We’re traveling to Vietnam. To see the sights and visit friends and there isn’t much we can say beyond that which is frustrating but what can you do about it? Towards that end we drove our kids to Phoenix on Sunday to stay with family, an 8-hour drive that went smoothly. Tuesday afternoon my wife and I flew from Phoenix to LAX, there to wait for six hours for a flight that left at 12:30am Wednesday. I was in pain from a lower back problem, but we were getting by. The Asiana ticketing person was very kind and bumped us out of the middle of a five seat row and upstairs on the big plane to a 2-seat row of our own.
The flight went well. Painful, but what do you do? You try to sleep, and I was able to get a few hours and my wife was able to get a few more. But 13 hours on a plane is not fun no matter how you slice it. I’ll simply say that this flight was worlds better than the United flight we took to Europe over a year ago. Despite the strange food, the staff was very friendly, always ready to serve a cup of water or juice.
We arrived in Seoul at 5:00am. The airport was pretty deserted, and I could barely debark the plane the pain was so bad. I took another 600mg Ibuprofen and prayed for it to kick in. It took a while, and in the meantime I couldn’t even stand up. The thought crossed our mind in more than a fleeting way that we might not make it to Hanoi, that I might not be able to tolerate the 5-hour flight from Seoul to Hanoi. We prayed and tried to rest, and eventually the ibuprofen kicked in and we got on the plane. I was uncomfortable, but not in pain at all for the flight. I watched Leonardo DiCaprio in Revenant to try and get some inspiration. If somebody could live through a bear mauling, I could make it through a 5-hour flight on a padded seat.
We had to pick up our visa in Hanoi and wait through the line for customs and immigration. Our friend, J.P., was there to greet us outside the baggage area, and he had an appointment for me in a few hours with a chiropractor in town. We checked into the hotel first. The staff was very friendly, bringing us small cups of green tea. They also arranged for banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich with a variety of marinated pork meat cuts and pates on a French roll with some fresh veggies. They were delicious, and we wolfed them down in time to catch an Uber ride to the chiropractic clinic.
That turned into a 3-hour effort on the clinic’s part to get me out of the worst of the pain. Nothing seemed to help. They did some light manual manipulation. They used lasers. They used ultrasonic treatment. They used ice packs. They used acupuncture. They used electro-therapy on isolated muscle groups. By the end of the day I hurt as much if not more than I did that morning. Eventually they gave me some codeine pain medicine and some anti-inflammatories and told me to come back in the morning.
It was 5:30 PM and just about dark by now. Walking out of the clinic was difficult, and they were going to send one of their staff with us to help make sure I could get to our hotel all right. I eventually convinced them this wasn’t necessary, returned their back brace, and under my own power and stubbornness hobbled out the door. I was still in a great deal of pain, waiting for the drugs to kick in as we headed back to the hotel. J.P. and the Mrs. headed out to pick up some cash at an ATM. He headed home, and she opted to go out shortly after to get us some food. We munched on a couple more banh mi sandwiches – chicken this time, and not nearly as tasty but still more than adequate. I prayed that I would be able to sleep.
God is good, and I did sleep very well. Jet lag didn’t seem to be much of an issue so far other than being tired at the end of the day. The next morning I felt better and was able to have breakfast downstairs at the hotel before heading out again via Uber for my follow-up chiropractic appointment. I was feeling much better at this point, and they did a few minor things before suggesting that I return that afternoon. Elated, we headed out for lunch. J.P. took us to a newly famous site, a typical Vietnamese restaurant newly dubbed Obama Bun Cha. It’s famous because on President Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam, he ate here with famed media chef Anthony Bourdain.
I doubt the food was exceptional, but it was delicious after enduring so much in the past few days! Bun cha is a traditional Vietnamese dish consisting of a broth with meat bits (pork, this time) that you put over rice noodles. We had a few deep fried egg-roll type things that were also delicious.
We walked around a bit, stopping in for some coffee at the most delicious chain of coffee shops called Cong Ca Phe. They serve a coconut coffee that consists of a small amount of coffee mingled with a coconut milk/ice/sweetened condensed milk slushee sort of concoction. It was amazingly delicious, and our host pointed out the decor that highlighted some of Hanoi and Vietnam’s Communist past.
I went back to the clinic for a few more adjustments and another round of acupuncture. I left feeling less good than in the morning, but overall still much better. We headed back out, this time to see the famous Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, the prison in the middle of Hanoi where American prisoners of war were held during the Vietnam conflict. More than half of the self-guided tour and exhibits emphasized the prison’s less famous past, as a French prison for Vietnamese rebels and revolutionaries from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. It was a fascinating perspective, to say the least, and we left recognizing the power of perception and how things are portrayed in determining what we believe to be true.
We returned home with J.P. to meet his two daughters. Then the group of us headed out to our first street food experience – a place known as Street Sushi. And the name is exactly accurate. It’s a sushi place that sets up each evening in an area that, by day, serves as a parking lot. The sushi is served from a portable cart. You sit at low plastic tables on small plastic chairs. The menu is an impressive assortment of hand rolls, sushi, and sashimi. We enjoyed several rolls and sides for a fraction of what it would cost in the US. I think dinner for all of us came to about $20 US!
Afterwards we walked a short distance to Lotte building. We headed to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail for the adults and juice for the kids. The view was spectacular in all directions, with the twinkling lights of Hanoi splayed out far below. A beautiful way to end the evening, before heading back to our hotel in the Old Quarter and falling blessedly asleep! I still had pain and discomfort, but it seemed clear at this point that I was going to be able to continue to function and get through the trip. Thank you Lord!