Transition.

“We waste so many days waiting for the weekend. So many nights wanting morning. Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.” – Joshua Glenn Clark

Writing makes me feel better.

This blog has sat idle for a long time. I miss writing so I have decided to write. Sometimes, life is that simple.

I recently picked up my life and moved it to the Northwest (sometimes, life isn’t so simple). I currently reside in Vancouver, BC, at my favorite community space, the neighborhood library. I think part of me doesn’t want to get a computer of any sort because then I wouldn’t get the privilege of walking through the rain and feeling the relief of a library. And because I know I can’t have nice things.

Saying goodbye to their baby girl for the 178th time!

I am out here in Canada for a 1-year diploma program to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. I have been in school for a month and absolutely adore it. We had “spring break” a couple weeks ago and was pissed because I would have preferred be in class.

This past month of transition and “settling in” has been super weird for me, and almost a blur, so I thought it would behoooooove me to get my thoughts out of my head and onto a piece of paper. Turns out I don’t own any paper so here I am on the inter-webs. When I write, my thoughts begin to make sense — so that is the main drive of getting back in the saddle. I would hate for any moment in life to go by and feel like a blur, so this is my effort to gain back the last month.

I thrive on moving to places that I have never been, and to places where I don’t know anyone. It really gets me going, gets me excited. The nerves set in a few days before I hop on the plane, but they don’t last long. There is some fear of the unknown involved, but after hiking the PCT, I think I’ve become numb to that feeling. It only took 159 consecutive days of terror to desensitize it, but totally worth it because I didn’t really have time for “the fear of the unknown” this time around, I had goodbye parties to throw for myself, ya know? I highly recommend this bulletproof method.

My arrival into Canada was a “typical julie” — I arrived with nowhere to stay. My sublet cancelled last minute, so a friend connected me with another friends husbands sister (??)…basically, it was amazing. I arrived at their haunted house at 3:30AM and followed her instructions to go upstairs and sleep in the room with the 2 single beds. It was a very old house and there were padlocks on all the doors. The room was flooded with Pokemon, sleeping bags, a Darth Vador alarm clock, and an adorable welcome note with a banana and orange juice. It was creaky, creepy, and hilarious. I loved every second of that arrival. I woke up, met these amazingly generous ladies, and was given coffee and a scone. I should have seen something like this coming. I mean, on my first day of school I woke up on an Oreo themed pillowcase and in a room filled with stuffed animals and Super Mario posters, how could I not be excited after that! I clipped my bangs back, threw on my pastel pink stirrup pants, loaded my arms up with neon scrunchies, made a quick bologna and american cheese sammy and was ready to roll! It was all so bizarrely wonderful, and I felt right at home during those first few days with them.

After lots of effort, I found a fantastic sublet (although it ends May 1st :(.) I live in a 1bdr in the same neighborhood as my school. This is where it gets tricky. I thought I really wanted to live alone, say goodbye to roommates, and really focus on school. Now I am not so sure. It’s great most of the time, but at other times I feel like I have isolated myself. Here I am in a brand new city, in a brand new country, and I decide to live alone. It has its major perks, but with not having started work yet, I kind of feel a bit useless outside of school.

Speaking of work, I got a job, worked one shift, hated it, stressed about it for 3 days, and quit. I’m a quitter. I’m a “one-shifter.” It feels freakin’ fabulous. I am really bad at quitting things because I become loyal quite quickly. That goes for just about anything in my life. So even though they probably didn’t give a shit, I did. As if I’m THAT cool eh? Good news is that I just started another job. Something less stressful, with better hours, and in a more casual environment. It comes with free pastries and coffee. I should be just fine. Although having to set aside 3 minutes to walk there is going to become a real bear.

In terms of my social status, it’s going. I really like my classmates, and know in time there will be a few who will turn into really good friends. I am not one to rush into things (to an extent), and have found that the people I connect with right off the bat usually are the ones that also fizzle out the quickest. Good friends take time, and good friends are worth that time.

Haha what a depressing photo choice after that paragraph! Oh well, keeping it!

I have, however, been taken under the wing of a 60-year-old Aussie. Of course he came here on holiday 12 years ago and decided to stay to become part of the Canadian Snow-Shoeing team. He lives in my building and is the most helpful, enthusiastic, ultra-running, coffee loving guy in the world. I actually got home from work on my Birthday and there was a bag of race swag hanging on my doorknob from him. He designs race courses all over Vancouver and leads a trail running group twice a week. Since he is always working on running events, he drives a Chrysler MiniVan. He calls it a “shit-box” (remember, HEAVY Australian accent) and we ride around town in that baby. He has introduced me to a ton of crazy adventurous people and has me completely stressed out with how many trails I need to explore this summer. A true friend.

