Ramblin' through Vietnam

TN News

Email Print

For Anton Jurgens, living in Vietnam is about getting lost.

"I love the adventure of planning to get lost - wandering into a neighborhood of narrow twisting streets, exchanging curious smiles, guessing at drifting aromas, dodging bicycles and makeshift cafes, and peering beneath the veil to find the pulse of this city. That makes me feel alive."

As the Adventure Department Manager at Exotissimo Travel Vietnam, Jurgens' job is to get lost on rough and tumble trekking and biking trails in some of the country's most remote areas as he scours for new destinations to bring intrepid travelers.

Recently back from a cycling trip that started in Hanoi and ended in Da Lat, Jurgens has no lack of stories from his years of life on the road in Vietnam.

"The best discoveries are the ones you least expect," says the 42-year-old English-American.

A couple of years ago, while leading a group of Americans around northern Vietnam, Jurgens had an experience he says he'll never forget.

An old man, "haggard and stoic and wearing the experience of life in the wrinkles on his face," had signed on to lead the small group through his village in the Red River delta. Fortunately for some, he spoke French and he told the group that he had fought in the war with the French and then as a commander against the Americans.

His wife had passed away some years ago and his children had left to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

"In essence he was alone and yet revered and respected by everyone in the village; you could tell this gave him a huge sense of pride."

The initial encounter was cold, but as time went on the guide became more animated.

"Toward the end as we prepared our goodbyes and continued on our merry way he came to shake my hand, and as he looked up at me, a glint of a tear appeared in his eye and a warm smile, and he said, Une fois mon ennemi, maintenant mon ami - once my enemy, now my friend."

According to Jurgens, these kinds of adventures are not necessarily about being "active."

"You can be adventurous in Hanoi, just crossing the street or wandering down a dark alley to see where it leads you. If you get lost you have to be creative to communicate and more often than not this is what makes it exciting."

And this is the kind of excitement Exotissimo's regular customers yearn for.

"It's that feeling of something different, something bordering on your comfort zone that leaves a lasting impression," says Jurgens.

If there's anything else he wants, it's to bring these kinds of experiences to more people. And Jurgens says an important part of his job is to ensure that people experience Vietnam in the most complete way possible. That's why he always suggests tourists focus their travels on a particular region and soak it all up.

"Too many people visit Vietnam as a one-time destination and try to cover all the well known spots our challenge is to change the perception and encourage people to focus on a smaller area and then return to experience another."

For Jurgens, Vietnam has been a life-changing experience, and for the better. Now he's happy bringing that experience to others.

"This country ticks at a different rhythm than western cultures ... I think most people don't realize how much this country changes a person until they return home."

More Society News