bloganuary · Travel

Bloganuary: “What fear have you conquered?” + Happy New Year in Hanoi

Today’s Bloganuary prompt is challenging for me, as I can’t exactly say that I have “conquered” any fear, but I have definitely tamed a few. Some fears are hungry bugbears that need habitual discipline to keep them at bay.

I am writing to you from my vacation digs in Hanoi, Vietnam, where I arrived solo almost three days ago, ignorant of the language, and inexperienced in the culture and local customs. The people are today celebrating the eve of Tết Nguyên Đán, or Festival of the first day (a version of the Lunar New Year that is observed across Asia). It’s a joyful time of family and new beginnings.

This current state of being a stranger in a strange land is a happy and stimulating one for me, and not so unusual now. I have lived abroad for more than 10 years, traveled much in the last 25, and grown to enjoy how new places test my judgment and self-reliance. I also treasure the generosity of spirit and acts of kindness from strangers that regularly happen along the way. Venturing out into the world alone has reinforced my curiosity, equanimity, and resourcefulness.

There was a time when I didn’t trust myself or the world as much, though. I would have found traveling alone and living abroad formidable – overwhelming, even. Back then, I didn’t know yet what strength I possessed. It took me years of “doing the thing I am afraid of,” to begin a truce with this particular fear. I am never completely without moments of apprehension when traveling alone, though, which I think in small doses is indispensable.

VIDEO: Halong Bay on January 19, 2023, a little overcast but warm. These jagged karsts are pure limestone, shaped by eons of tides and weather. There is impressive biodiversity here, and some of the islands conceal mind-boggling cave systems.

My first adventure in Vietnam was on Thursday, when I took a day-long boat tour of Halong Bay, one of the world’s ecological treasures and a place of primeval wonder. Normally, I don’t take structured tours such as this, but I’m glad I did. I was fortunate to be seated near some Canadian and British folks who became great companions for the day. They are all much more adventurous and knowledgeable about Vietnam than I, and had fascinating travel stories to tell.

My photography isn’t good, but even if it was, I’m not sure I could convey the beauty and scale of this place. The area is vast, with many more islands than I had imagined.

A journey to Halong Bay wouldn’t be complete without visiting Sung Sot (Surprise Cave), a subterranean wonder discovered in 1901, and only open to the public in 1993.

VIDEO: Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave), on Bo Hon island, is the largest and one of the most beautiful caves in Halong Bay.

Sung Sot cave actually refers to two connected compartments, forming one giant cave on Bo Hon island. Visitors pass through the cave system from the smallest to largest chamber, and encounter stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient pools formed from rain leaking into the crevices and gradually sculpting the limestone. As I walked through the space with its naturally vaulted ceiling, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a grand opera house – one with extraordinary acoustics, and an outlandish interior design.

A kayak and bamboo boat adventure followed, and after several island stops, walks, and a two-hour ride back to Hanoi, I was ready to crash when I arrived at my hotel. It was a day of sensory richness that deserved a lot of reflection.

It is fitting to do more reflection tonight, as we say goodbye to the Tiger, and hello to the Year of the Rabbit. The rabbit is the fourth animal in the Chinese zodiac, symbolizing grace, beauty, favors, and good fortune. I’m told by those into Chinese astrology to predict a calm 2023; in keeping with the rabbit’s traits, we can expect a year of relaxation, quietness, and contemplation. I’m skeptical, but I hope we can enjoy at least a little of the rabbit’s vibe this year.**

**Note on January 22: My hotel concierge explained to me this morning that the Vietnamese celebrate the cat, not the rabbit, this year. It is different from South Korea, for example. I am not sure why this is so – he didn’t explain, but I should look into it! One thing I know is the cat is not part of the Chinese zodiac, that I am aware of. I will check in later with what I find out.

6 thoughts on “Bloganuary: “What fear have you conquered?” + Happy New Year in Hanoi

  1. Wow! What an jam-packed and exciting day you had! I had no idea there were so many islands in the Bay! And I can see what you mean by the beauty of the area! It’s magnificent! The caves were pretty impressive too! It is lovely reading about your travels!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My wife and I love to travel and love to be adventurous. We stay away from guided tours as well for the most part. Traveling to Vietnam is not on our list but your story so far is intriguing. Thank you. Your adventure looks truly amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I was lucky to run into some nice people on my cruise to Halong Bay who think as you do, but had some time to fit the tour into their schedule. I think all of us really enjoyed it. The company planned things well and kept things flexible.
      One thing about guided tours is that if you aren’t having a good time, you are bit stuck. I like them occasionally when I am a total newbie to a place and I’d like an overview. Otherwise, I prefer to be left to my own devices.

      Liked by 1 person

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