Vivacious Vietnam and Lush Laos

Danielle Buxbaum practicing yoga in Vietnam and Laos
Body: 

As the airplane lands in Hanoi International Airport, a huge smile takes over my face. I’m back in Southeast Asia. My favorite part of the world to travel. I know the adventures are awaiting, and I’m ready.

And just like that, the pulse and energy of a new place sets in. I’ve been to Vietnam before, but never the northern part. So as there are things that are familiar, it’s each new experience and encounter that makes this particular trip and place in time special and authentic. Seeing a woman selling raw meat on the sidewalk, families of three and four all piled onto one motorbike, outdoor markets selling all sorts of exotic foods I can’t identify. My eyes are wide open, fully taking in and exploring this new space.
 
Staying at the iconic Sofitel Legend Metropole was certainly a highlight of my time in Hanoi. Located in the French Quarter and built in 1901 with a French colonial architectural style, the hotel offers two types of room experiences, where heritage meets modernity. There’s the historically preserved side, adorned in retro-style rotary dial phones and antique draping, and then there’s the modern side, with red-accent tiling in the bathrooms and a homey, neo-classic elegance.
 
Touring the property felt like being in a museum. From learning about prominent celebrities who stayed in the hotel like Charlie Chaplin (he celebrated his honeymoon there in 1936), to viewing the Vietnam War bunker that was discovered and excavated in 2011, it’s a place where you can feel the energy of its rich history around every corner.
 
One morning, while I was walking back to the hotel from a wonderful massage, I kept encountering the locals and having wonderful interactions with them. I felt a light, bright energy within me and it was attracting people towards me. There was one woman in particular that I will never forget. This sweet Vietnamese woman was coming up from the street with her bicycle. I thought she was so cute, and loved the fact that at her age, she was still riding her bike on busy city streets (this is amazing to me but probably very common among locals). I approached her to tell her I thought she was beautiful. I don’t speak Vietnamese, and I wanted her to understand what I was telling her, so I figured if I blew kisses at her, she would at least understand I was trying to give her love. The woman smiled, then proceeded to tell me a story in her native tongue. I must have stood there for at least two minutes as she spoke to me, not understanding a word, but all the while nodding and even laughing at moments that seemed appropriate somehow. I wish I had taken a video and had it translated. I really wish I knew what she was saying. But on the other hand, I don’t. I like to believe it was profound, it was kind, and it was a message I needed to hear. I took her photo and went about my morning. It’s these moments that I live for. Interacting with people, connecting without even knowing what the other is saying. Just a raw human connection.
 
I do really enjoy city life, taking in the pulse and energy that comes with that type of environment. But heading into the countryside of northern Vietnam was a magical experience as well. Seeing that slower pace of life, experiencing all the natural beauty, and encountering some interesting animals was such a great new perspective on Vietnamese life. Seeing people work in the rice fields was such an eye opener. It’s not easy work and really made me appreciate and be grateful for every grain of rice I’ve ever eaten. 
 
One of the highlights for me was taking a boat ride in the Red River Delta to experience the Van Long Nature Reserve. The most recent King Kong movie was filmed here and the views are just breathtaking! Taking in the silence, I was able to enjoy nature while gliding through the calm waters of the river and imagining an iconic film being created in this space. 
 
We did some other special activities throughout our days in the countryside. From biking through the rice fields, to trekking through the H’mong hill tribe communities, I was given an immersive experience and valued my time seeing this polar opposite way of life than what I personally live. While very different, I could never say my way of life is better. I appreciate the way they live and they seem very happy and fulfilled by a tight-knit community.
 
Vietnam is a beautiful experience, and I was so lucky that the trip didn’t end there! I hopped on a quick flight to Luang Prabang in northern Laos. Laos, while a small and undeveloped country, has a growing interest among tourists in Luang Prabang. There are quite a few luxury properties to choose from and it’s no wonder why. The town is charming, very welcoming, with plenty of engaging activities to do in and around the area.
 
While I had the pleasure of traveling to this area, I took a boat ride down the Mekong river to visit a Buddhist Temple in the jungle. Learning about Buddhist history and customs is so enlightening, and I was guided through a meditation while on the grounds of the temple. 
 
I visited a textile gallery called Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre, where we toured the property and learned how all the silks are made and dyed to then be woven into intricate patterns. We got to watch the artists at work and the different techniques that are used.
 
Outside the town center, we drove to the incredible Kuang Si Waterfall, exploring the picturesque sights and hiking through the national park. The natural beauty of the waterfalls was amazing, with an unexpected grand finale at the end of the hike. I was in awe and filled with gratitude to experience this first-hand.
 
Another travel experience, and with it comes incredible memories, stories, interactions, and picturesque visions I will always remember and cherish. 

Outside the town center, we drove to the incredible Kuang Si Waterfall, exploring the picturesque sights and hiking through the national park. The natural beauty of the waterfalls was amazing, with an unexpected grand finale at the end of the hike. I was in awe and filled with gratitude to experience this first-hand.

Another travel experience, and with it comes incredible memories, stories, interactions, and picturesque visions I will always remember and cherish.

Danielle Buxbaum