This space will be used to document and record my adventures in Vietnam and throughout South East Asia over the course of the next year.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Farewell Asia

Almost two years have passed and I have seen, experienced and lived more than I could ever have imagined was possible. I left New York on a whim, interested in breathing in Asia, seeing the world from a different angle and giving myself an education that University could never have given me. I told my friends I'd be gone for six months to a year at most. Never would I have allowed myself to believe that it would be June 2006 when I returned to a city that invigorates me and one that I do call home.

What have I been doing for the last two years? The answer would take days but I'll summarize it for the impatient reader. I flung myself to a bustling, crazy city half-way around the world where I knew no-one and I made it home. Ho Chi Minh City bowled me over, made me question everything I've ever known as a "normal" way of life. I sat on chairs made for infants, navigated streets brimming with motorbikes, learned to ride one, had four accidents, enrolled in a teacher training course, worked ten hour days trying to prepare myself for the hardcore work faced by teachers throughout the globe, honed my English skills in order to teach them, refined my body language and acting skills while trying to communicate with my countrymen, traveled through an incredible country filled with enthusiastic, delightful, forgiving, hardworking Vietnamese citizens, made friends, missed my life in the West, grew accustomed to the dogs and cats and reptiles and rats being eaten around me and finally boarded a bus with my love and traveling companion and did a 5-month, 9-country tour of Asia.

Nothing I had read or heard of could have prepared me for the myriad of colors, scents, tastes, smells, sensations that the Asian countryside had to offer. From the temples of Angkor Wat to the beaches of Bali, we made our way in over 15 forms of transportation, stayed in 46 hotels, read over 20 books, spoke to hundreds, possibly thousands of unique, fascinating people of different classes, races, tribes and countries.

I walk away from Asia knowing what it's like to ride a motorbike, order vegetarian food in a foreign language, bargain for a hotel room, ascend mountain passes with a broken motorbike and a burnt hole in my leg, sleep in a hammock, laugh without understanding the joke, try all kinds of food.

But the lesson that I think is the most important, the most real, the most essential to my role in this world is that I learnt never to judge, always to listen, to always imagine what this person actually means, where they learnt their set of beliefs, why things are the way they are. If you breathe in the air of Northern Vietnam, eat the food of mountainous Java, swim in the ocean of East Coast Malaysia, see the poverty in rural Cambodia or walk the hills of rural Laos, the world ceases to be so large, you can understand it, believe in it and know that we all exist side by side in a tiny globe and the best we can do is respect eachother.

Farewell Asia, I will see you again soon. Your earth is in my blood and I will return. Until then, I leave you a kiss...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Back in VN

After three months of traveling through South East Asia, Mike and I have returned to Viet Nam and it feels great. We had decided to spend the night in Sepon, a small town in Laos near the Vietnam border. I had my doubts, as border towns are never particularly lovely, and Mike seconded my feelings as we pulled into a dusty, poor and tiny town that looked like a nice stopover for lunch but not a place we wanted to stay overnight in.

Quick, think on your feet, off to Vietnam we go!!

After a brief budgetary skirmish with the transport thieves on the Vietnamese side of the border, throughout which we claimed (in Vietnamese) that "We are not tourists, we live here! You can not charge us this amount of money!", we made our way to Hue.

Arriving back in a country we've called home for nearly 2 years was an immediate relief, a fresh wind. We feel invigorated by our knowledge of the land, the language, the people, the food.

We've been running around like children on Christmas since we got here, declaring how nice it is to be on familiar ground. One would think we had arrived in our home towns.

To all those spreading (or believing) rumors that the Vietnamese are rude, thieving and rough; I urge you to come. Go to the markets and eat the local food. Bargain down the bus drivers. Smile and wave at the children. Keep your sense of humor while haggling for a price. Vietnam is lovely, it's priceless.