Striking a pose

I sat down thinking I was going to dissect my feelings on loneliness, uselessness, and how we’ve only gotten 70 hours of sun in March (do you realize what that DOES TO A PERSON?!?). I guess that’s why I write though, because all those things really aren’t weighing on me as heavily as I thought. Upon further reflection, I have actually done way more than I thought this month. I need to learn how to give myself a break from time to time, I am for sure my own toughest critic. I have so many amazing things going on, and it’s such an exciting time.

I will continue to join clubs that interest me, continue to say “yes” to everything I am invited to, continue to remind myself that both good things take time and that there is a thing called an “off-season” for a reason. I don’t need to be living on the edge 100% of the time to feel like I am squeezing the most out of life.

Moments spent in transition are important, transformative, and such a mysterious time of growth. As long as I am appreciating this time, the growth will continue, and the opportunities will come. I feel like I just opened up a book of blank pages and jumped on in.

Jesus take the wheel.

 

1st World Pit Stop — Singapore

When planning our flights for this trip we decided, after several seconds of intense analysis, to extend our layover in Singapore by a couple days. “I mean we might as well, we’re flying past there anyways.” Done.

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Instead of going directly to Bali, we spent 2 nights in Singapore. Our mindset this whole trip has been to see as much as possible in the allotted time given. This approach has worked out great because we have not felt the need for more time, we have always been ready for the next place.

I don't remember what or where this was

I don’t remember what or where this was

Singapore is fabulous. The very opposite of what we’ve been traveling through, and a welcomed break from it. It is way bigger than I thought, way cleaner than I thought and WAY more expensive than I could wrap my big head around. It is bright, new, futuristic, and environmentally conscience. There is toilet paper to be used, clean subways to be ridden, and luscious green parks to be explored. I really, really enjoyed Singapore, but only for a day.

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Southeast Asia has been costing us between 10-20 dollars a night for a private room and bathroom. The highest we spent was 40, some low 30s , but mostly around 20 total for the both of us. And, since we are so savvy, rented out our Jackson pad all month to several ski vacationers and used all that income for our hotels. Those ski bros covered January rent AND 30 nights of traveling, BOOYAH. Big shout out to Halez for handling all that, Air B&B can be pretty needy as we found out.

Big mirrors came out of NOWHERE

Big mirrors came out of NOWHERE

When searching for accommodation in Singapore we realized it was back to the hostel game. Even a shared 8 bunk room was 37 a night, but it was either that or emptying our pockets for the big boys.

Our hostel, the INNcrowd (get it?) was located in Little India and a well enough run hostel. The bathrooms were clean and the staff friendly. If it wasn’t for the loud Indian music (think live band chanting spiritual things with drums) blaring all night, our bunk mate puking in a plastic bag off the side of her bed (I remember my first beer), the stench of feet, the dust from the top bunk dropping into my mouth, and the lack of a mattress, I’d give it a 10. But seriously, it could ALWAYS be worse, so I was happy.

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Singapore's marketing strategy to get people to be nice on the subway. The middle one looks like my sister Laura. It's a good thing I doubt she reads this blog. Billboards like this make me laugh so hard

Singapore’s marketing strategy to influence people to be nice on the subway. The middle one looks like my sister Laura. It’s a good thing I doubt she reads this blog. Billboards like this really get the message through, don’t you think?

My full day in Singapore was spent running in Fort Canning park, educating myself in the spice garden, walking along the marina, sweating, enjoying an iced Kopi Coffee (coffee with sweetened condensed milk, it’s what the locals do, and yes, the locals are mostly all overweight), exploring the cleanest most organized China Town I’ve ever seen, sweating, people watching at Raffles Place, touring Clarkes Quay, getting blessed by a Buddha man in the Buddhas Tooth Relic Temple, sweating, and spending an absurd amount of money on “happy hour” drinks (we couldn’t find beer for less than 10 dollars during this supposedly cheap time of day).

Typical Singaporian Breakfast, Kopi Coffee and a Kaya Bun (dense and toasted with butter and coconut jam). If I spent more than 1.5 days here I'd have a weight problem too.

