Tag Archives: Asia

Vietnam to Cambodia, and Back Again.

24 Dec

Currently

When I last left you I had wrapped up my first day in Saigon. More than a week has passed since then, and now I am on a bus riding through Cambodia, and on it’s way back to Saigon. That’s right, I am going back. The past few days have been somewhat chaotic which has led me to this moment, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind.

Củ Chi Tunnels and Realizing What a Small World It Really Is

Wednesday morning, Mike (New Yorker) and I were informed last minute by Vivian (Singaporean) that she would be joining a tour to visit the Củ Chi Tunnels, and if we’d like to tag along we would have less than an hour to get ready, leave our hostels, and arrive at her hotel. No pressure, it’s cool haha. Mike shares the same “why not?” attitude that I have while traveling, so we went for it and made it to Vivian’s hotel, with extra time to spare to grab coffees and some snacks.
*I’d like to take a moment here and advise those recovering from food poisoning that going on a two hour, bumpy bus ride is not the wisest choice you might make, but you won’t know if it’s worth it unless you try it. 😀 *

As we were picking up different passengers for the tour, I noticed that one of the faces was quite familiar. Enter Mike, from Wisconsin, not to be confused with New York Mike. For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to him as Mike 2, while the other one will be Mike 1. Are you keeping up with me, or have I lost you? :p Moving on. Mike 2 and I were on the same flight from Seoul and ran into each other again at the immigration office in the Saigon airport because neither of us had cash for our visas, so we wandered around searching for an ATM. Once we found one, and collected our passports, we wished each other luck and parted ways. And now here he was, on the same tour! A small world indeed. You might be able to imagine how my “everything is a coincidence” attitude faltered for a moment, especially with Vivian next to me the whole time whispering about how it was fate haha. My romantic friend.

The tour itself was not only educational, but it was also fun, and we had a great tour guide who had an incredibly dry sense of humor, which kept us on our toes, always second guessing whether he was joking with us or not.
But the most interesting part to me of the tour was a video that they had us watch at the beginning. I’ve never seen something so boldly propagandic before. I’m not sure if it was just a reenactment, or real footage, but it seemed sort of surreal. I would later see this same theme appear in the War Museum, but either way I appreciated getting to experience another perspective about the Vietnam War, especially since American textbooks don’t really like to go into detail about the facts of the event.

After the video we got to see how people in the village lived during wartime, with a whole network of tunnels created to hide underground, away from the enemy. We also saw the different booby traps that were created by the Vietnamese to trap their enemies, and then we had the opportunity to crawl through a tunnel that was about 100 meters. Nobody wanted to volunteer to go first, so I went ahead, (with an ice cream cone in my hand, I might add) and led the rest of the group in. I surprisingly didn’t experience any claustrophobia, but I didn’t find the fit to be too tight, and for once I found my compactness to be a blessing. Once out of the tunnel, we were greeted with what would be our dinner. Some potato-like vegetable. I guess the point was to experience what the villagers had to eat. Needless to say, we were still hungry and after the tour, Mike 1 and 2, Vivian, and myself went in search of a famous vegetarian restaurant Vivian had heard about (I love you Vivian!!!!). The restaurant was just my style, with a very open and simple decor. Everyone agreed the food was delicious, although I think Mike 1 didn’t feel quite satisfied without meat in his dish. After dinner, we said our goodbyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike 2 and I run into one another again in the future as we will both be in Seoul, and I know that Vivian and I will meet again in the New Year when she stops over in Seoul for work.

Changing Districts and More City Exploring

The next day Mike and I met again as he had talked me into staying at the hostel where he was, because my reservation was finished and I really didn’t like staying in the party district. His hostel was a welcome surprise and was located in a local neighborhood, with very few foreigners to be seen. We spent the day walking around the city again and visited the War Museum shortly before it was scheduled to close. I was disappointed at first that we arrived so late, but after being in the rooms that showed the cruel acts American soldiers had commited against Vietnamese people, I don’t know if I could have taken much more. But I do believe that it is important for us to learn about and face past events, no matter how uncomfortable they might make us feel.

