Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Vietnam’ Category

8 months in review….

8 months in review.....

Read more

Read the fine print

Hearing the announcement, I felt a pit of anxiety form in my stomach.  Why are they calling my name 45 minutes before my flight?  My seat was confirmed, so it wasn’t that. I wasn’t carrying illegal contraband (that I knew of). Oh, please don’t have me miss this flight, I thought as I rushed to the ticket counter.

Turns out they just wanted to know if I had read the fine print. Which I had – 3 hours ago and $400 later.

Turns out you cannot fly into Argentina without proof that you are leaving. seems like a big detail that I shouldn’t have missed. Well, I hadn’t totally. I had read about it 6 months ago. And at that time I figured no problem, I will surely have my return ticket by that time. But, now it was four hours before my flight, I am sitting in a dumpy hostel room in Saigon that I got for $5 for 3 hours to shower and repack and, thanks to government controls, I cannot access a quarter of the websites I am trying to research.

Panic has begun to set in.

You see, my plans are up in the air. I don’t know when I am returning to the states. I don’t know when I am leaving argentina. All I really know is that I have a flight to El Calafate less than 24 hours after I arrive in Buenos Aires.  That i would really prefer not to miss.  And that Qatar Airways is not going to let me leave Vietnam without proof that i am leaving Argentina.

Finally the interweb, my credit card and government controls have all conspired to allow me to purchase a, hopefully fully refundable (how many times can one read the airline fine print and still be confused?), airline ticket to Chile. Which I hope to not use.

Sure enough, that was the reason I heard my name over the intercom. They let me board the flight. And here I am, 30+ hours of flying time later, listening told men gossip in the coffee shop where I am fighting jet-lag in Buenos Aires.

on leaving…..

As I am about to board my VERY VERY (did I mention very?) long flight to south america, I am struck by this transition.  This feels big — both from the perspective that it is the half way point of my trip and that it is a big transition in location, and away from Asia.

By the way — did I mention that my flight is long?  Yeah — almost 29 hours of flying time, plus just under a 3 hour layover.  how is that for long?!  I guess I am traveling half way around the world.

So, what is it about this part of the world that I have fallen in love with?  I could say that it is the people (which is true) or the food (which is also true), but that is not the full story.  In Nepal it was the moutains, along with the people.  In India, it was the diversity, the food and the people.  In Bangkok and Vietnam, it was how different it was (for me), and the food!

But, that isn’t all of it either.  That doesn’t fully explain leaving part of my heart in India and Nepal.  Maybe it was how hard you (sometimes) have to work in those places to get your big rewards.  Or the contrast of worlds.  Or the interplay of spirituality and every day life – and all the messiness that it brings.  That there is this dicotomy between simplicity and complexity, and how nothing is one or the either.  Maybe it is how much those two countries make me smile (and sometimes make my angry).  Whatever it is, it is powerful.

So — away I go – off to another place, another world.  Which, I am sure will be amazing and full of greatness — just as all of the world have proven to be for me.  But, seeing as I am leaving part of myself here, I will just have to come back some time soon.

See you all in Buenos Aires!


Two weeks is officially NOT enough time to see much of Vietnam! Even with the change in my plans, I feel like I barely know Vietnam. I got so use to really knowing a place (and it is questionable if I even did get to know much about Nepal and India) from being there a longer time, so this two week blitz was definitely different. It felt a little bit more like checking off various tourist sites than really getting to know Vietnam. I have so many questions….

After I left Chloe in Nha Trang, I headed 5 hours up the coast to Quy Nhon, a quiet little city with a beautiful coast. I hung out there for a day — walking through the city, along the beach and to a beautiful little pagoda where I spoke to a monk for awhile. The city is pretty empty of tourists, or at least compared to Nha Trang! I also found a little hotel that for 10$ a night I was on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the ocean. And the two mornings I was there, it was clear out!

