When most people think about travel, they imagine comfortable flights with luxurious hotels and restaurant dining. Not everyone is willing to experience or even write about the rural areas. But if you truly want to experience living like a local, then that’s where you’ll have to go.
Now I want to be clear that I am by no means discriminating between the types of travelers. There are people who prefer to visit all tourist sites and there are those who prefer to venture into lesser known places. I am merely stating that not a lot of people are able to experience what I did. But I have done it, and I would like to encourage you to do the same by sharing my little adventure with you.
Situated in the North of Vietnam, Thanh Hoa is a four hour drive from the country’s capital, Hanoi. The drive itself was not too bad considering I was used to traveling between Penang and Malacca.
The village we were going to was the hometown of my cousin brother’s wife. And once we did arrive, we were kind of taken by surprise. Her house was definitely the most modern there and the only one with a car. She had two televisions in her house, a stable WiFi connection and even an electronic calendar.
The rest of the village itself was mostly what you would expect. Relatives lived only a walking distance away or even right next door. Most people there had never even left the village, much less met someone from a different country. Only the language barrier proved to be a problem.
Besides that, it was a unique experience of its own. Everyone was always so nice to my sister and I. They would try to speak to us in English with their limited vocabulary, always had the biggest smiles on their faces and did everything in their power to showcase us their culture. We felt right at home and safe as well.
The best way to explore the village was with a bicycle; or at least it was for me because I was terrified of the buffaloes. You could go one way and make it all the way to a hill you could climb, or go the other way and you would eventually find yourself in a paddy field as far as the eye could see. There was a river nearby which allowed us to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen.
When it comes to travelling, the one thing a lot of us need to be cautious about is culture shock. In Vietnam, I was definitely taken by surprise to find everyone drinking rice wine at any hour during the day and night. It was part of their culture to do so. Since most of the people in the village either owned farm animals or paddy fields or both, they made their own rice wine.
The coolest part was finding a dead cobra in a jar filled with wine. But the best part was dinner every night. The entire family would get together and we would have our very own hotpot, sitting on the floor in the porch of the house and enjoying each others company for hours.
The village was much colder than the cities and so we were usually in jeans and sweaters. We were warned of this before arriving so we packed accordingly. The constant cool temperature meant there was no need for fans or air-conditioners in the rooms.
In the morning, my sister and I would usually be woken up by the chickens cuckoo-ing at about five in the morning, for absolutely no reason. Once they stopped, there were people speaking in Vietnamese we could hear coming from the speakers placed everywhere around the village. This was definitely something neither of us were used to. After our first morning there, they explained to us the real reason they had that.
In the olden days, there were no newspapers or technology to share news through. And so, the villagers came up with a way to share them through a speaker so that everyone would know what was going on. The reason why it was at six in the morning was because most of the people in the village were awake at that time to either go to work or to start getting ready for school.
Being able to visit all tourist attractions was fun, but experiencing life as a local citizen of Vietnam was simply icing on the cake. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity and thankful to everyone who made me feel so welcome. I will always remember this trip and everything I have learned from it.