A Traveler’s Terrene

You only live once. What are you going to remember the most?

Star Jumping and Toyota Kicking the world! November 14, 2008

Yesterday marked my 9 month anniversary of leaving Seattle to travel around the world!  It was an experience of a lifetime, an epic adventure. I freed the explorer inside me that has been restless since my childhood days when I explored the world in my backyard. I finally had the courage to say to that little voice…go on…PLAY! IMAGINE! CREATE! The world is your playground I told myself, it is a Traveler’s Terrene.

So here I am nine months later with some 50 gigs of photos, unforgettable memories, and a global network of new friends.  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. From the people I travelled with on different legs of the trip: my older brother “Mohawk Mark” (2 months in New Zealand), college friend and dance extraordinaire Brian (3 weeks in Thailand), my childhood next door neighbor and “Sister Zesma” Suzanne (5 months throughout Southeast Asia, Turkey, Croatia and Italy), my adorable Italian former roommate Ilaria (2 weeks in Milan and a long weekend in England) and the countless backpackers I met along the way where we travelled together for a few days before parting ways (you know who you are…I HEART you…and there are too many too name!)  

At some point I’ll upload a wide selection of photos to Picasa and send a link, but for now, here is a snapshot of my trip as I Star Jumped and Toyota Kicked across the world!


Vietnam: Highlights and Memories: Sapa to Hanoi August 9, 2008

1. Trekking through the rice paddy fields of Sapa and spending the night at a home stay.

2. Drinking rice wine with the Lo Chai women and playing card games while laughing and talking candidly.

3. Riding on a moped through the countryside, past small villages and waterfalls.

4. Watching the Water Puppet Show in Hanoi, and marveling over the unique instruments that the band used to create the music.

5. Meeting up with my Australian friend Sara, who I had gone to uni with in Perth. It’s amazing how with some friends, no matter how long time passes, you can always pick up where you left off.

6. Meeting “old friends” along the beaten path. It was great to see David, John and Victoria (friends we met in De lat) while we were in Hanoi. The backpacker community is truly unique in that you are thousands of miles away from your hometown, but run into people that you “know” so the world never seems that large. In fact, it’s small.

7. Hanging out with 7 Spanish guys and being mesmorized by their accents. “Zapatillas”, which simply means “shoes”, is now the sexiest word in my dictionary.

8. Going to the movie, Sex in the City.  I know, “bad tourist”, but after 5 months of traveling, you sometimes need to incorporate a few comforts that remind you of home.

9. Taking a nap in the sun on the roof of a boat overlooking Halong Bay. Waking up and falling asleep to beauty is one of nature’s glorious gifts.

10. Riding a bicyle, around Cat Cat Island.

11. Getting a massage, while sitting outside at a bar drinking a cocktail. Kind of bizarre as the massuse moved from one person to the next in the group, but it still felt amazing!

12. Running through the rain in search of Pho’. With the rain pelting down around us, Sara, Suzanne and I happily ate the most delicious Pho’ under a tarp at a street stall vendor. The cheap and amazing food from street stalls is something that I am going to tragically miss when I go home.


Vietnam: Shopping in Ho’An July 30, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip,Vietnam — italicana kitchen @ 8:52 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ho’An:Ho’An is a historical town, but needless to say I did not see anything outside of a 3 block radius as I spent 3 mind-numbing days shopping from morning to evening—no joke. Being the frugal shopper that I am, I can’t justify in buying something right away. Instead it takes me AGES, because I go to every store for a price and selection comparison. I’m always trying to get the most of my money by researching all my options before I make a final purchase, that way I get what I want and don’t have regrets on spending the money. In other words, “shopping” before purchasing. This drives some people mad. It drives me insane. On one hand, I like the fact that I am adamant about saving money any way I can. On the other hand, “over-shopping” can be such a waste of time leaving me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. After all, it is just shopping…and I could be spending my time exploring a new city I may never see again. I am currently working on finding a balance to the guy/woman approach to shopping. You know the drill for a guy: enter store…see object…try object on (if even needed)…purchase…exit store and never think about it again. Instead I: enter store…scour entire store to “see” what is available….collect object(s)…try on…get friend’s approval…narrow down selection…try on again…debate over what to actually purchase and either 1) purchase with the possible intent of returning the product or 2) put the item on hold to “think about it” before going back to get it. This process is pure insanity. My mind definitely has more useful things to think about then strategic shopping.

Strategy aside, the actual tailoring experience in Ho’An was quite remarkable. And it was an “experience” in itself. You can have anything you want made. From coats and shirts, to jeans and shoes—you just point at a picture or tell the tailor what you want and within 24-48 hours you are back in the shop for a fitting. I’ve never had anything custom tailored before and it was like being a kid in a candy shop. In other words, to expound on that overused saying, my eyes became big, I salivated at the plentiful options before me and like a child wants to try every piece of candy, I greedily wanted every piece of clothing. The consequence of overeating/overspending are the same, at first you get a sugar/shopping high, then you get a stomachache from over indulgence. Fortunately, thanks to George Bush and his little incentive program, my stomach doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as it would have.