Typical Singaporian Breakfast, Kopi Coffee and a Kaya Bun (dense and toasted with butter and coconut jam). If I spent more than 1.5 days here I’d have a weight problem too.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

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Singapore was a really nice change of pace for a day, it’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer. The Singaporians were not as friendly and welcoming as I hoped, and prices on everything were so outrageous I was ready to leave the next afternoon. A lot of business people walking around, like, people in nice clothes, that was weird…let’s go to Bali!

Boats and Planes

Boats and Planes, adios Singapore

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Siem Reap — Angkor Wat Temples & Bike Rides

We arrive in Siem Reap at 8pm Saturday night after another joyous and bumpy 7-hour bus trip. This one was EXTRA bumpy and it’s probably because there was no bathroom on board and although I’ve been purposely not drinking much water, I had to go. Boy, did I have to pee. I survive, and we are greeted at Ta Som Guesthouse with the guy (who I’m pretty sure thought we were Australian because he kept making Australian jokes and laughing at himself) making us welcome drinks! Papaya-banana-mango smoothies, mmm. We were staying 3 nights so were jazzed with the welcome party. We stayed on the 4th floor (no elevators anywhere, and we always seem to be on the top floor, am I complaining?) in room 134. Room 134 on the 4th floor, made me chuckle.

Walked to a side street and got some easy cheap dinner. The owner, a Cambodian named Paulie, was doing trick shots on the pool table while we ate. After kicking Haley’s butt in Connect 4 (okay fine I only won once), we played a few games with Paulie and an Aussie named Luke. I suck at pool, like, really bad. Luckily, I was on Luke’s team and he was good, and also really laid back so he didn’t mind. His Australian electrician license expired so he’s been backpacking for over a year, not working, just traveling and kicking it, that’s what I like to see!

Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed! Angelina? Is that you?

Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider was filmed! Angelina? Is that you?

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

We spent the following day exploring the Temples of Angkor Wat. A friend I studied with in Australia (2009) recently backpacked Southeast Asia with her husband and recommended the Tuk Tuk driver they had. His name is Meas and he brought us ice cold water and a friendly smile. He drove us around to each of the temples and was very reliable. Thanks for the hook-up Britt! Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world (or at least that’s what my postcards say) and it’s unbelievable. IT’S HUGE. The amount of detail, meaning, storylines, and labor that went into building all of these temples leaves you mind-blown. Meas took us first to Angkor Wat (the biggest, and best in my opinion) then to The Bayon, and ending with Ta Prohm a.k.a the TOMB RAIDER TEMPLE. Add in a few smaller ones along the way, a lunch with smoked fish that makes your stomach turn, 90+ degree sun, the steepest stairs in the world, and by 2PM you’re ready to call it quits. We both aren’t reallyyyyyy Temple people, but both really enjoyed Angkor Wat. A lot of people do 2-3 day tours of these temples, but 6 hours was good enough for us! hah!

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat

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As if I didn’t get enough cardio and sun, I went for an afternoon run. I felt like a pile, but pretty good by the end of it. Because of how dehydrated I’ve been I was craving a beer, and nothing else. I wanted to see Pub Street anyways so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was 5pm so I looked at Google maps briefly and walked in it’s direction. I was in Julie-land and overshot the street by 10 minutes, laughed, and turned around. Once on the street it didn’t look as touristy as everyone said it was, I also didn’t recognize any of the bars I heard about. Turns out, I was on Khmer Pub Street, the street with a bunch of run-down local bars. It was deserted. I laughed again and got a Tuk Tuk and said I need to go to Pub Street! and he was like okay 2 dollars! and I was like fineeeeeeeee. Got to Pub Street and told Halez just to look for me on one of the outdoor patios when she was done with her afternoon frolic. Sat next to 3 other guys (swiss, irish, british) and chatted it up. We all drank .50cent drafts and shared stories and laughs. Ended up getting dinner with them at a super local spot right around the corner with no inside, no bathroom, and best yet, no name. There was one guy in charge of making everyone’s food and he looked about 20 years old, and he did it in the middle of the restaurant. The food was incredible, cheap (1.50), and we ended up sitting next to 4 South-African sisters who ditched their husbands and kids for a 2 week Cambodian vacation, they were grrrreeattttt.

