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Chasing her Heart in Vietnam & China

Finding freedom and independence in Halong Bay

Please welcome Holly Rosen Fink, social entrepreneur, blogger and theater producer. This post is second in a series about Holly's travels to Asia.

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Finding myself in the heart of Vietnam

beauty everywherebeauty everywhere We had ventured to Halong Bay, a fairyland of limestone peaks. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to and I felt like I was dreaming. As we headed into a smaller boat from our cruise liner for a day of kayaking in the caves, a Vietnamese worker on the boat looked at us - a group of five American women with no men in tow - and called us "Independent Women." A big smile swept over my face and it remained with me throughout my travels.

Every which way you look in Halong Bay, you see pure, raw beauty. Water, caves, blue skies, lagoons - it's magical. We spent two nights on a boat and during the day we kayaked, went swimming in the bay, hiked up hills and did tai chi at sunrise. We had luxurious Vietnamese meals full of pho, spring rolls, fried tofu and other delicacies. We met three American doctors and spent hours upon hours talking about education, work, traveling, politics and living life to the fullest.

My fellow travelers were fiercely independent women and as we spoke, I learned about one's life in Rwanda, another living in Peru and the other saving children in Algeria. My new friends were well traveled, to say the least, and their ability to get up and go wherever they pleased struck me as unusual and terribly exciting at this stage of my life.

This was my trip, my time

meeting new strangers everywheremeeting new strangers everywhereFor nearly two weeks while traveling through Asia, I was reminded of an inner spirit and sense of adventure that I felt had been lost since having kids. When we first met the three doctors, we told them we were traveling without our families. We talked about the fact that we weren't feeling one ounce of guilt since arriving in Asia and how I had been dreaming about coming to this part of the world since my children were born but could never leave home for this amount of time. I had been waiting for my mother to be able to come spend enough time at my house to take over my duties so I could venture out into the world on my own.

On the first night of our trip, my friend, who lives in San Francisco, walked into our hotel room after I had fallen into a deep, deep sleep after roaming around the city all day. Of course, I had enough energy to embrace her when she walked through the door but I felt incredibly jetlagged. She would be my partner in crime and together we would wake up each day with a sense of vigor and adventure we had not experienced in years. Throughout the two weeks that we traveled, we constantly turned to each other and asked each other in disbelief, "Can you believe this?" It was truly surreal, in only the best definition of the word.

exploring exotic landsexploring exotic landsWithout kids, we were able to explore Hong Kong, our first stop, and then Northern Vietnam inside out. We woke up early, jumped out of bed, looked at each other and ventured into the unknown. With my backpack attached to my body, I felt young and free again. We had collected trip ideas from friends before we left and had a nine-page document with places to visit everywhere we went. We were determined to hit each one. Each day was full of meaningful, rich adventures, new cuisines and memories that shall remain in my heart forever.

Without kids we were able to change our plans and travel according to our own schedule. We took several over-night trains and were able to join taxis full of locals and take our chances on whether we would make it to our destination.

Without kids, we were foodies

In Hong Kong, we found a delicious dim sum restaurant next door to our hotel and made it to our regular stop. We quickly learned that the English menu was double the price of the Chinese menu (genius!) It was in this restaurant that I became a true foody, tasting the likes of steamed glutinous rice in a lotus leaf, steamed bean curd wrapped in fish maw, steamed turnip cake, steamed rice flour balls with shredded chicken and more.

amazing finds on our journeyamazing finds on our journeyThe beauty of traveling without kids is that there was no holding us back. We started our days early, ended when we were ready to finish, early or late. After a day of touring, we spontaneously jumped on a boat to visit a small fishing village called Lamma where we drank wine, watched the sunset and dreamt of living a life in another culture.

In Hanoi, everywhere we looked, we wanted to freeze the moment. There was so much to look at in the shops alone: shoes stacked on shelves, coffee beans, souvenirs, tomb stones. As we wandered through the streets, motor bikes cruising quickly around us, we were alive. To the left, a woman wearing a large, straw hat selling oranges. To the right, ladies selling pineapple, held on a stick propped on both shoulders. Then a flower seller, with his goods packed in a basket on the bike of his bike rides by.

I took my head out of my guidebook and looked up

I didn't tweet. I relished the moment in this city that is like none other. A new friend told me not to "chase Hanoi." Once there, I understood and I watched. Because I could.

freedom to explorefreedom to exploreAnd you know what else we could do?  Go out to dinner with a bunch of ex-pats living in Hanoi. Without kids, we were able to relax, have great conversations and enjoy a long meal full of interesting Vietnamese dishes we had yet to experience including a delicious bowl of pho. When it ended, we jumped on the back of a motor bike and cruised around like natives.

We roamed through markets in Vietnam. In Bac Ha Village we encountered the beautiful costumers of the country's Flower Hmong tribes. The women wear colorful turbans, embroidered bodices and full skirts. Residents come far and near to sell produce and livestock and every which we turned we were asked to buy something. We filled our bags with souvenirs for our families and for ourselves. We were in no rush to leave. It was the most visual scene I've ever experienced. In Sapa, we also experienced an interesting tribe - the Hmong and Red Dao people who also wear colorful attire only it's black. We chose to walk to the Cat Cat village and go on a long hike, accompanied by a tour guide.

the courage to explorethe courage to exploreWhen it started to rain, we kept going.

Every moment of this trip was filled with a memory. Each day got better than the day before.

When we expressed our quandary about not feeling guilty about leaving our families back home to explore a part of Asia we had long craved to visit to the three doctors, Michelle, one of the fearless doctors, responded, "It's a three-pediatrician prescribed trip!"

All three women were in full agreement that we needed this trip, we deserved this trip.

Read Holly’s other stories on GoGirlfriend:

Thank you Holly for sharing your travel adventures with us. Have a travel story to share? Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook - we'd love to hear from you!

About Holly Rosen Fink

Holly Rosen Fink ~ @theCultureMomHolly Rosen Fink ~ @theCultureMomHolly Rosen Fink is a Marketing, Communications, Public Relations, Branding and Social Media expert with over 15 years experience increasing brand awareness and sales at leading publishing houses and media companies.  She is the founder of TheCultureMom.com and has been a contributor to Family Vacation CriticA ChildGrows, Ciao BambinoCBS New YorkThe Savvy SourceKidzvuzTravel Savvy Mom and Project You Magazine.

Last year she edited Come Closer: How Tourism is Shaping the Future of Nations and associate produced the off-off-Broadway hit The Best of Everything. She's currently producing the NYC production of Listen to Your Mother.

Catch up with Holly online:

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