While at the museum, we had met up with another Couchsurfer, Kai, a very cool Vietnamese university student. The three of us walked around and talked, while Kai showed us some local spots, including a noodle soup restaurant and a very cheap, bubble tea vendor that he visits regularly. At the end of the night Mike and I were ready to book massages, and Kai was nice enough to patiently walk around with us as I kept finding reasons not to go inside the different spas. Finally, Mike had enough and googled one with good reviews, and that’s how we came across the best massage I experienced during my trip. We had to go back to the party district and walk down a super seedy alleyway to reach the spa. But once we were inside, the atmosphere felt relaxing and professional, unlike previous spas we had visited. It was here that I experienced my first Thai massage, and it was amazing. Thai massages are a bit more tough than your typical relaxing sort, and include a lot of twisting, stretching, and pressing on pressure points. I don’t think I can ever go back to a regular massage again! And I even made friends with the owner, who has family in West Virginia and has asked to meet up with me in the States the next time she visits. Friends can be found anywhere and everywhere is what I am learning!

Lame Pub Crawlers and the Mekong Delta Tour

After saying goodbye to Kai, and finishing our massages, Mike and I, for some reason, agreed to go on a pub crawl with a very cool, and tough young woman that Mike had met before. I think we might possibly be the world’s worst pub crawlers since Mike didn’t drink at all, and I only bought one beer. After arriving at the second bar, we both decided that we were far too relaxed from our massages to participate in such a wild activity and headed back to the hostel. We got back quite late and our host reminded us that we were signed up for a tour for 7 in the morning. Uh oh.

The next day was rough to say the least. After only a couple of hours of sleep, we got on a bus for two hours that took us out of the city and to a village on the Mekong Delta River, where we spent the whole day getting on and off of various boats of all shapes and sizes. Neither of us were particularly impressed with the tour, perhaps because it was too touristy, or maybe we were just cranky. It was fun, however, to ride on a local boat and get to participate in an activity that involved us sticking our finger into a honey comb that was surrounded by bees. Sadly though, the one reason I joined the tour was not included, and that was the floating market. I might return to the area just to see it, because I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a child, when I saw a postcard my grandmother had from Saigon of the floating market she visited when she was younger.

Goodbye Saigon, Hello Again Phnom Penh

The next morning I said my goodbyes to Mike, as he would be flying to Thailand and I would take a bus to Cambodia. I spent four days in Phnom Penh, half of which were spent with Kirsty, a traveler from New Zealand.We spent most of our time in one of my favorite cafes, Artillery, and swapped travel stories and talked about how to stop having so many expectations in life, and live with more mindfully. Spending time with Kirsty was refreshing, and in a very short time, I knew that she was someone I would travel quite a distance to see again. Here’s hoping we meet again in Fiji and New Zealand, Kirsty! ❤

The last bit of my time was spent with my good Cambodian friend, Sinorng. We had originally planned to visit his province by the sea, but we attended a birthday party that lasted a lot longer than we had expected. The party was a lot of fun, with so much food and kind people. And a few days after that party, I was invited to another one, this time a wedding anniversary. I had fun there as well, joking with one older man who could speak a little English. I think he was trying to get me drunk as he kept egging me on to “one shot”, and then the others started joining in on the cheer, but I had to decline since I was still recovering from the other event. Cambodians sure know how to party, and even more so how to drink. It’s not something I will even attempt to keep up with and I’ll leave it to the real pros.

Traveling Hiccups

All in all it was a nice time, and the only real stress I was facing was to head back to Vietnam, or to go on to Thailand. Oh the horror haha. But then, just as I was about to get a Khmer script tattoo (it’s not as random as you might think!), I checked my bank account to make sure it was an expense that I could afford, and that’s when I saw a suspicious charge for about half of what was in my account. I spent most of the day and night going back and forth between my bank and the company the charge was coming from only to be told that my card would need to be closed out and I would be allowed a short amount of time to find an ATM and take out everything that was left. I’m not really sure if the charge can be disputed, or how long it will take, or even when I’ll have access to a check card again, but I guess there could be worse things.

So now that brings us to the current moment. I’m about half way to Vietnam, waiting at a rest stop while the passengers grab snacks from the convienent store. Part of me wishes I hadn’t paid for another Vietnamese visa and just bunkered down in Phnom Penh until I get this mess situated, but as I’ve already got the visa and bus ticket, and prices in Vietnam are quite similar to Cambodia, I say why not. Worse case scenario, I find a teaching job in SEAsia again. I could imagine more terrible situations 😉
Let’s take a poll. Will I make my way back to Seoul, or will I start a new life in Vietnam?
P.s. OR That Time I Had to Bribe Thank Immigration Officers

Upon arriving at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, I was informed by the immigration officer that I would not be allowed to exit Cambodia in order to enter Vietnam because I didn’t have enough room in my passport for a stamp, although this hadn’t been a problem when the travel agency took my passport to issue the Vietnamese visa only two days before. In the midst of all of this, my bus left. I can’t say it was my finest moment, and I admittedly started to cry in front of all of the immigration officers, as they just looked at me, probably wondering how to get the crazy foreigner away from their booth.

