxed by the pool for a few days. We did go on one tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels and it was probably my favorite. We walked through tunnels created by the Vietnamese during the war and got to fire some weapons on a gun range. It was quite an exciting time in Ho Chi Minh.
Best Chinese New Year Ever
After 18 great days of traveling in South East Asia, it was time to head home. This trip was supposed to be the biggest during my time here and it did not disappoint. I kept realizing all of the great and exciting experiences I was having and how lucky I was to be out there doing it all. I saw a different part of the world and saw how people live and interact. All in all, it was the best Chinese New Year I have ever celebrated!