I think it is has come up before, but a major advantage to working for the US State Department in foreign postings is that we get to enjoy both US federal holidays as well as local holidays. (Of course, there is a number of days cutoff, otherwise some embassies/consulates would be on vacation all of the time!) My TDY to Ho Chi Minh City happened to fall at just the perfect time, as Kuala Lumpur had no holidays over that three week period, but Vietnam had one long weekend, right in the middle of my stay, so while my dear friends/colleagues in KL were fingerprinting and interviewing and collecting DNA and the million other things that happen in our section each day, I went on vacation to Hoi An.
The other bit of luck that came my way over the weekend was that Thad’s friends were in town from Idaho and he had taken time off work to hang out with them, so the whole crew flew up to Da Nang, where we are able to meet up and travel together for a few days.
Our outdated guidebook (Lonely Planet 2008, but we figured somethings never change!) pointed us towards Hue for a day, a suggestion we gladly took. About two and a half hours outside of Da Nang, the Hue boasts the ruins/reconstruction of a citadel that were the perfect place to kick off our long weekend. We wandered for hours, following a few unspoken rules:
1) If an area is crowded by a tour group, quickly retreat
2) If there are stairs, take them and see where they lead
3) If there is an awesome, cool doorway, wander in to see what it offers.
4) If there is shade, explore the area more thoroughly
5) If there is no shade, walk briskly; Don’t stop moving to read the plaques- just get to the shade!
(Rule three meant that I was the only one out of the group who did not walk in on random old Vietnamese dude eating noodles in his underwear. Rules four and five were necessary as Saturday turned out to be 100 degrees, which my handy-dandy weather app told me carried a heat index of 117. As a whole, we are a pretty pasty group and were sweating in pretty much every place we could sweat. [I swear my eyes were sweating!] Avoiding direct sunlight was crucial.)
Lunch was another small adventure. Our driver dropped us off at a little shop that had only one offering. Noodles. There were no noodle options. No menu. I held up four fingers and soon four steaming bowls of noodles arrived at the table. They had a bit of spice to them, but were not anything I wouldn’t order again. The others as the table added a bit more spice to theirs, Josh and I shoveled our fatty meat pieces into Thad’s bowl and as a whole, we made quick work of those bowls. (There were also some other random foods wrapped in banana leaves deposited on the table. Justin took full advantage of the chance to try a bit of each. That is a level of eating bravery I will never reach. One was never identified as either animal or plant-based…who knows…)
Saturday was long and hot, so we all opted for a quieter, cooler Sunday.
Hoi An sits on a river and we instantly knew the day must include a boat in some form or fashion. It turned out to be surprisingly easy to hire a boat for two hours, getting a private tour of the river and a few surrounding villages. (Tour might not be the right word, as our boat driver spoke nothing but Vietnamese and I was the most fluent one in the boat, with an ever-expanding vocabulary that includes such phrases as “left hand,” “right hand,” “good morning” and “thank you.” None of those were going to do us much good unless we needed to make a quick veer to the right or left.) Nevertheless, we made ourselves at home on our boat (I do believe I was the only one who kept my shoes on!) and enjoyed floating up and around, watching fisherman, working boats and other tourists doing their thing.
How does one follow up something as strenuous as a boat ride? With nothing less than wandering the streets of Hoi An’s old town, checking out the shops and making multiple café stops for Vietnamese iced coffee, smoothies, lime juices and snacks, followed by massages and dinner. Being a tourist is rough!
But, as with all great things, the long weekend quickly came to an end and as a crew, we had to part ways. I headed back to HCMC to finish up my last week of work in the city and Thad, Josh and Justin headed back to Kuala Lumpur in preparation for another week’s travel in the region (Brunei, Borneo and Singapore were on the list). Being able to hop from place to place is a fantastic perk of the Foreign Service lifestyle and one that I am going to miss when we are in Washington DC next year. (It is possible, but much more difficult and expensive from the States. No Air Asia service…)
When you are on vacation in Da Nang from your TDY in Ho Chi Minh City from your posting in Kuala Lumpur from your home in Idaho…
It is a bit of Where’s Waldo for adults.
(Photo credit: Thad Ross)