Here I am enjoying a latte at the San Francisco airport, more than a year since I returned from the beauty and spirit of Bali, about to embark on my second solo adventure. This time the friendly skies are taking me to Vietnam, a destination though despite its booming international tourism, still raises the eyebrow of even my most enlightened American friends. While my two-week stint in Bali certainly had its critics (“you’re going alone?” “you’re leaving your kids behind?” “you’re going alone?”), most people had at least seen “Eat Pray Love” and could visualize its relative safety and immense beauty. Vietnam? Well, not so much. Most people have seen “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Platoon.” They think Vietnam, they think war-torn country. In fact, Vietnam is one of the safest, most beautiful and most culturally rich places in all of Asia. My first stop, and the deciding factor for my focus on Northern Vietnam (8 days is simply not enough time to cover more than one or two places; my goodness, I’ve lived in Colorado now for 2 years and haven’t even scratched the surface of my own state), is Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is the largest and only inhabited island of the nearly 2,000 islands that sit in and around Ha Long Bay. A quick Google Image search yields the answer to the question I’ve been asked countless times: Why Vietnam?
I’m staying at the Cat Ba Eco Lodge, a “hotel” that is buried in the forested hills of the island and far away from what I understand is some fairly cheesy tourism in the main hub of Cat Ba Town. From my isolated piece of paradise I will hike, write, sleep, read, meditate, kayak to private beaches, laze about, or maybe try to spot one of the only 60 Cat Ba langurs that survive today (they are one of the most endangered species in the world).
For now, though, I just need to get through the first 24 hours of logistics completely absent of any Vietnamese speaking skills. Wish me luck!