After pulling myself together and trying to think of what to do next, one of the officers approached me and said he would let me try my luck with the Vietnamese immigration. So I walked over to the Vietnamese side and asked if they could possibly stamp my passport. They said it was no problem and there was no reason for Cambodia to not let me pass, so they sent me back, but this time with an escort, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would be paying at least this person for their “kindness” at helping me walk back to where I started.

Back on the other side, the Cambodian immigration officers kept shaking their head in disbelief saying that it can’t be right that Vietnam said it was okay, but eventually my escort convinced them that I was telling the truth, and the Cambodian officer looked at me, smiled, and said “you’re very lucky”. Oh yes, I felt incredibly lucky.

Once I paid all of the appropriate people on the Vietnamese side, and bought another bus ticket, I was finally able to make it back to Saigon, and I felt so much relief as I arrived at my hostel. This has been the first, and hopefully the only, issue I have ever had while traveling between borders, and although I had heard stories, I kept thinking “oh, I am glad I am lucky when it comes to traveling”. Nobody is safe is what I take from this experience haha. 😛

First Adventures in Saigon!

15 Dec

 

Unprepared as Usual!

My first trip in Vietnam will only be less than a week, but so far it it has been a whirlwind of nonstop exploring. Getting here in itself was crazy. While at the airport in Seoul I began having problems with my bank card, and managed to get on the phone with customer service and get it all sorted, but by the time I finished, I only had 15 minutes to get through security and immigration, and of course, the line was packed. After passing through immigration I ran like a crazy person and literally managed to turn the corner to my gate just as they were beginning to close it. I got more than a few dirty looks, but I was too stressed and relieved to care.

First Thoughts!

Seeing Vietnam for the first time was a lot like being in Cambodia in many ways. Very similar, French influenced, architecture, the chaos of motorbike traffic, and the feeling of so much life. But Ho Chi Minh is a lot more developed than Cambodia, and has a bit of that big city feeling that I hadn’t really been prepared to experience here. I fell in love almost instantly and couldn’t stop looking at everything in awe, even if it made me look like a wide eyed, first time, traveler. I can’t imagine not being able to look at the world without a sense of wonder, regardless if I’ve seen similar places or have visited for the 100th time. There is always something to appreciate.

Ready, Set, Go!

On my first full day I was lucky enough to meet up with two other travelers, one whom I had met through couchsurfing, a funny and easygoing guy from New York, and his hostel mate, a kind man from China. The three of us started off our adventure by wandering into a random massage parlor and opted for an hour relaxation massage. I don’t think any of us were really impressed with the massage, but it was a fun, if somewhat awkward, experience that we had fun laughing about afterward. After our massage we set out to find another couchsurfer who had contacted one of the guys. We found her in a local bubble tea joint, a young Vietnamese university student. With our group completed, we wandered around the city and saw the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saigon Central Post Office, and the Opera House. I think the post office was my favorite, with it’s high vaulted ceilings and marble interior.

After visiting some chain restaurant (which had a vegetarian menu with veggie pork!) we walked to a theater that holds water puppet shows to meet with another couchsurfer, a wonderful young woman from Singapore. The puppet show was definitely an interesting experience, although I had absolutely no idea what was happening since it was performed in Vietnamese. But it had something to do with a dragon, a rooster, fishermen, and fish. That’s about all I got out of it. But it was amazing how the puppets moved, and after the show, the actors behind the puppets revealed themselves. It turned out they were in the water the whole time behind the curtains. Dedication!

During the show, the man from China and woman from Singapore befriended a brother and sister who were also from China and we all went to dinner together at a famous restaurant in the city. I can’t really comment on if the food was as good as people say, as I only ordered a side of fried tofu, but the tofu was quite good.

