This Expat Life: Month 30 (Vietnam)

I’ve now been in Nha Trang for six weeks. What can I say? It feels really nice to be back in Vietnam. A lot of you might not know this, but this is actually my third lengthy visit to the country. The first time was during a month-long backpacking trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in 2006, and the second was during a month-long stint in Central Vietnam in 2013.

Chinese Architecture - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Sometimes it bums me out that I didn’t start a travel blog until I was 31 years old. I’ve been traveling the world since I was 19. I’ve had so many travel experiences that I’ve never written about before, including those first and second trips to Vietnam. All that exists of those trips are my fading memories and some not-so-wonderful photos taken with my point-and-shoot camera.

Blogging has done so much to change the way I travel. Not only has it pushed me to take more and better photos of the places I explore, but it has made me a more present traveler. The mere act of writing about my life and travels – the dishes I eat, the mishaps I endure, the sights I see – has given me the gift of vividly remembering the experiences I have. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Boats in Nha Trang, Vietnam

Anyway, my point is that although I’ve never blogged about Vietnam before, this is far from my first foray into the country. When I first traveled here as a 24 year old, Vietnam felt incredibly foreign. But now that I’ve spent years living and traveling in Southeast Asia, this country feels so much more familiar. And because I spent a month living in an apartment in Nha Trang in 2013, this city feels a tiny bit like home.

Before I touched down in Nha Trang a month and a half ago I already knew the precise location of my favorite banh mi food cart, I could picture the smiling face of my landlord, I could see the city’s seemingly unending stretch of beach. It was nice to return to something (at least a little) familiar.

Beach in Nha Trang, Vietnam

A lot of people argue against traveling to the same destination more than once. I used to feel the same way, in fact. But I’ve been doing this travel thing for awhile now, so it’s only natural that my travel style has changed over the years.

While I’ve done my fair share of traveling during the past few years I’ve actually only visited a handful of new countries in that time. The majority of places I travel to nowadays are places I’ve been to before. And guess what? It’s been awesome!

Ba Ho Waterfall - Nha Trang, Vietnam
I had no idea this bad boy even existed during my first trip to Nha Trang!
It was so nice to spend the month of January getting reacquainted with Vietnam, and Nha Trang in particular. The best part about returning to a destination is having the chance to get to know it more intimately. And this trip to Nha Trang has been totally different than my first trip to the city.

In fact, last month turned out to be an extra special time to be in Vietnam because January 28 marked the celebration of Tet (also known as Lunar New Year). Tet can be a strange time to travel in Vietnam because during the one to two weeks surrounding the New Year many Vietnamese flock from the major cities to their hometowns. Cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City turn into ghost towns, businesses and restaurants temporarily shutter their doors, and motorbikes seem to vanish from the roads.

Vietnamese Flags - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Nha Trang, on the other hand, happens to be a wildly popular city for Vietnamese and foreign tourists to celebrate Tet. So while numerous businesses did close up shop (including my beloved banh mi cart), things were still pretty hopping here. It was a joy to experience the frenzy and customs leading up to the big day. As per tradition, bunches of yellow flowers, small orange trees and Vietnamese flags were placed in the entrances of homes and businesses, large families could be seen gathering in their living rooms around enormous (and I mean enormous) feasts, really loud karaoke emanated down alleyways, and impromptu parties were held on the side of the road.

Nha Trang During Tet 2017
Happy Lunar New Year!
My landlord threw a small Tet party for Aaron, me and the other tenants in the building. And I was given the honor of being the first person to enter her family’s home at midnight on the New Year. As per tradition, the first person to enter a home after the new year will bestow luck on the home and family. It’s always interesting to be a part of traditions that are different from my own.

Tet festivities aside, most of the month was spent working. But I did manage to pull myself away from my laptop on a few occasions to hike up the beautiful Ba Ho Waterfall and swim in its natural pools, lounge on a stunning stretch of beach just outside of the city, and motorbike through impossibly green rice paddies.

Ba Ho Waterfall - Nha Trang, Vietnam
Not a bad spot for a swim.
The weather didn’t exactly cooperate last month, so I didn’t do quite as much traveling and sightseeing during my free time as I would have liked. But I’ll take what I can get. And hey, when you’re in a city that has no end of amazing vegetarian Vietnamese food, can you really complain?

Vegetarian Restaurant - Nha Trang, Vietnam
Man, I’m going to miss the food when I go back to Beijing next week!

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Nha Trang from above. #Vietnam

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This Expat Life: Month 30 (Vietnam) - Travel Lush

How did your January shape up?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

6 thoughts on “This Expat Life: Month 30 (Vietnam)

  1. Lovely article.
    I was in Vietnam (Hanoi) during Tet 2015 and although it messed up my travel plans, it was nice to see how they celebrate it.

    I actually love to travel to the same destination more than once, because you always see new things there too! I did that a lot in Cambodia and Thailand…..I love going back to a city I know, makes me feel like a local LOL.
    (But I also love to explore a new city).

    Already looking forward to next months recap 🙂

    x
    stephanie recently posted…Travel guide: Pai, Thailand

    1. I totally agree! I’ve been to so many cities around the world multiple times – Havana, Penang, Bali… to name a few – and every time I visit I have a completely different experience. It’s true that the more time you spend in a place the more you understand its local flavor. That being said I ALWAYS love traveling to new places too 😉

  2. ‘Lovely post!

    The thing I miss most apart from the lovely blue-green sea, and the fantastically clean night trains, are the steaming bowls of Pho!

    I live in East Berlin which has a large Vietnamese community, so rather than every corner being a Chinese or Indian restaurant, around my gentrified neighbourhood, it’s Vietnamese! However, you can get some good bowls of soup, and excellent service, but you never get Pho with the bitter vegetables, and the spicy side dishes, it’s all rather blanded out and Germanised.

    I miss it so. Sigh!
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted…A Beginners’ Guide to the Berlinale, otherwise known as the Berlin International Film Festival 2017!

    1. I know what you mean. I’m missing the food desperately already… and I’ve only been gone two weeks! We do have some Vietnamese restaurants in Beijing, but it’s just not the same.

  3. Hi Justine!

    It’s been a while since we visited each other’s blog! Sounds like so much has happened in the past one year. Your Southeast Asia expat living has been enriching. Looking forward to hearing more from you. 🙂

    1. Hi Renuka! It’s so nice to hear from you. Ha, life has been so hectic lately. I’ve found it tough to keep up with all of my favorite blogs. But I do pop over to yours from time to time 🙂 I hope all is well!

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