Merv! Retired cop from Northern Ireland with a passion for beer and fannypacks

Merv! Retired cop from Northern Ireland with a passion for beer and fannypacks

Party Time

Party Time

The next day we rented bikes and rode through dirt-road villages along the river. Our destination was Tonle Sap Lake, but when we got close the guard wouldn’t let us in! hah! Riding through the villages was really fun because all the kids we passed said “Hello!” every.single.one. They meant it too, they were so friendly. It was a SCORCHER. Rode past beautiful fields and villages, stopped for a shade break and rode back. We stopped at a Hammock Bar and I got a smoothie. Hung out on the hammock, journaled, read, swayed, and then realizing (rather abruptly) that the smoothie was a straight laxative, went running to the bathroom. Showered and rested up out of the sun for an hour and grabbed some dinner and the best Gelato I have ever had. Made with only Palm Sugar, Fruit, and Water, I got the Venezuelan Chocolate and it was such a surprise because I don’t even like chocolate ice cream (sorry dad). But THIS, oh my, THIS was something to be sad about when gone.

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Chillin'

Chillin’

After a nice morning run I laid in the Royal Gardens to do some planks and push-ups. Two girls came over and sat down next to me. They were very shy and didn’t know much English, but were in school and learning it. They kept giggling and would ask me questions with what words they knew. I tried to get them to do some push-ups but they just laughed like I was crazy! I asked them a lot of questions but they didn’t understand any. We took a few selfies, we listened to my beats, and shared a lot of laughs (even though we both didn’t know what we were laughing about). The Cambodian kids are my favorite part about Cambodia. The landscape is beautiful (very green), the culture is interesting, but the kids of Cambodia have been my favorite. There is also so much support here for them. A ton of restaurants and trade shops in Siem Reap are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), which help support and train the kids of Cambodia. A lot of the proceeds go to schools, and a lot of them offer apprenticeships and training programs with valuable work experience. We have not seen anything with this type of frequency in the other cities we visited (and we’d know, we do a lotttt of restaurant hopping), so it was nice to end our trip in Southeast Asia on a positive note. I’m aware that’s just one part of Cambodia, and there is a lot of poverty throughout the Kingdom, but knowing there are bright spots in places makes me very hopeful.

When there was a silence I found myself filling it with don't stop studying! study! study! study! because they knew what that word meant. They were the best.

When there was a silence I found myself filling it with don’t stop studying! study! study! study! because they knew what that word meant. They were the best.

The Kingdom of Cambodia — Phnom Penh

4 Nights spent in Cambodia split between the Capital city of Phnom Penh and the better known Siem Reap. There are no trains in Cambodia so we took a 6 hour bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. We get on the bus ($10), are seated in the first row, given a box of 2 bread-based treats, and are being serenaded by the one, the only, Mariah Carey. They had a TV in the front and it was playing old school music videos for the first couple hours, and since everyone knows how this made me feel I’ll spare you all the gushing. But seriously, Mariah – Brittney – Celine- S-Club 7 – a foreign replica of 98 degrees, etc. ALL in their best days. Oh man, okay okay, I’ll break here.

The King's residence, The Royal Palace

The King’s residence, The Royal Palace

The journey was a bumpy one. Why I thought Cambodia would have paved roads I’m not sure. It took us an hour at the border to get the whole bus (and 7 other tour buses) through VISA approvals (waiting in hoards of body odor watching men in uniform aggressively stamp things) and then we were off again. We got into Phnom Penh around 2 and thanks to Haleys tripadvisor addiction, went to the best place for lunch. It was an organic raw superfood juicery with the freshest food and drinks, exactly what we wanted after so much traveling, nutrient overload!

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I regrettably did not have much excitement for Phnom Penh, through word of mouth it seemed more of a stopover on your way to Siem Reap rather than a place you spend more than 1 or 2 nights in. I was expecting a dirty, dark city littered with tragedy and poverty stemming from the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that they were able to start rebuilding after the Cambodian genocide and all around repulsive rule of the Khmer Rouge. We did not have time to make it over to the “Killing Fields” but heard it was definitely something to see if you are ever in Cambodia. Not a happy day trip, but a very educational, eye-opening, and emotional experience.

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Coconut Truck!

Coconut Truck!

We spent our only night in Phnom Penh as you should, scouting happy hour deals and drinking with the locals (expats or not). After a couple Cambodian Brews we found ourselves in a tiny room that fits only a tiny bar. This tiny bar, called Templar, had 3 female Cambodian bartenders who were extremely nice and funny. The place is run by a 49-year-old British guy who lived in a lot of places in Southeast Asia but found his home in Phnom Penh. He is also about to marry one of the girls he hired, she is in her early 20’s, the wedding is 3 days long, and there is 17 outfit changes. He said he’s looking for a doppelganger for that part. Anyways we got 3 top shelf cocktails that were some of the best we’ve ever had, all for 6 dollars total. We really, really like Cambodia. Thanks to Carl, all his girls, and the other guys at the bar for a great time!