I was ready to call it a night, but the brother and sister from China had one last plan, to visit a live acoustic bar that they had heard about. Although I was exhausted, I am glad I tagged along and got to listen to the band which played acoustic covers of musicians like Fun, and even a few hip hop numbers. It felt like an indie underground bar, and I was surprised to be in a place like that in Vietnam, but I get the feeling Saigon holds many more surprises for those who are willing to look for them.

Uh Oh!

All in all it was a fantastic day, and I was lucky enough to meet so many interesting and friendly travelers. I would go so far as to say it was the perfect kind of traveling day, that is until around midnight, when I started to feel that all too familiar sensation that is associated with food poisoning. I spent the next few hours crouched around the toilet in the bathroom with a bottle of water next to me, wishing, not for the first time, that I was a more prepared traveler. You know, the kind who packs their whole medicine cabinet with them. Luckily it was a mild case, and I recovered rather quickly with only lingering discomfort this morning thanks to my New Yorker travel companion and his wise foresight in bringing his own medicine cabinet. Thanks Mike!

So that leaves just one question, what will I get into today?! 😀

What or where is “Home”?

17 Oct

It has been almost one month since I left China and returned to the USA. Sometimes it feels like I was in Asia yesterday, and other times I wonder if I was ever really there. It almost seems like I never left Virginia, except that I have these new memories and ideas that I didn’t have 8 months ago. Time is funny like that. When I was gone I thought of this place as my home, but now being here I realize that it’s not true. Virginia is no longer my home, it is just a place where my family lives and where I have collected memories. I don’t think this idea of “home” really exists. It’s just a word to call a place where you live. If anything, I feel more like a stranger here than I have in the past 6 months or so.

The first couple of weeks were really strange. I had no idea what reverse culture shock really felt like until then. Some days it felt that I was trapped in some never-ending vivid dream. I was witnessing everything, but wasn’t really involved. I was, still am, very much inside my head because that’s what I got used to when I was a minority for half a year and didn’t speak enough of whatever local language to really express myself.

I kind of stayed holed up inside my father’s house, because I wasn’t ready for the outside world that was Hampton Roads. At first I thought I was avoiding old friends by staying shut in, but then I realized it wasn’t just that, but many of my friends had moved locations or just moved on. And honestly I feel that I’ve changed a lot and am not interested in many of the things I was once interested in. I knew this would happen and I am not upset in any way. Life is ever-changing and so we must be too.

Now I have all this extra time on my hands, which means I have more time to plan my next trip instead of living in the moment, and it’s kind of driving me crazy. I try to remember back to what I did with my time before I left, and back then I was busy juggling work, school, a boyfriend, family, and friends. I am still looking for more consistent work because two days a week making coffee isn’t really helping out much. I have had chances to start new romantic relationships, but to be honest I am just not interested. I’ve either been in a relationship or breaking up since I was about 16 years old and it’s exhausting and distracting.

I guess it just feels like a sort of limbo because I can’t start anything that requires long-term responsibility since I am just leaving again in about three months. But at the same time, I don’t want to just sit around and wait for February to get here, because then what was the point of coming back to Virginia? I am making an effort. I go for runs, spend most of my time with family, go to lots of interviews, join organized social groups, and work a few days a week. And yet, I still don’t feel like I am really here.

Have you ever felt this way after returning from traveling for an extended period? What do you do to ease back into the transition?

Link

Women’s Travel Blog

9 Oct

When I was in high school I dreamed of being a journalist or travel writer, but I quickly dismissed the thought because I didn’t think much of my writing skills. But a few weeks ago I saw a posting from the women’s travel blog, Pink Pangea, asking for travelers to send their stories about the small acts of kindness they encountered on the road. I figured I didn’t have much to lose and went ahead and put in my piece about Thailand. I received a follow-up from one of the founders asking if she could send it to the editor and for me to attach a picture of myself in Thailand. I don’t usually have “proud” moments, but I’m not going to lie, when I saw the article released today I silently congratulated myself on seeing through with an old dream. There might even be more to come because they asked me to be a foreign correspondent once I am back in Asia. So be on the lookout for new travel stuff coming your way in just a few short months!

http://pinkpangea.com/2013/10/a-small-act-of-kindness-in-thailand/

Closure.

8 Jul
Whenever we cling to negative thoughts and experiences, we create our own demons that will follow us to the ends of the earth. I know there will be difficult moments of doubt and loneliness, but I am choosing to see something beautiful in each day. Be it a smiling face, a moment of perfect stillness, or even a torrential downpour that leaves the city flooded. Every moment we breathe is beautiful and sacred.

