I had never been outside of the country, except for Canada—which obviously doesn’t count since it’s basically a nicer version of America. When I was a little girl, I dreamt of setting sail to Treasure Island, finding a secret garden, and being stranded on an island like Tom Hanks in Cast Away—Hello Kitty would’ve been my Wilson.
I read books upon books about adventure as a child. I longed to travel somewhere—anywhere—that would’ve been different from my home in Brooklyn. I knew when I’d go; I would do it alone.
I was intrigued earlier this year when I stumbled upon pictures of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, online. I read about the legend of a great dragon whose tail knocked into the mountains of Ha Long Bay, thus creating a series of interestingly shaped islands that looked similar to its tail. The pictures of Ha Long Bay were breathtaking—emerald blue water surrounded a series of islands. It looked peaceful, serene—everything my childhood fantasy of adventure would be.
I decided then and there that I would go. I would save up enough money that fall and when winter rolled around, I would take off. It was exciting to think that I could finally set sail to an adventure like this on my own. I could finally be like Tom Hanks in Cast Away—independent and alone. I would explore somewhere exotic and far, far away from home.
I was fine at the JFK airport. I was fine during my airplane’s delay to Hanoi, Vietnam.
And I was most definitely fine throughout my 20+ hours on the plane ride to Vietnam. I had successfully bashed away the scared voices and anxiety from my head throughout the journey from New York to Vietnam. It wasn’t until I finally passed through the customs and border at theHanoi airport that the scared voices found its way back to my thoughts. What was I doing there?
Why was I there? Would my driver show up?
The curtains on my bedroom window were drawn. It was my third day in Hanoi, Vietnam and it was pitch black outside. I could hear the voices of women drifting into my bedroom. I could hear steel pots and pans clanging together, water swooshing as the women washed dishes outside their homes and outside of my window. My nose wrinkled as I caught the pungent smell of fish sauce in the air.
That morning I met my tour guide 8 A.M. sharp at the Old Quarters. I figured since I didn’t know how to drive a car or speak Vietnamese that the best way to get to Ha Long Bay was through a guided tour as my Airbnb host suggested. I sat in a little bus with seat springs popped out. The Vietnamese tour guide cracked silly jokes about oranges and his wife through a poorly amplified microphone. I met three New Zealanders, one Israeli, and a Spaniard couple. I cracked a joke about everyone on the bus having an accent except for me—because I was American. They laughed.
When I got to the boat and received the key to my cabin, I immediately went to my room. I was glad to have privacy and to have a place to call my own for a while. As much as I liked the people I met so far, a part of me couldn’t help but to be relieved that I was finally alone. It was nice not to have to talk to anyone for a while. It was nice to be away from home. It was nice to almost believe that I was stranded somewhere even if it was just on a tourist boat amidst the ocean in Ha Long Bay. It was still an adventure that I could call my own.