Sampling the Cambodian Brews

Sampling the Cambodian Brews

My minty vodka cocktail the owner said I MUST have

My minty vodka cocktail the owner said I MUST have

Woke up in the morning and went for a very humid, lung sucking run along the river. It was really nice to be able to run without worrying about motorbikes beeping at you or a Tuk Tuk running over your toes. Went back to the juice place for breakfast, Artillery, and got a slamminnnnn’ breakfast and juicey. Back on the bus for the 7 hour trek to Siem Reap. Phnom Penh was way better than I expected, we could have spent another day there easily. I was most excited to see the contrast between the people of Vietnam and the people of Cambodia (if it even existed) and I was glad the Cambodians seem to be friendlier and less pushy. A very poor country, but the people are more pleasant and less aggressive with wanting your money, they more so just want to talk to you.

Welcome to Cambodia, here's some TP and bottled water

Welcome to Cambodia, here’s some TP and bottled water

 

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is one of THEE must DO’S in ALL of Vietnam, soooo we did it! It’s a huge bay in Northern Vietnam that you could navigate for weeks and still not see it all. Being on a time crunch, we did it in a day! Most people do a 2 or 3 night boat cruise, but we wanted to spend more time in other places so we just jammed it right on in the itinerary. There are a TON of tour companies and the best advice we got for choosing the right one was, pay a bit more if you don’t want rats scurrying about and a reliable staff. So we ended up picking Alova Cruises for 50 bux each, incredibly large and fresh seafood lunch included.

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It was quite an efficient day. It was so efficient, that, it made me want to do another season for Trek America as a trip leader to see if I could pull off the efficiency this guy did.

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We got picked up at our hotel in Hanoi sharply at 8AM. Took a mini coach bus 3.5 hours to the bay with one annoyingly-pushy-touristy rest stop in the middle. Every time I touched a snack to see what in the world it was a staff member would walk over, stare over my shoulder, and say “hello lady.” EVERY TIME. Eventually I learned not to touch anything and just simply stand over it maneuvering my awkward body trying to read the labels because I didn’t want someone to hover me anymore, but it didn’t matter, they seemingly raise from the depths of the touristy rest stop hells without a sound JUST to make you feel weird. They win, they always do. Did I just write a paragraph on the touristy rest stop?

After handing out tickets, unloading the bus with it still in motion, and paying a lady a dollar to use the bathroom, we boarded the boat. We sat down with a couple other people, a really cool Canadian named Hannah and an undercover Ukrainian who “didn’t speak very good English”…oh really Andre? And why again are you able to receive phone calls in the middle of the sea? What provider are YOU using? HMM? anyways, they were really cool and we shared a great fishy and vegetably lunch with them. I was too busy drooling to take any photos.

The Undercover Agent, black bandanna front left stage right (i was never in drama club)

The Undercover Agent, black bandanna front left stage right (i was never in drama club)

Hung out up top until our first stop for kayaking. Most people (the older folk) chose to hop in a bamboo rowboat that looked really cool, but undoubtably a huge bore. Halez and I hopped in a kayak after not receiving any instruction, filling out any waivers, or being able to buckle OR zipper our life jackets (little broken). Very different than any tour operator in America who now a days make you watch a 20 minute instructional video on proper protective equipment and the dangers that lie ahead. Nope, In Vietnam you just go with it, which makes for more action and less waiting around. We went through some caves where we bottomed out a few times, quiteeeee shallow in those things. The best was watching our Canadian friend and undercover agent navigate the waters together, if we got stuck 3 times they must have gotten stuck 23 times.

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The key to success is communication

We board the boat and next stop is the Caves. The French founded this huge cave and the Vietnamese must be responsible for all the rave lights they installed in there. It was a disco underneath, a beautiful and geologically mind numbing disco. I loved it. Okay back to the boat to ride home, but first everyone sit down to your fresh watermelon we’ve cut up for you!

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Ha Long Bay was extremely gorgeous. It was filled with limestone rock structures (not a geology major here people) and had a certain peace about it. Out in the middle of it all were floating villages that were really cool to see and ponder about…where did they poop? Did they like all these cruise boats invading their space? Can I move in? What would my duties be? Could I be kicked off my floating boat home? Anyways, we got lucky with the weather because it’s usually rainy and foggy this time of year in the bay and we got a clear and sunny day. The temperature was a bit cold and a slight fog covered the area, but for this time of year the weather nailed it.