I am happy that I had left Cambodia back in June. It opened my eyes in a way that would have been hard to do if I had stayed. Getting out for even a week gave me the different and fresh perspective that I needed. I am grateful for the strangers in Thailand who went out of their way to help me, the friends who lifted my spirits by showing me a good time, and those who helped me by making me face some hard truths about myself. I am forever thankful to you and I will never be able to express that fully.

      With that being said, I am also glad that I came back to Cambodia. I did not want to, as many of you know, because I was scared. Being back, however, has shown me that there is nothing to fear. I have been given a chance to fall in love with Cambodia all over again, and can now leave without regrets and with a light heart. Although I am ironically sad to leave, I am excited for my new opportunity in Phuket. It is always a little bittersweet to say goodbye anywhere, but that is how it will always be. I fall in love with each place I visit and always leave a little piece of me behind, but I also take a wealth of new experiences and ideas with me, so it is a fair price. I am sure that I will visit again, but now it is time to move forward. I am so lucky to have had this opportunity of closure and will always think of Cambodia fondly. Thank you for everything. ❤

        “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting(which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments)and set out on a truth-seeking journey(either externally or internally),and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all -to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself….then truth will not be withheld from you.”

Stepping back and looking in.

18 Jun

I came to Phuket, Thailand with the intention that it was only for an interview. Yes, I did have an interview, but I don’t think that was the point. I’ve been here for four days and already I have felt something in me shift, and I wish I could identify this change or put a name to it, but it eludes me. I have had to face some hard internal truths on this trip and it has been painful but I know that it is good, because I am learning and growing.

I am not one to ever say that things happen for a reason, because I have just never thought in that way before, but now I am not so sure and it is an uncomfortable idea to deal with.  Leaving Cambodia has put something in motion and I am beginning to see a chain of events that may never have happened if I had stayed. I don’t know if I will go back. I wish that I did know, but now I don’t believe it is in my best interest because my well-being was being sacrificed.

A part of me wonders that if by leaving, I have failed. But at this point in my life, because of a pinnacle moment, I don’t know if it does more good or harm for me to try to “stick it out”. I have a lot of things to figure out and learn about myself and it is going to take a long time, maybe I’ll never be finished but I need to start before I get complacent again and ignore those nagging feelings.

I am looking at some volunteering prospects, so I will update you all soon with where I have decided to go next.

Until next time.

The good and the bad.

17 May

Alrighty everyone, let me catch you up to speed!

The month of May has been interesting to say the least. I’ve seen people fall apart and some put themselves back together while others are still working on it. Hell, to be honest, I did a little falling apart myself but I got back up and have learned some valuable lessons. The most important being this, nothing in this life is permanent. Sometimes things are good and sometimes they aren’t, but regardless it won’t last and there will be periods of ups and downs. I think that is one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with now that I am out here on my own. Not alone though, because I have tremendous support from loved ones and I haven’t once stopped feeling that. Right, enough of my “philosophical insight”! :p

So it has happened! That’s right, I am officially a teacher. I’ve worked for about two weeks now and it is challenging to say the least. I am teaching English to three different kindergarten classes of about 20 students or so. My first week was pretty rough. I wanted to run as far away from my school and never look back because you all know that little monsters…I mean children… aren’t my strong suit, but I stuck with it and it’s getting better. Marginally. A friend of mine told me that this is an opportunity to help build a part of myself that I normally wouldn’t focus on and he was absolutely right. Teaching young children is definitely a learning experience and I am constantly being challenged. I hope to come out stronger after all of it but regardless it’s another experience that I won’t soon forget.

 

Now that I am no longer at the Marady, I am living with a really nice couple in a great apartment in a popular expat community. I’ve only been here for a couple of days now, but so far I am really thankful that I made the decision to come out.

As of  now I am content living here in the Kingdom of Wonder, but as I mentioned earlier, everything is temporary so I can’t rightly say how much longer I’ll be here. I am looking at a couple of future prospects which may take me to either a rural province about two hours outside of Phnom Penh, South Korea, or even a different South East Asian country. It’s all up in the air at the moment, but I can say that I will be grounded here for the next couple of months because Cambodia isn’t quite done with me yet.

Until next time.

Cheers!