I feel like I'm home again.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The food of Laos

Delicious, juicy, beautiful watermelon

The staple of almost every Asian meal

Fruit juice vendor ready to go

River moss...edible

Laap, a delicious blend of fish and fresh herbs

Dried fishies that we most certainly didn't eat

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The land of a million elephants

We've spent two weeks in this searingly hot, dazzlingly beautiful and frighteningly poor country and it's been a highlight of our trip this far. The scenery here is gorgeous, breathtaking and stark and there have been moments along the way when I have been mesmerized by the stunning landscape of one of the poorest nations on earth.

The ride to Luang Prabang will always stick out in my mind... our bus stopped every few minutes along hot, dusty roads where dozens of children crowded around our bus, barefoot, selling everything and anything on sticks. We slowly snaked our way out of the towns and into mountains with hundred feet drop offs on one side. Bare hills, scarred with fires, scorching sun and hundreds of years of neglect.

In Luang Prabang the temperature dropped and the evenings became cool as our town enclosed by grey mountaints faded into night. The textiles in L.P were amazing and I lost my shopping-cool to beautiful cotton skirts, silk bags, snug slippers, Lao coffee. At 7am each morning the monks that live in L.P arrive on the main street where locals and volunteers dish out their breakfast of sticky rice, softly depositing the donation into a gold urn slung over the monks' shoulders. The orange robes, shaved heads and soft, bare feet of the monks is an awe inspiring sight to see.

In Vang Vieng the tourism tone changes dramatically. Gone are the mist shrouded nights and the early morning croissants. Instead they are replaced by loud bars brimming over with rowdy backpackers and jaded locals. The street echoes with sounds of the sitcom Friends as each bar uses their DVD collection and TV set to compete for customers. Local food is non-existent; Happy Shakes are everywhere.

We had a great time in Vang Vieng nonetheless, spending our 2 days floating down the river on inner tubes along with every other tourist in town. The ride takes 3 hours but is easily broken up by the makeshift bars along the way selling the all too popular Beer Lao, snacks and Lao Lao, a formidable local rice wine. As you float around each corner you hear whoops from tourists flying through the air on rope swings and plunging into the cool river below. Vang Vieng is a backpackers escape from Asia but a nice break for a day or two.

Vientiane is a sprawling mess compared to the first two places but is still a city of only 200,000. The highlights of Vientiane were purely culinary. Our mornings began with freshly baked bread, cheese and a steamy cup of coffee at the Scandinavian bakery and continued in the early afternoon sipping Beer Lao by the Mekong and munching down a spicy plate of Papaya Salad. The occasional plate of cheese and glass of wine made its way into our dinners as the French influence in Laos is huge and therefore difficult to ignore.

And here we sit in the steamy, sweltering city of Savannakhet where there is little else to do other than admire the crumbling French colonial architecture and find respite from the heat in air conditioned internet cafes or our next stop, a bar along the Mekong.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


We've been in Laos 3 days thus far and it's great. Tranquil, beautiful, hot and cheap. There are wonderful temples and parks to visit, excellent Lao and French food, gorgeous views over the Mekong river at sunset and charming, gentle people to meet. We undertook a 13 hour ride sans air conditioning today which was a test in patience but the chickens in the aisle and the offered lunch of grilled snake and rat made it an interesting cultural experience. We're in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage town, right now. The U.N said it is the 'best preserved city in South East Asia' and it is indeed. If you've visited the following places, it's a mixture of Chiang Mai, Ubud and Hoi An. We're staying for 3 days before we head to Vang Vieng, a town famous for floating down the river on tubes. I love it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Snapshots of our travels

What we've been seeing

What we've been eating

Where we've been drinking

Where we've been sitting...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tioman Island

We just spent 3 days on one of Time Magazine's top ten islands in the world. It was heavenly and it lived up to its rating. Stunning white beaches, very little development, chrystal blue water and good restaurants. Very peaceful, relaxing and lovely. No words can show you how stunning it was so check it out for yourself.