From Quy Nhon I took a 9 hour bus ride to Dalat, which is up in the mountains. It was a beautiful ride up there, past rice fields and lush mountains shrouded in clouds. The actual town is nothing all that spectacular, but made for a nice relaxing day here — lots of cafes overlooking the lake in the center of town and a fun market to walk around. This area is much cooler than anywhere else in southern Vietnam, the temperature difference was a definite welcome! That also means that lots of fruits and vegetables grow here — all the markets had strawberries for sale and there were lots of dried berries for sale too. Here, like everywhere else I have been in Veitnam, the main streets are converted in street restaurants and markets selling just about anything at night. It is amazing to see all the chairs and tables laid out and the stalls appearing out of nowhere. The street food is pretty good (and cheap) – and the pho (soup) was a nice treat on a cool evening. Though, I have tried some things that I am not totally thrilled with — for instance, last night I had a soya bean drink that was warm and sweet – kind of a shake. Not sure what I thought of that. Then today, I had something that looked like a quesadilla, but definitely was NOT one. It had a mild fish taste and was crispy… and i really can’t tell you much more than that. maybe there was some egg in it? it wasn’t all that interesting. There are still a lot of foods that i would like to try – my last day may be a feeding frenzy!

I like Vietnam, though I feel that I need to spend quite a bit more time in Southeast Asia to feel like I get it. It is pretty different here from India and Nepal (obviously) – and so I just don’t think I get it all. I kind of keep expecting people to act like they do in India and Nepal — which of course doesn’t happen. But, people are very friendly here, and I love seeing people smile at me even with their face masks on (they are real into those face masks — makes me wonder what I am breathing in!).

It is interesting being in a communist (er, rather, socialist) country — though there are not too many obvious signs of it other than flags and facebook being banned (you can get it some places, but most wifi signals do not allow you to get on). I was in one town where all the sidewalks had little communist insignias all along the sides (little stars and hammers and sickles and some other little symbols). But, there are flags everywhere! People seem very proud.

All through my journey, when I say I am American (which people almost never guess — I hear Italy, Spain and Israel mostly but rarely American), people all over respond with “obama!” which is a fun response. He is a big time celebrity in India and Nepal, at least. But here, I wondered what it would be like. I felt shy saying I was American – after all, some of the hillsides are still denuded from Agent Orange, and people are still having birth defects and health problems from it. But, it does not seem to be a problem here — people are quick to smile and are kind and helpful. Just like all the other places I have been.

(No pictures at this time…. the connection is not good — but i promise to post some good ones!)

Plans are meant to broken…. or something like that

I knew I had a short time in Vietnam, so I asked around — where should I go, what should I do?  Following a lot of questions and a lot of research, I had a general plan of 2 days in the Mekong Delta, 2 days in Dalat, a few days on the beach and then Hoi An.  Everyone recommended Hoi An.  Great — sign me up!  It seemed that it was do-able, though I would have to be careful about getting back to HCMC for my flight — but no worries.

Then, a few months later, I got great news that my friend Chloe was also going to join me in Vietnam – so I shared with her my plans.  It turned out that we would overlap by a week – so emails went back and forth, trying to make plans and confirm itineraries.  Which… turns out, is not so easy.

Long story short, we spent a lot of time together trying to figure out how to make our plans work for each of our schedules, needs, budgets, wants, etc.  It turns out that they could not mesh.  So — I am not going to Hoi An.  Instead, I have come to Quy Nhon, another beach town, though less touristy.  And then I will go to Dalat and then head back to HCMC for my 28 hour flight.  And Chloe?  She has headed north – she is going to Hoi An.

It was tough and frustrating trying to figure it all out. I’ll be honest, I have gotten use to planning on my own.  And I also am use to the ease of getting around – India made it all so easy – why is the rest of the world not like that?  I was bummed we had to split ways, as I was glad to have a travel companion.    But, at the same time, I am continuously given the lesson that I need to be flexible with my plans.  That I need to be patient and flexible, creative and willing to see the good in no matter what happens.  I guess until I have that lesson figured out – I will keep getting ample opportunities to learn it.

chloe and i on the beach, Nha Trang, before heading separate ways

So, here is to unexpected adventures, trying to keep an open mind,and (re)learning to be patient and flexible.

Reflecting back, looking forward

Happy new year friends.

Nha Trang beach, where I brought in the new year

I have never been a huge fan of new year’s — seeing as it seems so artificial (why is this the new year?  being an east coaster, in the dead of winter, it is hard to feel like it is a new year) and it always carries such high expectations, which never seem to pan out exactly the way you hope.  Though, I do like the idea of making resolutions — or at least reflecting on your life in the past year and looking forward.

