Breaking Up With Vietnam

Breaking Up With Vietnam

Dear Vietnam, It’s not you. It’s me. Except, I think it might actually be you. I’m not sure you’re going to care, but I still wanted to take the time to tell you that I don’t think this is going to work. I came to you with an open heart and open mind, but after three weeks, I felt you were only interested in my open wallet. From the moment I got out of the taxi in Saigon, I was transformed into a walking ATM machine. The constant stream of “You want scooter? You want bracelet? You buy from me? You buy from me??” left me feeling a little beaten down. It’s not so much that you were asking, but that our relationship never got past that point. I know, I know. We had some really good times: scootering on deserted dirt roads in Phu Quoc; taking a boat through the backwaters of Can Tho; and riding the train along the coast from Hoi An to Hanoi. There are moments that I’ll never forget. The night I spent with my friend’s Vietnamese family was one of the highlights of my trip so far. We went to her aunt’s cafe in Saigon for Sunday dinner. The restaurant had been closed and cleared of all tables except two metal ones in the center of the room. Several bowls of noodles, meat, and vegetables surrounded a single boiling pot of broth, oil, and chili. We sat around the table adding raw ingredients and then withdrawing steaming cooked bites a few minutes later, the fire of spicy peppers cut with Vietnamese beer and...
Phu Quoc Island Has a Dirty Little Secret

Phu Quoc Island Has a Dirty Little Secret

By every measure, Phu Quoc, Vietnam should be paradise with its palm trees, warm turquoise ocean, and miles of deserted white sand beaches to call your own. But just outside of the picture-perfect frame, it’s hiding a very dirty secret. OK, “hiding” seem inappropriately mysterious. It’s not hiding it at all. It’s piled up everywhere for everyone to see – trash. The island (and you) are swimming in it. I booked a flight to Phu Quoc as part of my hasty retreat from the smog and sweat of Saigon, hoping for a better view of Vietnam. I got a motorbike taxi from the airport into town, passing through green, rugged hills and fields. The untouched scenery seemed worlds away from the well worn paths (they’re really practically paved with yellow lines at this point) of the Southeast Asia tourist. But once we reached the coast, I could see a smattering of resorts that grew thicker on the skyline the closer we got to the town of Duong Dong – the main city and tourist hub on the island. I checked into my hotel and headed down to the beach to catch my first ocean sunset in Asia. The sun was already low, and blues were effortlessly giving way to orange and pink hues. A group of Vietnemese men were spear-fishing on a cluster of rocks. I had stepped into a postcard. Then I turned around. My excitement withered. Piles and piles of trash collected on the sand. Between the rows of lobster-colored tourists and blue water lay an endless mosaic of rubbish. It was floating in the water, tangled with...