My first month in Vietnam as an intern

My first month in Vietnam as an intern

A month in Vietnam: a new perspective

I’m standing in terminal 2, Dublin airport, where another excited mountain biker bids his family and friends farewell to travel across to Southeast Asia. Specifically, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon).

A little background: My name is Iosac Coleman, and I’m a lifelong mountain biker, runner and a very frequent traveler. So much so I could happily confess as a ‘travel junkie’ if there was ever an AA equivalent group to confess to. But, there’s a double catch. I had never been beyond the continent of Europe and I wouldn’t consider myself a BUSY city person. I love being in the quiet mountains.

This means I’ve never been too far out beyond my cultural realms, until now. And, in this short blog, I am going to (try) approximate my first month in Saigon….So, here I go!

Firstly, people can tell you all the amazing things about Vietnam, and they could be really poetic in their description, it sure hyped me up in painting a picture before I left. But it was just that. In other words, it was knowledge by description, I had no visceral understanding. It’s the kind of experience I would say cannot be described. Until, you have had the felt experience.This is knowledge by acquaintance.

Getting acquainted with Saigon​

As I hopped on the back of Jack's bike, little did I know that leaving Tan Son Nhat international airport is like joining a chaotic shoal of fish. Motorbikes are everywhere, with no particular rules (and if there’s rules, everyone’s breaking them). And then there’s the incessant symphony of beeping. Distinguishing whether it’s coming from behind or in front of you becomes a challenge in itself.

I was starting to understand what everyone had been telling me as we drove further into the center, the only thing they left out was how the thick humid air clenches you tight as soon as you leave the AC. To which I found out quickly as I took the streets.

The energy on the streets is practically palpable. It’s a city juxtaposed by crazy not stop motorbikes and those who are hanging out watching it all go by on small plastic stools that line nearly every sidewalk. Life is practically lived on the streets. I sensed this beautiful shared love of socializing, both anywhere and at any time.

 

Your eyes are being constantly attacked for attention, wonderfully wandering around. Your nose also starts to pull you in all directions. It’s a minefield for your senses. You're like a puppet to it all, and walking around trying to make sense of it all is simply exhausting.

I knew it was certainly going to be a cultural shock, I was expecting change... But not to this level. My first day in Saigon had my emotions as the word literally confers - in motion! They were all over the place.

Motorbikes, motorbikes and more motorbikes

A lot of Saigon’s atmosphere is brought by the millions of bikes that flood the streets each day, and if you haven’t sensed it already, I initially found it overwhelming. So like any sensible weekend plan, it would include an escape from the city - which, ironically was on a motorbike.

Once again I set off on the back of Jack’s motorbike - Destination: Bến Tre, in the Mekong Delta region. Famous for its coconuts and typical rural vietnam vibe. I felt like I was in the jungle with Tarzan, everything was so lush and thick. But it’s a completely different story by night, I woke up, not to the usual humdrum of bikes at 4.30 am but from the immense noise beyond our little cabin. The chirping of the birds, the croaking of the frogs and other critters alike, and then the non stop cock-a-doodle-doo of the roosters. It was a very different symphony to that of Saigon.

With all this madness in the streets, you might as well dance with it. I drove my first motorbike and the feeling of making your way from A to B was exhilarating. I urge those who are thinking of coming to Saigon to join the chaotic shoals of fish through the streets as it’s a lot of fun.

For the love of cycling.

As I mentioned, bikes have been an integral part of my life, it continuously defines how my life is lived. It’s the reason that brought me to this beautiful country halfway across the globe.

It’s also the reason why I constantly go cycling - It brings me to places I would have never seen otherwise. 

This brings me to my bikepacking trip with Jack. A weekend of electrified exploration on the Saigon bike - We stuffed our backpack with the few things we required for an overnighter, jumped on a ferry and set sail to Vung Tau to cycle along the coast and then back to Saigon.

As I mentioned, bikes have been an integral part of my life, it continuously defines how my life is lived. It’s the reason that brought me to this beautiful country halfway across the globe.

It’s also the reason why I constantly go cycling - It brings me to places I would have never seen otherwise. 

This brings me to my bikepacking trip with Jack. A weekend of electrified exploration on the Saigon bike - We stuffed our backpack with the few things we required for an overnighter, jumped on a ferry and set sail to Vung Tau to cycle along the coast and then back to Saigon.

Learnings from Vietnam.

Having to immerse yourself in a new culture means you undoubtedly deal with change. And change creates an environment that you are not an expert in. Change creates incompetence. I’m talking about local customs, ways of communication, food, past times….It’s all a little uncomfortable, and again, oftentimes you just have to dance with it. This is what Vietnam taught me.

Firstly, from my short time here I have learned a lot about the Vietnamese people, they are warm and curious, not to mention super kind. They smile with both their eyes and mouth. Everything is so genuine about them. In some aspects their humor is very similar to the Irish. I was told stories of how locals would hilariously behave when they might be doing something wrong near the police. The broken english doesn't matter or even no english at all, you start to understand from their giddiness, their smiles and laughter.

The next big thing about somewhere new is the food! And it’s pretty awesome here! And I’m saying this from someone who was seriously skeptical before, so much so I initially thought i’d settle in with just eating vegetarian food! I can tell you I absolutely loved it after a bit of gentle persuasion. My diet may have also miraculously improved too. The only thing I need now is a bit more persuasion in the chopsticks department. Eating noodles with a spoon does not work.


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