I want to visit Vietnam. It's been building up all year, and now feels more like a functional need after eating, and breathing. When I share this desire with my family and friends they suggest a variety of alternate locations. I am never swayed, and will plead my case as often as needed.
What makes Vietnam so compelling for me is the food and the landscape. My first experience with Vietnamese food was a surprisingly short time ago, and yet the spices, sauces and piles of fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits so foreign to me, propelled this cuisine to the top of my list elbowing out all the others. I've been fortunate enough to eat home-cooked Vietnamese dishes made by an extremely talented friend of mine, and am within an hour's drive of Little Saigon, where the smells of fish sauce and rice vinegar will pucker your lips into an immediate smile. What I crave is the authentic experience. I want my clothing to stick to me in the heat, smells of garlic and ginger under my fingernails, chilies that make your inner ear sweat, piles of leaf-wrapped coconut and banana sticky rice, damp concrete, stale cigarettes, foreign voices and diesel. And I want it all with each breath.
The only landscape I know comes from movies, television, books and photographs, and yet it calls to me with a familiarity I can't explain. I want to get lost in the flooded fields, the unknown roads, colorful shops and bicycle gridlock. I want to struggle down the bustling streets of Hanoi and eat pillowy-soft steamed noodles of banh cuon from vendors squatting on colorful plastic stools, ready to pick up and move their illegal food carts if the police come by. I want to drive the two-mile Hai Van Mountain Pass road towards Hue and take in the plummeting green valleys and mirrored waters against a soundtrack of puttering motor bikes. I want to wake up in the dark to experience the electricity of the produce vendors slinging bitter melon and durian to animated customers, have tailored suits and dresses made in bright colors, visit temples, meet new friends, and stock up on a lifetime of memories.
I am in the unique position of being unemployed for the first time since I was 15, and while the logical side of my brain (and my husband) tells me I should be saving every penny, my heart, lungs, limbs and spirit tell me that I will never be in this position of such great opportunity again. Free of meetings, deadlines, children and a mortgage, this is the time to go. Watch the first two minutes from this Top Gear Special in Vietnam for the magical views of Vietnam
Chef, writer and TV personality Anthony Bourdaine muses about his love of Vietnam
As I continue to beg my husband to be my travel companion, I am open to receiving tips on economical flights, best time of year to visit, discounts on Rosetta Stone language classes or just hearing your personal stories of traveling in Vietnam. Thanks for reading. I hope to get there soon. Wish me luck?