First passport stamp: Vietnam!
“How the heck am I supposed to choose from any country in the world?”
This was the question that Evie Ott asked herself for years, from the moment Evie’s aunt told her that she would take her anywhere for a week. Evie’s aunt happens to be Sherry Ott, travel blogger extraordinaire and brains behind The Niece Project, so when Sherry said “anywhere”, Evie knew she really meant it…
“Thinking about all the options was just about enough to give me a headache. Finally I decided on three points of criteria for picking my destination. I wanted to experience culture shock, great food and non-touristy. Though it didn’t quite make my decision evident, it surely helped in the process. I ended up picking Vietnam as my first International destination, and it was the best decision I could have made.
The first point that got checked off my list was the culture shock. I didn’t even have to step outside the airport before I could realize I wasn’t in Kansas anymore – or in my case, Nebraska. I was standing in an airport with minimal security and no air conditioning.
After leaving the airport and stepping out onto the streets, it was a whole other world. Reckless motorbikes sped by us, swerving in and out of lanes down the street. It seemed to me someone always had somewhere to be. Along the sidewalks, street vendors and their plastic tables and chairs hugged the curb. There are restaurants at home with outdoor seating, but there are almost always in fenced off areas far from the streets. In Vietnam, if you scooted out too far, you could fall right into traffic!
These street food stands were serving the same delicious Vietnamese foods on the same corner for generations! Hanging above were the electrical cords which powered the cities. They were jumbled messes on top of cement slab poles. All of these things I found quite surprising and very different from America.
The next point I wanted to conquer was the food – and let me tell you, it was like nothing else I have ever tasted. All of the flavors were so fresh and new to me! The first one was the country’s national dish, Pho. I ate pho almost everyday, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I could always find a time to fit in a bowl of that hot boiling soup. I loved the crunchy bean sprouts and the rice noodles, which I would slurp up like an animal. I’m pretty sure I never left without an empty bowl.
A great way to finish off pho was always with some ice cream; kem in Vietnamese. It became an everyday staple for me. I was often found skipping down the streets peeking my head into every little shop to see if they had any of this frozen dessert. I tried flavors such as salty lemon, coconut, durian, taro and coffee. Sometimes I never knew what flavor I was about to bite into, it was like Russian roulette! It was always worth the risk though because they tasted so good on those hot humid days in the north!
Another way to cool down was to jump inside a coffee shop and drink a fresh fruit smoothie. They were usually under $2, which is something I could never find in America. It made me realize how truly awful the prices can be back home, and made me dread coming back!
One of the last things I tried and one of the oddest foods was a baby duck egg! It was pretty much a duck fetus still in the egg. We scooped it out with a spoon after drinking the liquid from the shell and dipped it in the common lime, salt and pepper sauce. I’m glad the sauce covered the flavor!
The most difficult of my three criteria was a non-touristy area. The tourism I was used to was that of New York City, one of the most tourist filled cities in the world. I disliked the fancy overpriced restaurants and expensive shopping, but most of all, always being looked at as an outsider or tourist. Vietnam was much different. Though I still stuck out like a sore thumb, tall and blonde, we were still able to see areas where we could do things not aimed for western tourists. We went to hidden back alley markets, local restaurants and street vendors, and took short local tours led by Vietnamese people who were genuinely excited about showing us Vietnam, not selling us more trinkets.
I was also able to experience pieces of other countries on this trip as well. On our Intrepid tour, we were accompanied by an amazing family from Australia, who were just as adventurous as us! We spent most days with them and I was able to learn a lot about life in Australia and also how to decode their peculiar accent, even picking up on some of their lingo, or at least I reckon I did!
My three points of criteria were blown away during this trip. I learned so much and was able to experience this trip of a lifetime; it still makes me excited to think about it. I’m so grateful for such an amazing experience, and I just know I picked the correct country.”
Photos: © Sherry Ott of Otts World.