As summer begins for school kids across the US, including college students (who finished their terms last month), I’m reminded of a time years ago when I, too, could enjoy a long summer vacation.
I took this photo on one such vacation. It was the summer of 1991, I had just finished a year abroad in Hong Kong, and was making my way back to the US the long way.
I was also very stubborn. Come hell or high water, I was going to Vietnam and Cambodia even though Americans weren’t supposed to go to the first and few desired to visit the war-torn latter.
My first day in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as everyone called it there, was traumatic. The customs officials wanted to send me to the Rex Hotel, the most expensive accommodations in Saigon at US$35 a night. But Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring–my bible that summer–poo-pooed the Rex and instead suggested the Kim Do, a backpacker’s hostelry at US$7 a night that featured a ground floor restaurant and bats in the halls.
After standing my ground, I made it to the Kim Do and this room.
Shortly after I arrived in the room, I sat on the bed in the foreground, curled into a ball, and cried.
I felt overwhelmed by the mosquito net contraption, missed my mom (with whom I’d just spent two weeks in Malaysia and Indonesia, including a lovely stay in Bali), and was afraid to be in a country that didn’t have relations with mine.
Things turned out just fine those two weeks in Vietnam (along with a side trip to Cambodia). And looking back, I realize that it usually takes me a day and a night to acclimate to a new place, no matter how much I’ve looked forward to traveling there.
It may have taken 42 years to figure that out, but no matter where I go next, I can’t imagine I’ll ever feel as isolated as I did that evening at the Kim Do.