When we were staying at the delightful homestay in Ninh Binh, we met an awesome family from Quebec. We met them over one of the best meals of our entire trip: a homemade hot pot, made with the freshest ingredients by the mother of the house, one of the best cooks we’ve ever met. And by fresh, I mean freshly-killed-chicken-from-their-backyard fresh.
What made this dinner even more memorable was the ambiance. All the guests and the host family sat on the ground in a circle around the hotpot, which was very conducive to conversation. The father of the house kept pouring us “happy water” (a spirit made from rice that makes you happy) shots, which definitely contributed to the flowing conversation.
Long after dinner was served, shots were
forced down taken, and most of the small talk pleasantries were out of the way, we got to talking with this family about their story. The mom and dad were a good-looking, youthful couple with an older son (probably late teens) and a younger daughter (early teens).
We were very impressed that they chose to take a family vacation in Vietnam. Traveling throughout the country isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and we rarely saw young families during our travels through Southeast Asia. (However, we did meet one other similar family who we fell in love with, and we met them in Vietnam as well, but that’s a whole other story…)
While my family frequented Disney World and the mountains of Colorado for our family vacations, this family was fully immersing themselves in other cultures. And I mean fully. Example: the mother said she tried to take her kids to a lady-boy show in Thailand, but they refused… (she’s not like the other moms, she’s a cool mom!)
We got to talking about our favorite places we’ve been around the world, and the parents seemed polarized by one place: India. When the mom said India was her favorite place, the dad looked positively shocked by this admission. They had been there three months prior, and he said he was still processing their trip. When we asked the mom to explain why she loved India, she said one word – chaos.
Pete and I looked at each other confused – why would anyone want chaos? Isn’t that something that people generally avoid during a vacation?
Seeing our confusion, she explained that while she loves places like Thailand that are user-friendly and well-worn by decades of travelers, those places don’t feed her soul with the same sense of excitement. She likes being thrown head-first into a completely different culture, struggling for air at times, but knowing that when she comes home, she’ll have had a life-changing experience.
At the time, I didn’t really get it. I mean, I definitely understood where she was coming from with this line of thinking, but I didn’t think I would ever choose chaos. I certainly wouldn’t seek it out…right?
Fast-forward to now: I’m sitting in our cute Airbnb apartment in Cape Town, reflecting on everything we’ve been through the past 8 months. What’s the place that Pete and I can’t get out of our minds? Vietnam.
Why is this strange?
Well, if you asked us a few months ago about our favorite destinations, we would’ve certainly said Thailand – it was cheap, easy, the food was incredible, and it wasn’t too overwhelming. Vietnam? Not so much. It was hectic; over-whelming; after a full month traveling the country, we couldn’t wait to leave and get some peace and quiet. Sure, we did some incredibly cool things like float in a mud cave, kayak around Lan Ha Bay, drive a scooter around the mountains of Phong Nha, float lanterns in Hoi An.
But what about the stuff that doesn’t sound as cool on paper?
Struggling to cross the street because of the ridiculous motorbike traffic
Meeting crazy cool people on an overnight sleeper bus
Hanging out on little plastic chairs, certain they were about to break at any moment
Sharing a smile with a farmer sitting on a bull
Sweating our brains out from the moment we stepped outside…every. single. day
Being pointed and laughed at constantly because of Pete’s height
Being led through an actual jungle among spiders and crabs
Strolling around a park filled with people exercising, not caring at all about what they look like
Being the main attraction on a long, local train ride
These are the things that stuck with us.
The things that made our travels meaningful, unique. And these moments and feelings we are remembering with fondness 6 months later? You guessed it – they were all pretty chaotic at the time.
While the rest of our travels have been (for the most part) extremely easy, Vietnam challenged us. It stimulated all our senses simultaneously, made us uncomfortable, showed us (wait for it…) a whole new world. I guess my point is that, although I thought she was a little crazy at the time, I wholeheartedly agree with the woman we met in Ninh Binh.
Sure, you can choose to live life comfortably, never leaving your bubble. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take relaxing vacations, because there’s definitely something to be said for unwinding on a beach. But in my opinion, the most memorable, educational, life-changing experiences come when you leave your comfort zone and immerse yourself in something totally new.
Do you think seeking chaos on a vacation is crazy? Have you ever been to a place that was so overwhelming it took you a while to process?