Juxtaposed with my trip to New Zealand a couple years ago, getting ready for Vietnam was more of a blur. It was busy at work, the kind of busy where you don’t have time to make yourself dinner and where one day flows into the next one.
I was plowing through issues with my spirits up, however, because visiting the Son Doong Caves had been on the bucket list for 2 years.
Near the end of last year when I was looking for places to go to on my yearly Thanksgiving globetrotting adventure (my parents don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving, and we get a bonus week off of work so it’s perfect for doubling down on a much-needed vacation since September is very busy for my team at work), I remembered Son Doong. Immediately looked up the website to find all the tours were fully booked again. After this visit, I put my name on the waiting list and headed off to visit Chiawen in London.
Come March I received an email that a new four-day three-night tour opened up and on that tour, people would have to climb out of the Great Wall of Vietnam. I added the sign-up date in my calendar and set multiple alerts. This tour has existed for 3 seasons and only 1 tour company, Oxalis, is allowed to take groups into the cave based on their expert cave knowledge and pledge to environmental conservation. Another thing I learned while researching is that fewer people have seen Hang Sơn Đoòng than having made the trek to Everest Basecamp.
I covet the rare, exceptional, and magically beautiful. Gimme.
Flash back to several weeks ago… I’m prepping to be out of office. In my larger cross-functional meeting, I do a little ‘I’m going on vacation shimmy’ while announcing who’s going to be covering my meetings and for folks to let me know if there’s anything I need to get done this week before I leave.
After the meeting, a coworker asks me where I’m going.
Me: I’m going camping in Vietnam!” I gleefully cheer.
Her: Wait, why?
Me: Because it’s awesome?
Her: Eh, if you say so. Camping does not sound fun to me, let alone in Vietnam.
I had many conversations like this before beginning my adventure. I’d then show my coworkers photos on Google, and they understood the desire a bit better.
A couple years ago I saw the cave Featured in National Geographic and it just looked magical. Hang Sơn Đoòng, the largest cave in the world, I want to be in you… all up in your nooks and crannies, wait… that doesn’t sound quite right… I digress.
I love my coworkers because they’ve basically been everywhere I’ve ever wanted to go and we usually trade tips for each new location. Alex gave me a recommendation for a centrally located hotel in Saigon, having gone there last year. Ann used to live in Saigon a while back and gave me her Google Maps of the area loaded with delicious eats and places to visit. She also briefly warned me about how to cross the street in Vietnam you have to walk at an even pace with confidence, while the roads may look chaotic all the drivers are accounting for your pace, so if you walk inconsistently you’re more likely to get hit. Then she finishes that explanation with a wave of a hand and laughs, “Don’t look so worried, you’ll be fine.”
My friend Albert mentioned that he’d been looking at a beachside hotel in Danang for his pre-baby moon and showed me some epic photos of the Danang Hyatt. Originally after camping for 4 days in the countryside, I was going to spend the rest of my time in Saigon but after seeing photos I decided to make a detour to the beach for three days. I told Ann about my detour and then she then gave me more tips for Danang and also added in that I should visit the small cute town of Hoi An and take a cooking class.
Finally a couple weeks before my trip I visited my parents for dim sum and mentioned I’d be going caving trekking in Vietnam. Mom wasn’t the most thrilled with the why do you always want to do dangerous things on vacation face, but then I hyped up time spent in city and beach instead. This is when my dad mentions nonchalantly, “Hey, you should see if you can find the house I grew up in. I was raised there till I was 16, I haven’t been back since 1968. I’ll text you the address later.”
Wait, what?!?! You were born in Vietnam?!?! Did I miss this fact all through childhood? I nod, and say of course, not sure if they could tell the absolute confusion on my face. I swore you told me you grew up in Canton. Back to this in a later episode…
The weekend before my trip I prepared my gear and packed. Two days before, I decided to minimize what I was bringing to a capsule travel wardrobe so I could fit more trekking gear and make my luggage significantly less heavy. Jen kindly offered to take me to the airport and let me park at her place in the city so that I could easily take my car back home after I returned. We had dinner at Garden Club, and then hung out at her apartment until it was time to fly out at 11pm. I was exhausted from work that week, I loved that she just let me nap on her couch while she was playing around on her phone. The best kind of comfort is the understanding between people without there always having to be words.
With a full belly, feeling rested, and a good friend to take me to the airport I couldn’t ask for a better way to start the trip. There was no pre-trip anxiety because there just was no time to think about it. Every moment up until my flight was accounted for. Come what may Vietnam, I’m ready for you. Or maybe I was just too tired to care…
Once at the airport checking into China Airlines, I overhead briefly the agent saying in Cantonese to her coworker as she’s giving me my seat in an exit row:
Agent: Oh that seat is an awful one.
Me: Wait, I speak Cantonese. Did I just hear you say my seat is awful (I say this in Canto)?
Agent: No no, I mean my seat at this desk. My seat (She laughs awkwardly).
Me: Ok if you say so.
Once boarding the plan my seat is awesome, so I guess she was talking about her seat at the desk.