Christmas in Hai Phong, Vietnam

It’s been a while since I wrote about my 6 month solo backpacking adventure but I’m determined to document the entire adventure before it fades too far into my memory. Continuing where I left off, which was in Bangkok, Thailand. I flew off to Hai Phong Vietnam, where I spent the Christmas holiday, met many wonderful new friends and got a much needed taste of home.

Vietnam was a last minute decision. It was December 2018, I was in India, I had already decided I would go to Thailand afterwards because I found a ridiculously cheap flight from Mumbai to Bangkok, but I didn’t know where I would spend Christmas on the road. I figured it would be in a hostel somewhere in Thailand, or I’d leave to Taipei, Hong Kong, maybe Manila? While I was pondering this, my friend back home in the States asked about how my trip was going and also suggested I stay at her Dad’s house in Vietnam for the holidays since I was ‘nearby’. He runs an English school for locals and most of the students and the volunteer teachers were around my age.

That sounded like a great place to spend Christmas so I applied for my Vietnam visa online and booked a flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Hai Phong, Vietnam.

In Hai Phong, I stayed in a room at my friend's Dad's house that doubled as a classroom during the day. It wasn't much but I loved it and I slept well. Although I let my guard down that first night and ended up getting 3 mosquito bites on my face while I was sleeping... After that I slept each night with a towel wrapped around my face, gloves, socks, and a fan pointed straight at me because I really hate mosquitoes and I'm moderately allergic to the ones in Asia.

Most nights I had dinner together with the family and the community of students that came by the house after class to hang out. There's nothing like having a home cooked meal on the other side of the world after having backpacked for 3+ months without a home.

Most of the English students were also medical students and they took me around to their university. This is a birds eye view of Hai Phong from the top of the medical school building. It's mostly an industrial, local town so I got to experience a lot of local flavors and culture that wasn't just gilded for tourism, which I love.

I became fast friends with the volunteer English teachers and the students there and we hung out a lot during my time in Hai Phong. We would go for KBBQ, get boba, help get groceries for the house, or hit up the local supermarket for ice cream. Everybody rode motorbikes everywhere, I didn't have to guts to learn how to drive one especially on the crowded and busy city streets.

Tim, Peter and Trang the resident volunteer teachers/helpers took me to nearby Cat Ba Island to check out some of the nature and scenery outside the city. It's in the same area as the vastly more famous Ha Long Bay has the same 'look' but way less crowded.

We took a boat through the bay of limestone rock formations and the floating villages underneath them. A lot of families lived on these houses built on floating rafts.

We also explored a cave in the middle of the island that was used as a hospital during the Vietnam War. It was chilling to walk through it and imagine what it would have been like to be here, hiding out and treating wounded personnel during wartime.

Cat Ba is pretty big so we spent a lot of time driving through the island and admiring the scenery. A lot of the island is undeveloped and was beautiful to drive through.

Everybody was so welcoming and they invited me to all their Christmas festivities. For one of them we did a white elephant gift exchange with about 50 of the students, it was a ton of fun and I was so happy to be there.

A lot of the students would come by at night for dinner and to hang out after classes. On one of the nights we spontaneously started a jam session. Tim who is one of the English teachers plays guitar and together we sang everything from U.S. pop songs like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran to Vietnamese pop songs, to Christmas songs.

I spent my last day in Hai Phong hanging out with everybody I had gotten to know over the past week. We got food and walked around a nice mall in the city, found a park to hang out in and took cheesy photos.

We also got a ton of ice cream bars and ate it together in the park. Throughout the day I just couldn't help but think about how much I was going to miss all the friends I had made here.

I loved my time in Hai Phong, I still have all the Christmas cards everybody wrote me before I left. It was such a warm and special destination on my trip because it felt like I was visiting old friends and not like I was just showing up there for the first time. I remember thinking about how I could plan a route to loop back here once I wrapped up my trip in Asia and started heading East to Africa or Europe (I never ended up continuing east, but I didn’t know that at the time). Out of my entire trip, Hai Phong is the place I remember with the most fondness because it’s the place I smiled and laughed the most.

I stayed in Hai Phong, Vietnam between December 19th - 26th, 2018. I left the day after Christmas and took a bus to Hanoi. Once I got there I had to haggle for a ride to the airport and it ended up being the scariest ground transportation experience I have ever had in my life (scariest flight experience is still flying out of Lukla nested in the Himalayas). I spent an hour clinging onto the back of a tiny motorbike going an average of 120 mph down empty city highways in the middle of the night. Miraculously I arrived at the airport in one piece. All I could think about the entire time was how dead I was going to be if we hit even the smallest bump or pothole in the road.

My next stop: Tokyo.