Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Weekend in the Countryside

            Disclaimer: Let me first tell you that as I write this, Monday the 30th, I have spent the last two weeks visiting/being visited by countless relatives and people, so if I can't recall their name or who they are and refer to them as “the relatives” or “a relative”, please forgive me.

When I think of Vietnam, I don't usually think Pine trees and fog (I associate that more with Oregon), but that's exactly what I got on the weekend of the 14th. Tet was upon us and it was time to visit relatives, so my family brought me to my Host mother’s town, around 50 miles northwest of Hanoi.

Graves overlooking a beautiful lake
            We boarded our train at around 6 am on Saturday, not the most pleasant departure time, but we had a lot of things to do once we got to town, so it was a necessary sacrifice. Let me tell you, These Vietnamese commuter trains are no Bullet trains. They have a max. speed of around 25 miles an hour, and I’m fairly confident that the cars haven’t been replaced since before the war.  They also have bars across the windows, to prevent any escape from the ridged wooden park benches that substitute as train seats. Of course they are equipped with the classic ‘hole’ toilet that dumps directly onto the tracks, because it doesn't smell bad enough along the tracks already.

            Of course some of this is exaggerated, well, actually it isn’t now that I think about it…  Even Amtrak puts this train to shame.

The temple in all of its majesty 
            So after about 3 and a half hours aboard, we finally disembarked at the Ga Phú Tho (Phu Tho railroad station). We were met by some relatives, who showed us the way to their house. Once there, we were introduced to some more relatives, like my host mom’s siblings, her aunt and others. After a round of tea, we met some more relatives, who took us out to the family grave site, located in a quite pasture overlooking a fog covered lake, surrounded by tall pine trees, it was quite surreal in the late morning mist. Buried there were her grandparents and father. Her grandmother lived to be 96! Which is incredible for a person living in 20th century Vietnam. She lived in 3 different countries and didn't even have to move out of the house; colonial France, North Vietnam, and finally, Vietnam. That must have been quite extraordinary to live through. We then lit some incents for them and said some prayers, and continued on with our countryside adventure.

Pine trees in Vietnam, who would've guessed?
            We returned to the house, where we ate lunch, and then went on a excursion to a temple that honors the mother of Vietnam. The temple is set high up in the hills, and on this particular day, was covered in a thick layer of fog. This place in really off the beaten track for tourist, well it really was never on the path to begin with. We practically had the hill to ourselves on this cold January day. The temples were, great, really dramatic with the fog in the background. By the time we finished our hike it was nearly dark. We gathered the party together, the 4 of us, plus 2 other relatives, one of which was also the driver, and drove to the city of Viet Tri (51 klicks NW of Hanoi) for dinner with a friend of my host dad. It was a seafood dinner, and was actually very good, I got to make my own fish rolls out of rice paper, star fruit, banana and fish, and I have to say I was impressed with my cooking abilities.

I don't know about you, but I appreciate when my
train cars are heavily fortified 
            We then drove back through the rain to Phu Tho, around 15 miles or so. We spent the night at my Aunt and uncle’s house back in town. We wouldn't be there long, because we had an 8 o’clock train to catch back to Hanoi. Looking back, I honestly think I could have jogged it back to Hanoi faster than that train. The return trip of around 45-50 miles took a little over 4 hours. But that's all not what I will remember most about this trip. What I will remember is the kindness and warmth of the family out in the country, and even though I don't even know who a good 9/10ths of them are, I still really liked them and their hospitality. Until next time, this is Andrew Abroad. 


  1. Wow Andrew I can't believe your journey and all of the crazy food you ate! Live ants, wow.

  2. Wow Andrew! You were staying in beautiful place! The first picture is so colorful and full of imagination. By the way this is a Santa Barbara middle school kid. :D :D :D

  3. I love all the colors and shapes in the first picture, it is an amazing g thing.
    -Sadie from Jim's Class

  4. That is so cool. You got to ride an elephant! i have always wanted to do that