For me, this past year has been tremendous – from making the leap to buying my ticket, to planning this journey to setting into motion all the small things that got me here.  I am a planner – I love the work that leads up to the big event – so this year was great for me.  And then — I left and started the journey.  There were some hard moments, for sure, but thinking back on the past four months, I marvel on my growth, my perspective and how grateful I am.

reclining buddha at the pagoda in Nha Trang

I knew it would be good.  But — was it going to be one of those type 2 fun things?  You know, the things that are fun after the fact?  Or would it actually be fun in the moment.  I guess I have to say that there is both types of fun.  But – what has surprised me – is just how good it is.  Just how much I don’t want it to end.  Just how much I want to keep journeying and seeing and experiencing and meeting and …. living.

So – this past year has been about opening up – embracing the world and all of its amazingness.  And its messiness.  And its craziness.

So – this upcoming year?

Well, more of the same, right?  More living and experiencing.  More rambling and exploring, climbing and peak bagging, breathing deep and sitting quietly (thanks Ed Abbey).  But, to tell you the truth friends, i am feeling a little sad.  Because I know it will come to an end.  That this year it ends.  That my journey will end and I go back to my life before.  But, it won’t be the same, will it?  My world is so much bigger now.

boats in the harbor outside of Nha Trang

Last year, a friend suggested making some intentions for the new year around 3 different focuses (foci?) – personal, professional and health (or something like that).  Following an early morning run on the beach, I sat with coffee and thought about my intentions for this upcoming year.  I reflected on where I have traveled, and thought ahead to where I am going.  I definitely do not have it all figured out, but I also know that I have much more clarity than ever before.

Thank you friends, for being with me on this journey, for giving me courage when I was missing it, for celebrating my successes and reaching out when I was lonely.  I am so excited to share the next 4 and a half or 5 months with you (see — i am sad.  that seems so short!).  I am so grateful for you all.

How did you bring in your new year?

Buddha, overlooking the city

you remember, I show you

“you remember, i show you”

I heard that line at least 20 times from my cyclo driver.  Don’t worry — I have no idea what he meant either.  I thought I was getting a deal — a ride to my next town and my homestay covered.  However, all I was getting was a ride to a very touristy guesthouse and dropped off there.  Not quite what I thought.  And all through the 3 or so hours we toured back roads, he spoke, I understood about 1/16th of it, and then he would say “you remember, I show you” – and I would have no clue what he was talking about….

Yeah – that is me looking like a dumb-ass in my helmet.  The really sad part about it is that helmets are mandatory here so they are a major fashion statement.  There are tons of stores with all sorts of super cute helmets and helmet covers.  Seriously great options.  Unlike mine…

nice helmet……

But, back to what matters, right?  So – I have spent the past three days touring the Mekong Delta in one way or another.  The first day I took a super touristy tour of the delta — it involved a big boat, small boats, trips to try local honey and coconut candy, lunch and was all around fairly lame — we were pretty much being shuttled from spot to spot — very little detail in what we were seeing.  But — it was my ride into the delta (i stayed when all the rest of the tourists left) and it was a cool way to see a lot of different stuff in a very short period of time.

woman paddling in delta

traditional vietnamese tombs at a family house in the deltasmall boats used in canals

The next day, I took my motorcycle ride to near Vinh Long – further into the delta.  Though it was a bit of a rip-off for what it was, it was cool to take back roads.

women working in the field

I stayed at a guesthouse last night that is billed as a homestay — but the place was so big and the daughter who served me looked so pissed off (damn sullen teenagers! 🙂 that I did not feel like a homestay.  I was also the only person there (once all the lunch tour groups left), so it was a bit awkward.  Though the food was good — I had elephant ear fish — which is basically a whole fish they give you and you roll spring rolls for yourself.  Then there was a huge prawn and pieces of other fish with rice.  And soup.  Maybe the girl was just pissed off because she had to bring out all that food.  The high point of staying there was getting a chance to take a long walk along the canal – i felt i got a good chance to see how people live in a not very touristy place.  It was beautiful – green, lush and full of fruit trees (banana, coconut, jackfruit and papaya!).

