In Kyrgyzstan, men wear an ak kalpak – a tall white felt hat with traditional embellishments. In Nepal, the colorful dhaka topi cap is worn to symbolize pride in Nepali identity. Within a few seconds of crossing the Vietnam border, someone pedaled up alongside us wearing a nón lá, perhaps the most recognizable item of traditional Vietnamese dress. Far from a simple fashion accessory, the conical hat made out of palm leaves serves an important purpose: to shield the scorching sun and protect against intense rain. From rice fields to busy streets, the nón lá was a common sight within the country. We took a mostly off-road route through southern Vietnam where singletrack cut through neon green rice paddies, tropical fruit weighed down tree branches, and friendly villagers shouted “hello” and wished us well as we passed by. Fresh summer rolls and bánh mì fueled us, and a favorite local drink of herbal tea served over crushed ice helped cool us down as we melted under the fierce sun. Rural Vietnam, we found, is home to some of the most self-sufficient people in our travels so far. At any given time, we were pedaling next to rice, corn, squid, tiny shrimp, chopped coconut, red chilies, beans, bamboo, and more laid out to dry under the sun so it can be used at a later time. Every part of a plant has a purpose in this part of the world – from eating the fruit to weaving the leaves into baskets and the stems into privacy screens. Ho Chi Minh -- home to 5.8 million motorbikes, but rarely a traffic sign -- was our final destination and perhaps the most chaotic city we’d come across in 17 months. Starkly different from the quiet back roads and singletrack we spent long, leisurely days exploring, the simple act of crossing the street here in Saigon brought on a near panic attack. That said, I can’t think of a better place to have ended 2015. We rang in the new year with resolutions to live louder, grow bolder and dream bigger, both on the road and when we eventually return home at some point this year. Cheers to new friends and familiar faces in 2016! New Year's Eve in Ho Chi Minh from Beth Puliti on Vimeo.
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