Here I come with the second part of my Vietnam trip! First off, if you plan on going to Vietnam during Lunar New Year’s, always add about two or three hours to your schedule. Plan ahead of time, book your hotels, and make taxi service reservations about a week in advance; also bring a little extra cash since the prices of food inflate during this time.
February 15, 2015 Vam Ray/Long Xuyên, Vietnam
By now, waking up at 6 in the morning has now become a daily habit and I am completely fine with this time frame. After getting ready and drinking a cup of coffee, we headed towards Vam Ray to visit my grandmother’s grave on my father’s side of the family. While there is still development going on in Vam Ray, not much has changed over the past few years. A major difference would be the small road leading towards my uncle’s house, but even then only motorbikes can access the area. After a five minute drive, you must get off and board a small row boat which is used to cross the river between the back road and my uncle’s house. In Vietnam, you are supposed to bring flowers, fruits, a favorite drink of the deceased, and incense sticks as offerings when visiting a grave. Also, keeping the grave clean shows respect towards the dead. I was saddened to part ways so quickly, but since we were on a tight schedule I had to leave after only a few hours.
Next, we headed towards Long Xuyên, one of the most prosperous cities in Southwest Vietnam, to visit other family members. Just on the outskirts of town is my grandfather’s grave. Really surprising how much changed here; at first there were only a few graves, but now the entire area was unrecognizable. The tombstones in Vietnam for Catholics are a bit more extravagant than the ones I see in America. This being said, I feel as if there is a sense of competition among family members to see who can offer the best tombstone. Not everyone is like this, but there is a way of thinking which involves giving the absolute best to someone even after his or her death.
February 17, 2015 Bac Lieu, Vietnam
So, after about half a day of traveling we arrive in Bac Lieu, Vietnam. Here in this city is where my grandmother lives and also the location where I can rest for a few days. I absolutely love visiting Bac Lieu, mainly because this is where most of my mom’s side of the family lives. Also, I get to visit grandma who is halfway across the world. She is a wonderful person inside and out, and despite the language barrier, I still enjoy talking to her. Here in Bac Lieu you get the experience of living in a rural area. The city has become much livelier than before, but then again you will always have those places where people much quieter in their homes than others. The roads of Bac Lieu have developed so much over the years. For example, I can remember five years ago when the roads, well the dirt roads, were not existent. Motorbikes, cars, and bicycles alike would drive however they please and the dust of the ground would smog out the entire area. As I looked out to the current city, I can vaguely recall the countless numbers of food carts surrounding the vicinity. There never was a day where you would not hear someone selling his or her food item; this time around, because of the New Year holiday, most people sold food from their homes instead of the carts. Nevertheless, it was good to be back in my mother’s hometown.
First morning here we made run through town in search of breakfast food, which by the way, ends at around 10AM in the morning. Actually, if you are still in bed after 6AM be prepared for your cousins and or other family to drag you out to begin the day. In Vietnam the days begins early and when I say early I mean from 4AM until 5AM is a good time to be up and ready. Any later, and well, you could say your day was apparently wasted. Anyways, after eating our ‘late’ breakfast, we headed towards the market. Now, imagine yourself in a tightly squeezed area with hundreds of people surrounding you. Okay, keep that image and add raw meat and pig heads hanging from hooks in front of your face; this my friends, is what a Vietnamese street market is like. People hustling and bustling like the streets of New York and yet at the end of the day it all disappears until the next morning.
February 18, 2015 Sóc Trăng, Vietnam
What I love about this city is how it borders Cambodia so much the locals will typically be Cambodian or Vietnamese with a Cambodian heritage. At first glance, not much can be seen on the outskirts of town; however, on the side of the road are several narrow bridges which only two wheeled vehicles can cross. If you manage to rent yourself a bike or motorbike, I recommend going across the bridge, thus entering the road leading towards many Cambodian temples. In my opinion, this is Vietnam’s best area for sightseeing. The land is rich and full of natural beauty while the temple grounds are kept clean to show respect its sacredness. Schools in Sóc Trăng often have classes which teach its students Khmer (Cambodia’s language); there are schools which train young boys who want to become monks. Most of my family from my oldest uncle lives in this rural area. Since it borders Cambodia, many of the people can speak both Vietnamese and Khmer. My grandfather and uncle on my mother’s side is buried within the temple grounds and it is for this reason to which I go here every visit to Vietnam.
Vietnamese Lunar New Years (Vietnamese Tết)
This wonderful two week long holiday is the very reason why I went to Vietnam in the first place. Tết is also known as Chinese New Years, but for the Vietnamese it is simply called Lunar New Years.During this time friends and family gather together for a celebration of temple visits, food eating, and ancestral incense burnings. In America my friends and I always celebrate Tết by receiving lì xi from the parents. You may or may not have seen Asian markets selling red envelopes during the month of New Years. Well, within these red envelopes, one will put money inside and await for the first day of Tết to pass them out to people younger than them. The younger ones will do his or her part by telling the person, “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” which simply means, “Happy New Years!”. Afterwards, the person with the red envelope will give the gift to him or her.
When it comes to decorations, the streets of Vietnam was filled to the rim with yellow flowers. People everywhere will be making as much noise as possible with music, singing, and firecrackers. Quite the celebration indeed, and if you are lucky, there will be a dancer who waltz into your house and dances for a minute to bring you and your family good fortune. You can do your part by giving the dancer about 100000 đồng(5USD).
Once that whole fiasco is over with and you have eaten dinner, the real fun begins when the sun finally sets. For this trip you will only need a camera, a place to hide your money, and comfortable shoes because a night out on the first night of New Years is a must see and do. Just like any other big city, the streets will be filled to the brim with people, but you’ve never been in a city where motorbikes and feet alike are in danger of being involved in a minor traffic accident. A battle between feet and wheels, who will win? Luckily I did not get run over that day; however, it was pretty fun having a few close calls. Anyways, if you can make it to the city’s plaza of where ever you are in Vietnam, you will notice that there will be a stage with dancers and singers performing their hearts out to both modern and traditional Vietnamese music. Be sure to bring your own drinks though, because prices are doubles the moment you reach the downtown area. On a brighter note, this goes on all night so you do not have to worry about missing a thing. Just like any other
Well, this is part two out of three of my filler updates on Vietnam. I am trying to catch up on a few other updates, so I hope you all can look forward to about a month’s worth of adventures. Just three more months until I return back to the states, so I will be doing all I can in both studies and blog updates. Thank you to those who have been following me on my journey! Until next time ~