couple riding their bike along the canal

Then, today, I took another boat tour (it was sort of set up by the moto dude — plus i had to find a way to get from the homestay to the city of vinh long, so it worked out ok).  This one was with a super nice man and his super cute little girl.  He took me through the canals – we also visited the honey production and the coconut candy — plus popped rice and he had me sample the rice alcohol (at 8 in the morning!).  Then we went and saw the floating markets near Vinh Long — which are just that — markets that are floating — they are on boats.  It was pretty cool to see.

woman heading to floating market

woman headed to floating market

boats with their goods for the floating market

In Vinh Long I toured the markets.  Vietnamese markets sell just about anything — from live to dried fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, packaged goods, food stalls, eggs — pretty much whatever you want!  they are fun to walk around.

all sorts of different eggs to eat! i bet some of those are baby birds

dried fish in the market

yeah, that is a real snake in there…..

My friend Chloe arrives tomorrow — we will meet up in Can Tho and figure out our plans from there.  I discovered that it is not super easy to travel by yourself in this country — nothing like in India!  the buses and whole tourism industry (which is co-owned by the government) pushes you towards certain places.  I think that the ideal way to see Vietnam would be bike-touring (note to self for next trip here).

Tonight after having dinner in the market (no idea what I ate – as is the case for most of my meals), I went to the cafe that is on the water front.  There was some terrible karoke going on.  And I am so curious why the Vietnamese are SO into the neon flashing lights…..

more soon….

hope all is well — love – aurora

So this is Christmas…

One of my favorite Christmas carols is Little Drummer Boy.  The bob seeger version gets me every time.  Brings me back to past Christmases with family — hanging up ornaments that my brother and I made when we were 5, opening presents together, sharing food and drink, laughing, talking, more food.

Last night, while walking back to my hotel, one of the bars had that carol playing loudly and for a moment, I was transported back to cold New York — back to my father’s house or my mother’s house (hard to be transported to two places at the same time…  but I managed) – imagining my brothers and I hanging out, or all 16+ of us fitting around the table for the Christmas feast.  It made me smile…  and then I was almost run over by a moped.

Being abroad, solo, is a bit strange for Christmas.  First, there is the fact that I am in a predominantly Buddhist country.  Then there is the fact that I do not speak the same language as the people here.  Then, there is the fact that the biggest manifestation of the Christmas spirit around here is commerical — all the big stores have christmas displays — and not being a shopper (even when I am not trying to live on 30$/day) leaves me feeling pretty disconnected from that.  Then there is the fact that I am by myself when Christmas, to me, means lots of aunts running around trying to get the Christmas meal on the table (i.e. – nothing solo about it!).  So — all in all — it is hard to feel a connection to this day — other than I know that back in cold snowy New York (ok, even if it is not cold and snowy there — it is in my mind) – my friends and family are celebrating and my aunts (and uncles) will still be running around to get the meal on the table for all 16+ people!

I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s right now — i feel truly blessed and grateful for this journey that I am on — and know that so few people are able to make the same type of choices as I have been able to.  However, having said that, it would be nice to magically (and for free!) be able to zip home for a quick visit, eat some good food, have some good ipas, visit with friends and family really quick — and then get back to my adventure!  but until then I remain grateful to wifi, skype, spring rolls and other travelers.

No matter how you celebrate the day (with family, eating chinese food, going to the movies) – I hope it is a wonderful day for you and your loved ones.  Enjoy, laugh, be grateful and eat and drink well!

Much love — Aurora

Merry merry happy happy

If I thought saigon was crazy last night….  tonight there is wall to wall traffic and people everywhere.  Lots and lots of folks taking pictures of their kid, who are all decked out in christmas wear, in front of the store displays.

interesting combo….

christmas eve, saigon style

Here are some of the highlights (or moments) of my day….

