I am no Buddhist, but I love Buddhist principles. Deal with it!
“What do you usually do when you feel sad?” asked my friend.
Feeling like a sage, I answered, “Well, I ask myself this question: Are you ready to die tomorrow? If I answered ‘yes’, then I don’t have the right to be sad. If I answered ‘no’ then I should modify the way I live now.”
I don’t know if I answered my friend’s question. I don’t know if I made any sense.
It was 9pm in Vietnam. I was sitting on the 2-step stairs of my hotel watching the motorbikes and traditional Viet vendors pass by the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. I’m a bit melancholic because in a few hours, I will be leaving Hanoi. Quynh (pronounced as Kwen), the wife of the owner generously prepared an ice cold Trung Nguyen coffee for me. Roa, the ever so humble owner, is in front of the computer typing something. Be, their 2 year old son sat next to me with a cute childish tantrum. The question “Are you ready to die tomorrow?” suddenly popped out from nowhere. The question remained unanswered.
After a bit of reflection, I stood up and planned to take a nap while waiting for my taxi that will take me to the airport. But before I bid my temporary goodnight, something awesome happened.
“Roa, Quynh, is it possible for me to hire a motorbike to take me around the city for the very last time?”, I suddenly asked the young couple. I don’t know what came in to me but its a great idea. I’m sure of it. I still have a couple of thousand Vietnamese Dongs anyway.
Roa and Quynh looked at each other with a bit of confusion. They conversed in Viet. Roa opened the drawer and handed a medium sized key to his smiling wife.
“My wife will take you around the city”
“Really? How much for the fee?”, I stupidly asked. How could I be so insensitive?
“Nah. We don’t need money” he said jokingly.
“No. I think its too much. You have been very nice already”
“I will take Be with me” said Quynh.
Roa nodded while I am speechless. I still can’t believe that they will allow me to experience the Vietnamese kindness again, even for my last hours in their country.
The three of us rode the motorbike. Quynh is in front, Be in the middle and I’m at the back. I admire Quynh for her driving skills. She was fantastic!
The Vietnamese air, the lighted narrow streets of the district, the long strips of street foods, the aroma of the famous Pho, the Hoan Kiem lake, the night Market…
The question “Are you ready to die tomorrow?” popped out again. This time, I have an answer.
I haven’t seen much of the world. I just visited a handful of countries. But this simple experience made me say, “Here I am Lord. You can take me anytime you want!”
After the 20-minute trip, we were back at the hotel. Be fell asleep because of the ride. The warm Roa welcomed us back home.
I sighed. I smiled. I said to myself..
THIS IS LIFE
“Why are you travelling alone? Isn’t that sad?”, asked the Immigration officer at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. I am not surprised that the last Filipino that I will be conversing with for the entire trip asked me that question. I am a bit numb about it. Everybody asks me that question.
To formalize my answer, I’ll be writing here a glimpse of my solo travel in Vietnam.
1. When I say “I travel alone” that doesn’t mean I will not be meeting people. We are social creatures created by a God who loves interaction. People often exaggerate “lone travel” into something extreme like walking in the middle of the desert, carrying a heavy bag while thieves and scoundrels are out there to chase you.
I met a guy named Nam in Hanoi. Nam is from Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) who is travelling north Vietnam to show his friend (who also goes by the name Nam) around. While eating my sticky rice breakfast in my hotel, Nam was very busy booking a trip to Trang An, 2 hours south of Hanoi. After that, he approached me and asked me where I am from and what are my plans for the day.
“I am from the Philippines. I don’t have plans yet. I want to go to the Perfume Pagoda, though.”
“Oh. You should try Trang An and Bai Dinh instead of Perfume Pagoda. My friend and I will go there today. You want to join us?”
“Yes! I’d love to. As I’ve said, I don’t have plans yet.”, without thinking too much.
Nam is a very smart guy. He knows a lot about Vietnam and he knows his culture and tradition. I never got bored while traveling because his stories are really interesting. He’s also a good photographer. He’s generous enough to give me all his digital photos during our trip.
After the trip, Nam invited me to have dinner and beer with them.
Now who says I am alone?
2. For the nth time, I will say it here.. I AM A COUCHSURFER. I belong to the largest travel community in the world.
2 months ago, I hosted a Vietnamese guy named Dat during his big trip in the Philippines. Because of his interesting stories about Vietnam, I was able to book a flight there 2 weeks after his stay in our house.
During my 2nd day in Vietnam, Dat fetched me in my hotel and showed me around his beautiful city using his motorbike. I love the motorbike experience because of the fact that Vietnam is one of the countries with the most number of motorbike users. Dat took me to the religious and historical sites of Hanoi such as the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, The Temple of Literature and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. We also had Bun Cha for lunch and Traditional Ice Cream for snacks.
Although we just had a very limited time together because of his work, I can say that it’s one of the most unforgettable experience I had during the entire trip.
Now who says I am alone?
3. 1 Lone Traveler + 1 Lone Traveler = No Lone Traveler.
During my 2nd night in Hanoi, I have decided to watch the Than Long Water Puppet Show near the Hoan Kiem lake. There, I met a Japanese Guy named Daisuke which happened to be my seatmate for the entire show. He is also traveling alone in Vietnam.
After the show, it was raining really hard and I don’t have an umbrella with me. Daisuke volunteered to take me to my Hotel. It was really a kind gesture from a fellow traveler.
Other lone travelers I met during the trip is Luca from Italy and Ibrahim from Kuwait.
Now who says I am alone?
4. Will be writing on a separate post 😉