I used to do this thing where I logged every flight I took. I would count each unique flight to track how many total airplanes I've been on. The last time I tallied (January 2006), I'd been on 154 different aircraft.
I don't do that anymore.
Because I've been to Vietnam.
My feet have traversed the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh cities.
My eyes have gazed upon the Mekong Delta.
To me, this is epic. This is truly getting out there and seeing the world. I envisioned it as the ultimate Zone travel feature. An end all, be all travel experience. And in many ways it was.
The journey to Vietnam happened sort of by chance. This trip was planned as dual-purpose. The first reason was to attend the wedding of one of my brothers. This meant traveling to Göteborg to throw it down viking-style. The second reason was to celebrate getting my sheepskin.
Fortunately, from my many years of travel I had somewhere close to a ga-bazillion skymiles. Enough in fact to fly us to southeast asia for free. We planned to party at the wedding, chill in Göteborg for a week or so, then jet off to Thailand.
Well, you know how the airlines work. When we called to book, we ran up against firm blackout dates. They couldn't get us anywhere near Phuket or Bangkok.. anything.
My wife is a rock star. Her mind operates on a level that few people achieve. I'm serious. There's an exchange that happens often in our house. Or rather, a running commentary. It goes like this:
Me: "You know, I could swear that your degree on the wall says, 'Bachelor of Fine Arts.' Not doctor of dermatology, doctor of psychology, master of culinary arts, master of sociology, therapist, counselor, lawyer, scientist, surgeon, cartographer......"
You get the picture.
Now, of course I'm being facetious when I say this to her. It's usually to get her off my back about something. But her knowledge and verve do come in handy.
Airline Representative: "I'm sorry, we can't fly you into Bangkok during those dates."
Me: (Groan) "Hmmmmmm....."
My wife: (flipping through a Time Out travel guide) "What about Ho Chi Minh city? Can you fly us into Ho Chi Minh city?"
(at no point had we ever considered or discussed Vietnam)
Airline Representative: "Sure. I can fly you into Ho Chi Minh City, but I don't have availability to fly you out from there."
Me: (Groan) "Hmmmmmm....."
My wife: (blurting out suggestions beside me as I held the phone) "How about Hanoi? Can you fly us out from Hanoi?"
Airline Representative: "That we can do. You're all set."
And just like that, there we were. Needing to make it from one end of Vietnam to the other, dead or alive, to catch our departing flight.
I'll be honest. After I hung up the phone, my heart started racing. I had no idea what we'd just gotten into. I had no impressions or expectations of Vietnam whatsoever. My idea of Vietnam was limited to what I'd gleaned from watching those Rambo movies in the 80's. I started envisioning us lost in some remote village, surrounded by angry locals, with me trying to defend us bare-handed. (This is just how clueless I was)
For shame, I know.
Eventually, my shock subsided, and we began to do research. We scoured the Lonely Planet message boards. We read the New York Times' online travel guide. We interrogated a friend who had been there.
And we came to realize....
that we'd unwittingly made an awesome choice.