  • exercising early in the morning at a nearby park — which was SO crowded.  Saigon likes their exercise!  there are even permanent machines in the park!  people playing badminton, an aerobics class with fun music and old ladies, runners, walkers, people of all ages.  it was great!
  • visited the Renification Palace – which is where the tanks came through in 1975 and took over S.Vietnam and hoisted the current flag.  It is pretty well preserved and pretty interesting to learn more about the conflict
  • visited the war museum – which has a big exhibit on Agent Orange.  It is terrible what was done to this country.  There were a lot of pictures of people impacted by Agent Orange — and it is still a problem here.  On display was a beautiful  letter that a young girl, who is disabled by Agent Orange,  wrote to President Obama asking him to think of young children everywhere who need help.  The most depressing part of it, for me, was that the companies who knowingly sold and manufactured Agent Orange have barely shouldered the blame and impact.  While visiting the museum, I could not help but think of Iraq and Afghanistan…..

paintings by children at the war museum

  • when I came back to my guesthouse tonight, I got talking to a guy that was in the lobby.  Turns out he is from long island, but lives abroad (currently in Hong kong) and is here traveling.  While we had a beer and toasted christmas eve, the women who work in the hotel invited us to join them for some food — some watermelon, some fish and beef meatballs and eggs.  And not just ordinary eggs — but BABY BIRD eggs….  no joke.  when I said that I did not want to try it, the girl said “well, you eat big bird chickens, why not baby bird chicken?”  Good question.

baby bird

This is not the first Christmas I have been away from my family, but it is the first Christmas that I am alone.  I move between feeling kind of lonely and a little melancholy to not even noticing that it is Christmas, as it is hot, busy, crowded and not my culture/language/community.  But, I also have been having a tough time trying to figure out what to do with my time.  An old friend is joining me on the 29th, so we have been emailing back and forth to figure out where to meet and where we want to go — but I have finally decided to stay in HCMC and head to the mekong delta on the 26th.  Not that there is so much to do here, but at least I can get myself all figured out and leave with a plan.

Ok — more from me later.  lots of love — aurora

all kinds of crazy

holy shitballs….  HCMC is insane….

I will try to describe crossing the street from where I have come from….

  • Take the order of Bangkok (following conventional traffic rules and lights)
  • Take the sheer number of vehicles on the road of india (delhi) and make most of mopeds
  • take the lack of lights of india

and there you would have something a little like the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.  Lonely Planet has it in the book that one of the things you should do in Vietnam is cross the street like a local “one step at a time” because pretty much you just have to walk out into it…  and the mopeds trust that you will keep going and you trust that they will move around you.  and it all works out in the end…  but there are thousands of them.  i mean, thousands.  you know that movie Baraka where they have the high speed film of some place in asia (china maybe?) and all the bikes?  yeah….  it is real.

I got here this morning, all smooth, the hotel picked me up and it was still early, so i was able to relax before i went out into the city.  it is pretty easy to get around — road signs everywhere.  and during the middle of the day – the craziness is put away.  There are fewer street carts than bangkok.  They are still there, but not in the multitudes.  I had lunch in a market.  Stalls were set up selling clothes and shoes and t-shirts and make-up.  and then the food stalls.  I bypassed the pho and went right for the spring rolls.  they were so good.  so delicious.  I had 4 for about a dollar and a half…  and the other food…  cannot wait to try it.

Vietnam is WAY into their coffee.  there is a coffee shop on every corner.  now, i get free coffee at my hotel (free coffee, free light breakfast and free light dinner and bananas all day — that is what you get when you pay the high high price of 20 USD/night!) — so in theory, I should not be stopping for coffee but….  how can one resist?!

well, i don’t!  🙂  it is rich, dark and sweet….  so good!

there is a coffee here that they sell (maybe just to tourists?) that is first eaten by weasels and then picked out of the weasel poop and then roasted…..  yep.  no joke.  (well, although, it might be.  maybe all the vietnamese are laughing at the tourists….)

I got my bearings today and so tomorrow I plan on going for a run in the morning (my first in a long time) and then going to check out the war museum.  I have heard that it is pretty intense.  and then, I met a woman today who lives in the phillipines but is visiting her brother here.  We may meet up for lunch (I am trusting/ hoping she is just really friendly) and then I reached out to the couchsurfing community here and may meet up with some of those folks.  I am not sure what my plans are for xmas day yet…  there are a lot of different options up in the air right now…  all depends on what Chloe and I plan to do when she gets here.

Ok — more tomorrow….  I want to share more about how pretty the city is and how easy it is to get around (signs are up and the map connects with the streets signs — seems like a no-brainer, but not always the case) and people seem friendly-ish.  and did i mention that it is hot as hell?

lots of love friends — i know people are traveling and feeling crazy right now…  don’t forget to take a deep breath and celebrate the people you are surrounded by.

much love — aurora