Traveller’s tip: Don’t get greedy. Figure out a budget and stick to it otherwise you will be buying clothes like a bulimic girl shovels down junk food. The best value for your money are jackets. I got 4 jackets made–a trench coat, two wool coats and a nice silk jacket all less than $120. For the 2 week travelers, shop away as that is better value than you will ever find at home. For the 2-8 month backpackers, remember $120 is a plane ticket or roughly about 24 nights of hostel accommodation in Southeast Asia….things add up!


Vietnam: Delat July 24, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip,Vietnam — italicana kitchen @ 6:47 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Delat: Delat is often described by guide books as looking similar to the French Alps in the springtime–they weren’t lying. The fresh crisp air was a stark contrast to anywhere else we have been in Southeast Asia. Since we’ve spent most of our days “glistening” from the humidity (a nicer term to describe “sweating our pores out and looking like we’ve just ran a 100 meter sprint “), Suzanne and I wholeheartedly welcomed the difference in climate and greatly anticipated the opportunity for comfortably trekking outdoors. During our second day in Delat, we had signed up for the famous “Easy Rider” tour and spent the day on a back of a motorcycle cruising past rice paddies, vegetable and flower farms and coffee plantations. As you can imagine I was quite content riding through paradise with the cool wind blowing through my hair like the girl from Top Gun (ha..ha..actually not quite as glamorous, because yes Mom, I did have a helmet on:-) )

During the tour, we made a detour to a mountain where, kid you not, I probably could have kneeled and kissed the ground as I was so happy to be climbing again (Mark, get ready you have a new climbing partner!) Later on that afternoon, we stopped at a minority village where Suz and I tried to decipher the broken English of a tribe elder, and although we couldn’t make out what he was saying half the time, we did understand what he meant when he had us try the local rice wine which he stored in a pottery vase covered with grains of rice to keep in the moisture. We took a sip of this delicious wine through a plastic tube that resembled the kind you use to brew homemade beer.

We ended the tour by stopping at a flower farm filled with rows of vibrant orange and red Gerber daisies, sauntered through a garden filled with a variety of bonsai trees and was sprayed by the runaway splashes of a giant waterfall.  Needless to say, it was a wonderful day.


Vietnam: Mekong Delta, Saigon, Mui Ne Recap and Highlights July 10, 2008

Well, believe it or not I’ve tried to post a handful of times, but for some reason certain computers have not liked WordPress, so it has taken me until now to finally find a computer that works! Here is a quick recap of a few places I have been so far:

Mekong River Delta- Although we visited a coconut candy factory, honey farm and a rice paper factory, the highlight of the trip was by far the overnight boat cruise. Waking up at 5a.m. I peared out the tiny window from where I lay on top of a bunk bed. Before me bright shades of yellow, pink and orange splashed across the sky as though a bucket of paint was thrown into the air. Suzanne and I gingerally crawled out of bed and past the dormitory style bunk room where 10+ fellow travelers slept, and made our way to the top deck of the boat. Besides a gentleman from France, we had the deck to ourselves where we happily played the part of two photographers–capturing the changing colors of the sky in addition to the early morning commotion of the floating market.

Sitting in a cloth lawn chair with my feet propped up on the railing and my sarong wrapped around me I watched as a man woke up from his hammock strung off the rear of his boat. Hundreds of green lily pads floated by in clumps, but were pushed aside by the oars of small row boats steered by people from the mainland going to the market to get fresh vegetables and fruits to sell on shore or use in their restaurants. One boat pulled up alongside a larger double story vessel where coconuts where handed out a sun-stained, muddy window. The coconuts soon filled the inside of the smaller row boat leaving only enough room for the driver. Somewhere in the distance there was a loud purr of the motor engine. It reminded me of home and my father. As a child, on warm summer days as I played outside, the buzz of my father’s plane overhead was music to my ears, it was comforting like the distant sound of light jazz coming from an open window. A feeling of excitement would always rush through my body as I heard the engine’s motor come to a halt–this meant that the work day was over and dad would shortly be on his way home. The cut of the engine was also the cue to start dinner. Often times mom and I would sit on the patio furniture outside in the back yard shucking corn and shelling peas, which we had picked earlier from the garden. These simple summer nights were some of my fondest memories, and although a continent away and a decade past, these memories still bring a huge smile to my face.

Farther down the river I watched as a women in a yellow pant and matching sleeveless tank top sat on the edge of the back of the boat bathing herself with the muddy river water by using a red bucket attached to a string that was tied to the side of the boat. Dip and pour…dip and pour. Using the same routine, another woman in a nearby boat washed dishes, not seeming to mind that the leftover liquid in the bowl was of lighter color than the muddy brown water used to clean the bowl.

