A country is special when you find its most simple activities as beautiful as some of it's most lauded natural wonders. It was austere yet overwhelming. A place where everything appeared chaotic yet strangely peaceful. People just seemed to be content.

We roughly followed the Top Gear route starting in Saigon and finishing in Hanoi. As a general rule there is usually a distinct difference between the rural areas and cities of a country, each having a different vibe and a antithetic set of people. Vietnam felt different, there was a mellowing stream following us up North. The peculiar allure of the hustling cities was found in equal measures in the distant countryside. The flow of the traffic meandered into never ending paddy fields.

We only planned our time here half way through our trip and I'm really glad we did. It felt cultural but youthful at the same time. A country with strong heritage and a young population - the average age being 27.  Every place had something slightly different to offer in addition to the usual museums, temples and markets. Freedom to explore the dusty, country roads was something I thoroughly valued.

Learning about the severe realities of the Vietnam war was a humbling experience. I was embarrassed I knew so little. I don't understand it. Ignoring the highly questionable motives, the use of Agent Orange, amongst other chemicals, was one of the most cruel legacies the war left. It broke international law and it still effects babies today - over 40 years after it was deployed - as the chemical damages and disfigures up to the 3rd generation. 

As we explored we met happy and optimistic faces. Yes, the Americans and French aren't welcomed with completely open arms but any resentment and bitterness has been replaced with a desire for a better future. Countries often begrudgingly focus on their past, Vietnam is looking in the other direction.

Over night trains were something we were new to. Apparently we stayed in first class although I was never truly convinced. Ignoring the insects and cockroaches it had two traveler luxuries: 1) Relative Comfort 2) Privacy. Lying in your own secluded cabin you could happily ignore the noisy, bumpy train ride and put the Kindle to full use. Taking a break from novels I have caught up with some of the periodicals I keep track of, The Atlantic and The Economist being my favourites.

Highlights from the last 11 days include ever riskier ventures into the world of street food, serene bike rides into the country and the expansive Halong Bay. I hope Laos and Thailand match the high standard set in Vietnam as we continue to travel through SE Asia.

Austere - Basic or simple, Stern or severe
Antithetic - Sharply contrasting