I’ve now been in Nha Trang for six weeks. What can I say? It feels really nice to be back in Vietnam. A lot of you might not know this, but this is actually my third lengthy visit to the country. The first time was during a month-long backpacking trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in 2006, and the second was during a month-long stint in Central Vietnam in 2013.
Sometimes it bums me out that I didn’t start a travel blog until I was 31 years old. I’ve been traveling the world since I was 19. I’ve had so many travel experiences that I’ve never written about before, including those first and second trips to Vietnam. All that exists of those trips are my fading memories and some not-so-wonderful photos taken with my point-and-shoot camera.
Blogging has done so much to change the way I travel. Not only has it pushed me to take more and better photos of the places I explore, but it has made me a more present traveler. The mere act of writing about my life and travels – the dishes I eat, the mishaps I endure, the sights I see – has given me the gift of vividly remembering the experiences I have. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Anyway, my point is that although I’ve never blogged about Vietnam before, this is far from my first foray into the country. When I first traveled here as a 24 year old, Vietnam felt incredibly foreign. But now that I’ve spent years living and traveling in Southeast Asia, this country feels so much more familiar. And because I spent a month living in an apartment in Nha Trang in 2013, this city feels a tiny bit like home.
Before I touched down in Nha Trang a month and a half ago I already knew the precise location of my favorite banh mi food cart, I could picture the smiling face of my landlord, I could see the city’s seemingly unending stretch of beach. It was nice to return to something (at least a little) familiar.
A lot of people argue against traveling to the same destination more than once. I used to feel the same way, in fact. But I’ve been doing this travel thing for awhile now, so it’s only natural that my travel style has changed over the years.
While I’ve done my fair share of traveling during the past few years I’ve actually only visited a handful of new countries in that time. The majority of places I travel to nowadays are places I’ve been to before. And guess what? It’s been awesome!
It was so nice to spend the month of January getting reacquainted with Vietnam, and Nha Trang in particular. The best part about returning to a destination is having the chance to get to know it more intimately. And this trip to Nha Trang has been totally different than my first trip to the city.
In fact, last month turned out to be an extra special time to be in Vietnam because January 28 marked the celebration of Tet (also known as Lunar New Year). Tet can be a strange time to travel in Vietnam because during the one to two weeks surrounding the New Year many Vietnamese flock from the major cities to their hometowns. Cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City turn into ghost towns, businesses and restaurants temporarily shutter their doors, and motorbikes seem to vanish from the roads.
Nha Trang, on the other hand, happens to be a wildly popular city for Vietnamese and foreign tourists to celebrate Tet. So while numerous businesses did close up shop (including my beloved banh mi cart), things were still pretty hopping here. It was a joy to experience the frenzy and customs leading up to the big day. As per tradition, bunches of yellow flowers, small orange trees and Vietnamese flags were placed in the entrances of homes and businesses, large families could be seen gathering in their living rooms around enormous (and I mean enormous) feasts, really loud karaoke emanated down alleyways, and impromptu parties were held on the side of the road.
My landlord threw a small Tet party for Aaron, me and the other tenants in the building. And I was given the honor of being the first person to enter her family’s home at midnight on the New Year. As per tradition, the first person to enter a home after the new year will bestow luck on the home and family. It’s always interesting to be a part of traditions that are different from my own.
Tet festivities aside, most of the month was spent working. But I did manage to pull myself away from my laptop on a few occasions to hike up the beautiful Ba Ho Waterfall and swim in its natural pools, lounge on a stunning stretch of beach just outside of the city, and motorbike through impossibly green rice paddies.
The weather didn’t exactly cooperate last month, so I didn’t do quite as much traveling and sightseeing during my free time as I would have liked. But I’ll take what I can get. And hey, when you’re in a city that has no end of amazing vegetarian Vietnamese food, can you really complain?
A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on
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How did your January shape up?