Besides the occasional karaoke boat and gasoline station (by station I mean 1 liter jugs of petrol lined on the back of a boat), the majority of the boats were selling fresh fruits and vegetables. In order to navigate efficiently through the market, the boats would raise a stick full of dragon fruit, cabbage and potatoes, for example, high into the air as we would a flag. This spear of fruits and veggies signified what the boat was selling that day. Forget banners, reams of paper or expensive printing costs—this was a simplified and Eco-friendly approach to effective advertising.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) This is a city where there are almost as many motorbikes as there are people. The streets are packed to the brim with motorbikes, petal bikes and the “occasional” car. This is where I learned how to do the famous “Vietnam Stroll”…a.ka. saunter slowly into the middle of the street and let the motorbikes swerve around you. There are hardly any stop signs or stop lights–and, in this developing country anything goes–meaning a two lane street usually implies 5-6 motorbikes lined horizontally, competing against each other to gain the few extra meters of distance in the congested space (just to save 1 minute of driving time). This is where 2 adults and 2 children ride on the same motorbike–where, because they don’t have the trunk space of a car, anything and everything is strapped to the rear including common necessities like groceries and bags of clothing to bizarre objects like medical IV’s, and live pigs in cages.

The men and women looked like bank robbers racing along the paved streets as they escaped the smog filled air by covering their faces with masks that are actually quite fashionable and can be bought in every design, fabric and pattern imaginable. Helmets also follow the same prestige and can be purchased to look like sun hats or even in the same matching fabric as the seat of the moped. All and all, walking, driving and riding in this chaos is a highly dangerous act, but is also the most efficient, cost effective and liberating mean of transportation. (Still–I am trying to keep myself from being ground meat as I have met quite a few travelers with muffler burns or skinned legs!)

Mui Ne Since we were to arrive in Mui Ne around mid-night we pre-booked a hostel and upon arrival were greeted by a room full of “friends”. It was not quite the welcoming you may imagine. In fact, these four legged skirmish creatures, also known as cockroaches, were not quite welcomed by Suzanne and I, but because we were on a “budget”, instead of asking to change rooms we concocted a game of flick and throw. It is quite a complex game, requiring a rolled up piece of paper, a heavy magazine and muffled screams. Being the flicker, I had the important duty of scraping the cockroaches off of the bathroom door onto the bedroom floor as Suzanne hurriedly pushed them out the open door with the magazine. The object of the game was to get rid of of the cockroaches with the least amount of screaming. Apparently we weren’t too good at it, as the hotel manager soon came in and handed us a bottle of raid. We sprayed the room with the potent chemical to the point that my future children may be deformed someday, but at least I would be safe from cockroaches climbing on me while I slept that night. Wrong. Either the mosquito net was not tucked in properly or cockroaches are the smartest insect alive as one pesky creature made it through and woke me up in the middle of the night as I felt it crawl across my shoulder. Needless to say we checked out the following morning and surprisingly found a new hostel, cockroach free with a 90 degree view of the ocean for the same price! We spent the following 2 days in luxury, lounging on lawn chairs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

On the second morning, we even rose from our slumber around 5a.m. and moved to the lawn chairs to watch the sunrise. The fishing boats the locals used were nothing like I’ve ever seen before, they were like little 1 man teacups floating in the water. Knowing that I would get fresh seafood, that night I splurged on an expensive dinner–spending $6 dollars for the most incredible chile/garlic bbq tuna fillet. (Typically I stick to the $1-2 dollar options of rice, noodles or fruit). One of these days I might even go “crazy” and splurge on the $10 lobster…we’ll see, as bad as I want it…in my mind that is still 2 nights accommodation!

Delat, Natrang, Ho’An, and Hanoi are still to come; however, I am being kicked off at the Internet cafe and I leave for a 2 day home stay at a minority village outside of Sapa tomorrow so I won’t be online for a few days! In anycase, I wanted to get a few things posted and more to come when I get back online!


I’m back! June 23, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip,Vietnam — italicana kitchen @ 6:58 pm

Unfortunately, the past few months I have spent more time updating my vivid daily journal and have been horrible at keeping my blog updated. But, by popular request (or actually stern prodding by my brother Mark), I promise to keep this updated more regularly so I can share the remainder of my travel experiences with family, friends, and fellow travelers. My great intentions to have this as a resourceful travel blog for other travelers may have to wait until I take my next round the world trip (and surprisingly yes, I’m already scheming it), as below I have just provided a number of posts recapping memorable moments in New Zealand (South Island), China, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia. Enjoy!

Where am I now? Suzanne and I arrived in Vietnam a few days ago and are heading down to the Mekong River Delta for three days to view the floating villages and explore more of the countryside before returning to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay tuned for more details!