Tết Traveling, Part 1: Vũng Tàu

Cần Thơ at night
Cần Thơ at night

After returning from Guam it was time for Vietnam’s biggest holiday: Tết. Tết is the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar new year, and is celebrated anywhere from 3-14 days. If you were to compare it to an American holiday, it would be something like Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. Everyone goes back to their hometowns to spend time with their families and ring in the new year by cleaning, buying new clothes, and visiting friends and neighbors.

Out for an evening walk with my uncle
Out for an evening walk with my uncle

In the weeks leading up to the holiday I watched as Cần Thơ transformed in preparation for the holiday. While christmas-style lights had been up since December, February saw flower markets spring up all over the city. Apricot blossoms are the symbol of Tết, and they were suddenly everywhere. It was beautiful to see, and as more and more decorations went up, I got more and more excited for my holiday plans.

Family reunion in Cần Thơ
Family reunion in Cần Thơ

While most Vietnamese go home to visit family, I had just seen my parents in January, and had made plans to spend most of the holiday traveling on my own, which was looking a bit lonely. Luckily for me, right before Tết my uncle Brad came to visit, and I was able to show him around my new home in all of its decorated glory. We rode bikes, ate in my favorite restaurants, did a bit of walking around the city center and even went to high tea. It was really good to see family, and it was fun to host my first (and possibly only) visitor. Thanks again, Brad!

High tea with family and friends (Brad's on the other side of the camera).
High tea with family and friends (Brad’s on the other side of the camera).

Right after Brad’s visit my holiday truly began with a 6-hour bus to Vũng Tàu with friends. My housemate, Peter, had invited us to spend a few days with his family and hang out at the beach. We hopped on a sleeper bus Saturday morning and, after taking full advantage of the reclined seat/beds (and the delicious pancakes sold at the rest stop), arrived in Vũng Tàu in the late afternoon. We all set our stuff down at Peter’s family’s house, then took a walk out of town and by the water to get a feel for our surroundings. I guess we walked in the right direction, since we had a nice view of the sunset over the ocean.

Taking in an seaside sunset.
Taking in a seaside sunset. (thanks for the photo, Selina!)

After a while we realized that it was getting late and went back to the house for a delicious seafood dinner with Peter’s family. After dinner another friend arrived, and we all went out for bubble tea, which was probably the clumsiest evening I have had in years. The tapioca “bubbles” were too big for the straws, and so they would get stuck as we drank. One by one we all had this happen, then attempted to pull the straw out and get the “bubble” off of the end, while simultaneously spilling tea all over ourselves and the table. It was like something out of a comic skit, as we would laugh at one person and then turn around and do the same exact thing. We went home with sides that hurt from laughing and hands sticky from bubble tea.

Beach yoga with Selina.
Beach yoga with Selina.

The next day was our beach day, and we went all out. It took maybe 15-20 minutes by taxi to get to the nice beach, and we walked a ways before staking our claim to a stretch of clean sand. I had brought along a book and had intended to spend most of the day reading under an umbrella, since I’m not a big swimmer, but as the day went on I found myself jumping in and having a lot of fun.

We spent the entire day by the water, swimming, eating ice cream and taking tons of ridiculous photos. We buried one person in the sand, and I even took a stab at making a sand-sculpture. Yes, it was a sand manatee.

What else would I make but a sand manatee?
What else would I make but a sand manatee?

The next day our numbers began to dwindle. Selina and her friends from the US had to catch a 6am bus back to Tra Vinh, and they had to be at the bus station by 3am to ensure that they could get a seat (they don’t do reservations and every type of travel was crowded for the holiday), so when I woke up they were already long gone. Everyone was moving slowly that morning, and I was a bit burnt after a day in the sun, so we decided against going back to the beach and instead went out for coffee. Peter and Marc hung back and stayed at the house, so I spent a few hours sipping coffee, eating banh mi and talking with Laura and Hang. I can’t exactly say why, but I think this was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip, just hanging out and talking with friends. By the time Peter and Marc met up with us it was already time for lunch, and we were treated to another delicious home-cooked meal with Peter’s family.

Beach buddies. They guys weren't as into the photo shoot.
Beach buddies. They guys weren’t as into the photo shoot.

In the afternoon Marc took off for the airport, and the remaining four of us decided to go to the city center and find a gift to give Peter’s family for letting us stay with them. We ended up at the local Lotte Mart and ate a super healthy lunch of KFC and pastries, caught an afternoon movie, and then bought a cake as our gift. When we got back to the house and gave Peter’s family the cake, we learned that it was actually his aunt’s birthday, and so the cake was super appropriate.

Cake with Peter and his family
Cake with Peter and his family

The next day was our last day in Vũng Tàu, and we decided to once again have a lazy morning at a nearby coffee shop, where Laura, Hang and I planned out an extravagant evening in Ho Chi Minh City, where we were all headed that night before going our separate ways. We had one last meal with Peter’s family and then caught a bus into HCMC.

After dropping stuff off at the hotel we went out in search of our chosen restaurant. After sitting in traffic for a while we made it to the restaurant only to learn that it was closed for the holiday. So we then took off on foot for plan b, which was also closed. We walked around from place to place only to find that all of the places we had planned on were closed, all of our second and third and fourth choices were also closed, and eventually we ended up walking all the way back to the backpacker district, where we had halfway decent (by Vietnamese standards) Mexican food. The night sounds like a disaster on paper but it was actually a funny adventure, going from place to place only to end up back where we had started. It seemed like a good way to end the first leg of my holiday before setting off on my own.

IMG_2849

The next day I embarked on my first true solo vacation, four days of shopping, sightseeing and drag queens in Singapore, but that’s a story for next time.

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