Back at the Dragon… and back home :-(

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

My last day in Vietnam and the last proper day of my trip. A sad day, as ever, more-so due to some events back home over which I had no control, but that is for another blog.

To cheer myself up I hopped on a xe om up to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation to catch up with Mike and the staff. As I blogged last year, they’re in a new building not far from the Red River though this time it was much quieter. When I visited in 2008 it was the summer holidays and there were children everywhere. Today there were maybe a dozen or so making use of the facilities as the rest were attending school.

Over lunch, I got talking to a couple of the staff and a few ideas began to germinate. There are a couple of IT-related questions they’d been pondering over and I managed to throw in a bit more information which will hopefully help them make some decisions. It’s nice to feel useful!

I also sat and talked to two of the Vietnamese staff for over an hour about my travels, predominantly around Vietnam. Both have been around their home country as well as to Thailand and Cambodia. It’s really interesting to compare their experiences with my own, particularly impressions and the way people respond to you.

Overall my experiences with people in Asia have been fantastic. Sure, there’s always someone trying to make a fast buck out of you (or cut to the chase and steal your wallet) but name me a European country where that’s not the case. But for every one of them, there’s a table of seven in a roadside restaurant that insist you share their food and drink. Or a Javanese grandmother on a train proffering doughnuts during Ramadan. Or a Japanese train guard that insists you wait there until he finds someone who speaks better English than him so that you can get the information you require. Or a taxi driver who actually wants to save you money by taking you to a bus stop nearer by so that you don’t miss the coach to Hoi An. Or two men sat on the beach who don’t speak a word of English, but just want to sit with you and share shots of rice wine. Or…

You get my point.

Every time I arrive in Hanoi, I get a little tingle. I feel like I know the place, I know how it works, I know where to go. And yet every time it’s different. There are new shops, new places to get food, a new nightclub to go to, new faces to see and get to know.

One thing that never changes is the hustle and bustle. It’s a city that’s genuinely alive. The only other place I like anywhere near as much is Bangkok and of the two, I’d prefer to stay here than in the Thai capital. It’s a tight decision, I admit, but Hanoi nudges it.

A major factor in this tipping of the scales is the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. If I’m here, I can be useful as well as enjoying myself. If I’m feeling low, as I was today, then the warm greeting from Mike (seriously – is he ever not happy to see someone?) and the smiles and laughter of the children is enough to lift anyone out of a deep blue funk.

Another is the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel which has – deservedly – gone from strength to strength over the six or so years it’s been open. Near tripling in size last year and now the proud parent of it’s first proper offspring in Hue. Mike and Max really know how to run a great place. Without a doubt there are cheaper places to stay in Hanoi, but there is absolutely none better for the independent traveller.

Fifty-some countries, probably a similar number of hostels and this is still the best one I’ve stayed in. No argument.

So I’m sat in the BDCF office, tapping this up as Mike’s in a meeting. In an hour or so I’ll have to say my goodbyes before I return to the hostel, grab some dinner, then hoik my rucksack onto my back and catch the airport bus.

At 20:55 (delays allowing), I’ll be on an Air Asia flight to Bangkok. At 08:45 tomorrow, I’ll be airborne courtesy of Etihad on the way to Heathrow via Abu Dhabi (the next place I’m likely to get online – Bangkok really needs to get its act together as regards wifi).

All going well, I’ll be back on English soil by 18:30 on Wednesday.

And I’ll be that little sadder for it.

I love my home country (and my adopted one north of the border), but I’ll miss Vietnam and Hanoi in particular.

So until the next time, Vietnam. And there will be a next time. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

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6 thoughts on “Back at the Dragon… and back home :-(

  1. Just read your post back to back with another that was sad to leave Vietnam and, in particular, Hanoi.

    Still can’t quite work out why it get its hooks into people more than anywhere else I’ve ever been but it does.

    Happy and safe travelling.

  2. I must have talked to 100 people in the hostel over the last three days. Not one thought that Vietnam, or Hanoi in particular, was any less than “pretty cool”. The majority were in “I love this” territory.

    Partly I think it’s the sense of freedom. Despite having a communist government – which for many of us gives images of grey buildings and people in uniforms watching your house all day – they’ve got more freedom than I believe we have in the UK nowadays. No Aunty Government stopping them making their own mind up about many things.

    As for bureaucracy and red tape, I defy anyone to prove to me that the UK version is any worse than Vietnam’s.

  3. Hi Iain,

    You’ll b ein the UK by the time you read this. Genuinely sorry we didn’t get a chance to catch up in Hanoi, would have been a blast.

    All the best when you get home fella – I hope shit works out for you.

    Andy

  4. Yup, I’m back in the UK. Sadly. Sure we can catch up somewhere/when. Enjoy the rest of Vietnam. Five visits and I’m promising myself at least a sixth. Love the place so much.

  5. home is where the heart is.
    it’s funny, a lot of travelers i know love their home, but they only feel complete when they’re in a different, specific place. mine’s hawaii. but there are other places that have potential too.

    • Yeah, but right now I don’t know where my heart is. It *was* back here, but it’s just been broken again… Hence one reason why I’d rather be back in Hanoi.

      Not been to Hawaii as yet. I’ll do you a swap one day! I also need to get to Vancouver, where I believe you come from? I’ve met so many people from there who I’ve stayed in touch with just not had the budget for the whole of North America. Big place and European prices.

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