Floating Village

Floating Village

Overall we spent 4 hours on the actual boat, then got back on the bus where I resumed my throne at my single window seat above the back tire. My knees may have exceeded the height of my face, but I dug it. 3.5 hours back to Hanoi. We get back to our hotel at 8:15pm. Halez and I clean up for a few then race the streets to find dinner. We had a 15 hour train to catch at 10! And we need snacks!

We get to the train station and a guy offers to grab our bags and lead us to our track and room, he does this rather abruptly, he puts our bags under our seats and we thank him. He sticks out his hand and yells “TIP”…I immediately am like “NO WE DIDNT EVEN NEED YOUR HELP” but I kept quiet and Haley tipped him hah! The sneakiness and hustle drives me nuts, it’s fine when they are nice about it but most of the time they are in your face doing anything for you to buy their service or product. I’ve kept calm by telling myself it’s a cultural thing and I need to adapt and accept, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s a humanity thing, and I hate being treated like an ATM, and treated rudely at that. Oh well, I’ll deal.

On a cleanliness scale, this train is the pits. I don’t expect much, but my word is this one beat up. I can’t complain though because we got a 6 person sleeper ‘room’ and we had the whole thing to ourselves! We each took bottom bunk and the 2 shelves above us were sooooo unoccupied. We got on the train at 945 and for those 15 minutes before departure we froze everytime we heard a footstep, then said a powerful little prayer, and released a sigh of deep relief. Extra lucky because this train didn’t have any bunk curtains, zero privacy. We read, we journaled, we slept, I played solitaire until I eventually won, and we got to our destination on the Central Vietnam coast at exactly 1PM. Overall not a bad ride, and always good to travel overnight because it takes care of accommodation and is very efficient for the timely traveler. Onto the beaches!

Northern Vietnam — Hanoi

Vietnam, how excited I’ve been for you! The only country where you have to do some preparation to obtain a Visa before arrival. We knew it was going to be difficult to get in, but we had all the paperwork and pictures we needed to scoot by. Our 1 hour flight from Laos into Hanoi (Northern Capital) was full of retired rambunctious French folks who were passing around Whisky in a spray bottle. All you heard was spritzspritzspritz, HA HA HA…it was awful. Gosh I hate tour groups. AND they all had a conical hat that needed special storage, biting my tongue biting my tongue.

Local

Local.

Clearly, we needed to get off that flight fast so we didn’t get stuck behind theses guys. We BOOKED it and got to the Visa line first (from our flight) waited for 20 minutes and then were told we were in the wrong line. We go to another line, get (rather aggressively) told what to do, and wait in another line. We receive all our paperwork and stamps and go wait in another line. We pay $45 and we’re through, yippee!! Believe it or not, it went better than either of us expected it to. Victory in Vietnam.

Through advice and recollections of friends, I was kind of scared of Hanoi. Didn’t help we showed up at 11:30pm and needed to explore the alleys for food (went well, by the way). We had a great hotel for $40 where the staff was more than helpful and kind. We did a lot of logistical planning in the morning and ended up changing the plan and staying in Hanoi for another night. This gave us the whole day in Hanoi to explore and they switched us to a different hotel, a hotel with the 2 most adorable human beings I’ll ever meet. We were escorted to our new hotel, Skyline Hotel, down the street and were greeted by a Vietnamese man named Jack. Jack was probably in his 20’s, just a little guy with the most genuine enthusiasm you can get. He was SO happy to have us stay at his hotel, and he was so helpful with advice. Later that day we met Dave. We couldn’t believe we hit the hotel staff jackpot TWICE in the same hotel, Dave MIGHT have been more adorable and excitable than Jack. Dave also wanted to learn English and kept asking us if certain phrases he was saying made sense. He then told a few stories of “slang” words he learned, and his favorite three are…”sucker” “in the buff” and “bucks (as in dollars)”. He couldn’t say these seriously because he thought they were bad words, so he kept laughing so hard. It was the cutest display of learning I have ever seen. It was also the best service I’ve ever received by any accommodation, restaurant, tour, etc. The. Best. So if you find yourself in Hanoi (very up and coming city) stay at the Skyline Hotel!

