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02. Planning

21st March

Time to deal with the more tangible aspects of the journey to Vietnam, since just saying ”I want to go there” doesn’t make it a trip indeed.
The Times‘ travel pack is attractive, but the leaving date scheduled a week after my first ‘off’ day makes it unfeasible. I would need to plan all from scratch.

In my mind, a plan is an imaginary ladder to climb. Or a hopscotch to skip onto. It releases a bold wave of self-pleasure when it’s accomplished, after a fair amount of twisted innards and headaches.
The thought that everything is going to be under control makes me feel safe; it confines me to a cerebral barricade where nothing bad could happen.
A good plan should expect even the unexpected.
What possibly might go wrong after having figured out even the smallest of hitches?
Funny thought.

First, find a tour around the country.
Since I’m running out of time I skip some steps to keep it simple.
Quick, almost non-existent preliminary research of local tour operators. Just four contacts, four emails. Easy peasy. Less is more, they say.
And I keep it even simpler, the first who responds makes the deal.

Thao has to be a kind girl. I assume it looking at the smiling picture that pops from her email, and from the tone she uses to welcome me in her writing.
Warm greetings from Thao, it is my pleasure to assist you in planning your trip next month.
She neither uses roundabout ways nor tries to sell me something I don’t need.
My non-negotiable keyword: solo traveller.
She tailors her advice to comply with my request.
I reward courtesy. Courtesy comes as a golden gift; every time I receive it I feel like having a debt I need to pay back at the first opportunity. Lavishing courtesy back is a major chapter in my old-fashioned manners’ book.

A glimpse at the seven-page itinerary sent through by Thao.
The attached images, small like stamps, seem to come out of some ’80s postcards. Their shockingly bright and burned colours suddenly become vague reminders of a younger me in tourist’s clothes, my Italy and sunny days. Reminiscing of Italian souvenir shops where you still find similar pictures of crystallised monuments and immutable landscapes, of people caught in those photos and stuck in their old style dresses and cars, transmuted into monuments themselves.

And here they were finally, a couple of pages later, the same bay and boats that grabbed my attention on The Times’ ad.
Halong Bay.
The full page of The Times – warm colour palette, boat and islands fence flattened by the backlight – evoked a beautifully arranged sunset. The ideal place to pour my melancholic state of mind out. And to wrap my arm around solitude.
The power of advertising.
But, once taking a look at the map to locate the bay I realise that the magic of that place let you admire a magnificent sunrise as well.
Suddenly my brain resets the fantasy and just shifting the time to dawn a refreshing thought of crisp air and sparkling waves takes over melancholy.
The power of geography.

I didn’t know that such a place existed.
Somehow, one day Vietnam probably lost its identity as a place to become a fact. Even some teachers have stopped pointing at it on the world map while telling its most known story.
I guess that Vietnam looks attractive because of the side of it I don’t know at all.

Reading the day by day itinerary proposed by Thao I can spot water as a recurrent element, which makes me like the place even more.
It isn’t Halong Bay alone; there are channels, rivers, and the sea all along the country. Floating houses and markets.
Water creates an emotional connection between some Vietnamese landscapes and the place where I come from, a flat land that used to be a marsh in its recent past, cut by the biggest Italian River and kissed by the Adriatic sea and valleys of salted water.
There is also a place that vaguely recalls the romanticism of Halong Bay, it’s called Love Island. It’s not a real island though, it’s a sanded strip whose passage from and to the coast emerges from the sea during low tide and allows walkers – and lovers – to reach its side.
It’s a sentimental vision of the water and of its fluid power of creating a link as well as unpredictably cutting it.

Stop wandering. I have to tell Thao that I accept her proposal.

Take a look at the whole Vietnam Photo Book here

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