The Vietnamese celebrate their New Year in the middle of February, and they get REALLY excited about it

The Vietnamese celebrate their New Year in the middle of February, and they get REALLY excited about it

Hanoi proved everything I thought about it false. Although, it was absolutely a nightmare crossing the street. There are basically no streetlights and many intersections and narrow, narrow, roads. 75% are on motorbikes and the others are in cars or buses. The only way to get to the other side of the street without taking 45 minutes out of your day is to trust they will go around you, because they will. Oddly enough, they know what they are doing on those scooters, and killing an innocent tourist isn’t a good look for their city. Hanoi had a beautiful lake, Hoan Kiem, that is even prettier at night. It is all lit up and a lot of locals jog around it. After a huge lunch of about 3 courses and a huge Hanoi Brew, we walked back to our room after stopping at 7 different North Face shops (so strange) browsing for jackets. Turns out it’s winter here, we had NO idea! Hah, mornings and nights are pretty cold, but we’re headed south so we’re trying to avoid the purchase. I decided to go out for a run around the lake and stopped once to play an odd game that involves a birdie-type flying object and your feet. It’s hacky sac with a weighted birdee. Get it? It’s incredible, and I’m terrible at it. I stopped again to sit on a bench and reflect, had many moments of gratitude. I stopped again to play soccer with a little kid. He was playing all alone so we passed it back and forth right by a crazy busy intersection for 20 minutes. He sent me into the street once with a bad pass and so I returned the favor later on in the game. We both survived. His name was Sakum and he’s got a great first touch, star potential. I then stopped to eat a donut on a stick. My run was so far over at this point I laughed all the way to the shower.

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Night street soccer

Night street soccer

We were lucky enough to be in town on a Friday night when there is a huge night market right outside our hotel. We walked around for a bit and I bought a towel that I’m still not sure if it’s a towel or blanket. Either way, I can use it for many activities. For dinner, Jack told us about a restaurant that serves only one dish. One dish only. He said an American magazine called it one of the “Top 20 foods to eat before you go to Heaven.” We were sold. It’s a restaurant called Cha Ca La Vong and it only serves Grilled Fish. We walked in, were ushered upstairs, thrown down in our seats, given a plate of spices and clear noodles and 45 seconds later a steaming hot pan of grilled fish was being cooked at our table. We threw everything together in our bowls and loved it. All for $7 (although kind of expensive for Vietnam). I paid and waited for my change. We watched as the owner sat down and started tending to other duties, clearly with no intention of giving me change. I went up and asked her for my change and she goes “oh yes, yes, here it is.” A good example of how sneaky they can be. We ended our night with bubble tea and got ourselves ready for a long day on Ha Long Bay!

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I am very happy Hanoi proved me wrong. It was a really great visit and much cleaner than I thought it would be. The people are pushy, the driving is chaotic, and the struggle is real, but that’s not the entire city. We found the good ones, and they will be the memory of this dear city. Forbe’s says it’s one of the fastest growing destination cities in the world, so you better get there quick!

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Same Same, But Different — Laos

You see a lot of shirts, shops, even restaurants being called “Same Same but Different,” and through some heavy research from my partner in crime (she asked somebody) we found out it’s just a jab at all the designs and services here. Everything is practically all the same, but you know, different. So now they sell tees and tanks that say ‘Same Same But Different’ and I came very close to buying one.

Short but steep stair climb up Mt. Phousi for a good, but touristy, sunset

Short but steep stair climb up Mt. Phousi for a good, but touristy, sunset

The tents all set up for the Night Market, and of course one of the many Temples

The tents all set up for the Night Market, and of course one of the many Temples

We spent 3 nights in Luang Prabang, a northern city in Laos (pronounced without the ‘S’, by most locals). We had a very nice flight over from Thailand and an even nicer welcome into Laos. Paid $45 for a Visa and the lines were short and the process quick. Everything seemed to fall into place very nicely, and that’s how the entire stay in Laos went. Magical, really. The main accommodations in Luang Prabang are guesthouses. There are several on each side street along the Mekong River. We stayed at Pakam Guesthouse in a comfortable room and called it home base for the next 3 days. Did I mention they had free bananas? And guys out front who always wanted you to drink beer with them? And they did my laundry for a dollar and then hung my underwear in the middle of the street? So lovely, all of it.

Mini Bananas, I was never able to stop until I had 4 in a row...I do believe they are glad I'm gone

Mini Bananas, I was never able to stop until I had 4 in a row…I do believe they are glad I’m gone

If I'm gonna drink beer, it better be a BeerLao

If I’m gonna drink beer, it better be a BeerLao

Laos has a heavy French influence so when we heard that we both got very, very excited. I got super excited for the good bread, and Haley got super excited for the good pastries. During our time we both really loved a place called the Pilgrim cafe. They use filtered water for all their meals and triple wash their fruits and vegetables. Their menu was yummy and the staff friendly, it was definitely the favorite. There was a few good bars, a lot of great bakeries, and a lot of great cafes. FRUIT JUICES were everywhere, just a huge list of fruits and they make you a smoothie for about 2 bucks. My main fruits on this trip have been Coconut, Mango, and Banana. Those 3 fruits have brought me so much joy in so many different forms that yes, they deserve to be capitalized and made into proper nouns. But the big news was that I gave dragonfruit a try and I really liked it. That’s it, that’s my dragonfruit story. Not good enough to be dubbed a proper noun. Moral of the paragraph was that the food was very good in Laos. One night at the market I got a streetfood buffet for $1 and it was marvelous. It was a bit sketchy looking, but had a lot of people in line and sitting at the picnic tables eating it all, so I joined the party. PLUS, look away if you can’t handle talk about bodily functions, I haven’t been pooping, like, at all. Strange don’t you think? Everyone comes to Southeast Asia expecting to poop their brains out at least a few times due to bad water or shotty streetfood, but me? Nope, nothin’. My body just loves this cuisine so much it’s holding on to it for what seems like eternity. Can’t blame it though, the food has been the focus of most days (duh) (okay all days) and has been so magnificent I’d want to keep it for as long as possible too.

Smoked Coconut Juice! Always been a dream

Smoked Coconut Juice! Always been a dream

Street Food!

Street Food!

Dragonfruit! Oh, excuse me, dragonfruit. I just get so excited

Dragonfruit! Oh, excuse me, dragonfruit. I just get so excited

Kuang Si Falls was nothing short of spectacular. We took a Tuk Tuk up to the park (a 3-wheeled shanty looking metal vehicle that is as smooth as your crunchy peanut butter), about an hour drive. We were rattling and rolling up those hills. Those drivers hustle so hard for your money but you can talk them down to half the price they originally give you. Haggling is a huge part of this whole experience. It was much easier in Thailand, but I find it much more difficult in Laos. I’m really bad at it to begin with because I understand the money goes such a long way for them, so I usually just cave, if I even have the guts to haggle at all. But in Laos, with it being one of the most bombed and poorest countries, it’s hard to barter a few cents and dollars, even if they ARE being sneaky about it. The Laotians are also less in your face about everything. In Thailand and now in Vietnam people are constantly yelling at you “boat trip!??” “tuk tuk?!?” “sandwich?!?” “you eat here (shoves menu in your hand)” but in Laos it was way more conservative. Not everyone, but most people. People just lay around and eat and nap. I walked in an outdoor little convenience mart and thought I was alone until I saw an old lady roll over under some blankets in the middle of her shop. She didn’t get up, mind you, she just simply rolled over for comfort.

Happiness

Happiness

Rich Turquoise Swimming Pools

Rich Turquoise Swimming Pools

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There is so much to be learned from our time in Laos. The culture is so rich. All businesses must shut down by 11:30 (Gov’t Regulation) because the Monks have very early mornings. There is no partying, no loud noises, no touching the monks (shet), dress conservatively, ask before taking photos, and most places like you to take your shoes off before going inside. A major lesson I’ve been learning, and relearning for several years now is how to slow down. I can be an extremist most of the time, and growing up in New York there always seems to be an undying “go go go” inside of me. I find myself “striding it out” when I have absolutely nowhere to be, and then getting upset if someone cuts in front of me. Part of it is having a really competitive personality, part of it is growing up in a very large immediate and extended family, and part of it is again, growing up in the “gotta go” culture. I went to college in upstate NY, which was the first phase in slowing down. I did a season volunteering for trail crew in the wilderness regions of the Pacific Northwest, which was the second (most learned) phase in slowing down. I did a season leading Europeans back and forth across the country in a big white van, which was a MAJOR step back in the slowing down process, hah!…and finally, I moved to Wyoming, where I’ve had a 2-year introductory (although most days advanced) course to the benefits of a permanently slowed down life. Savor each bite, soak up the wildflowers, hold the door open for each and every person, get lost in nature, smile at the sky, complain about nothing, and live with gratitude and grace. Laos has reminded me to again always be present, to fully be with the people around me, and to extend all positive feelings. I am blessed.

A super small wine bar we popped in because it just looked, right. The bartender slid over a huge box full of quotes with no introduction, bliss.

A super small wine bar we popped in because it just looked, right. The bartender slid over a huge box full of quotes with no introduction, perfection.