A Traveler’s Terrene

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

Laos: Highlights and Memories August 9, 2008

1. Taking the bus from Hanoi to Vientiane. This was a 24 hour non-stop bus ride. You heard correctly, 24 hours. However, at this point in my trip I’m use to 8…10…15 hour bus rides, so really, what’s another few hours?

2. Being spoiled with a “home” and amazing hospitality. Sara’s sister Gemma lives and works in Vientiane, and let us stay with her and her boyfriend Thomo, in their amazing mansion of a house. It was so great to have a “home” for a few days (and a REAL BED!). They absolutely spoiled us. THANK YOU GEMMA AND THOMO!

3. Cooking for a dinner party in a real kitchen. Cooking is one thing I miss on this trip, and it was an absolute treat to get in the kitchen and whip up a meal.

4. Tropical Fruit, muesli and yogurt. Need I say more. This alone is my ultimate favorite food in the world. Well, maybe it runs a tie with Amarena gelato….

5. Working out in a gym! I was “Gemma” for the afternoon and spent 2 glorious hours lifting weights and running on the elliptical machine. I think I could have spent 8 hours easily. It is so hard working out while travelling and in humid heat (trust me, Brian, Suz and I tried to do sit ups on the beach in Thailand and got plenty of stares).

6. Meeting our new friend Joe on the bus ride up to Vang Vien.  Joe is probably one of the smartest and most interesting people I have ever met. Suzanne, Joe and I were inseparable for about a week straight and I don’t think we ever ran out of interesting things to dicuss, debate or laugh about.

6. Being stranded on the road twice in one journey. Due to the tarantula downpour from the night before, our bus got stuck going around a corner as we made our way from Vang Vien to Luang Probang. We waited over an hour and watched as the bus/car backup piled to 20+ vehicles in each direction. Luckily after an hour, a tractor came and pulled us out. Later, when we were maybe only a 1/2 hour from our destination, the engine stopped.  Fortunately we were picked up by another bus within an hour. Our 7 hour journey turned into a 10 hour adventure.

7. Sitting quietly on the temple steps, listening to  the monks chanting their afternoon prayers in unison .

8. Learning how to cook Laotian food at the Tamarind Cafe. In an outdoor garden setting along the Mekong River, I learned how to cook gourmet Laotian food. The menu included: fish wrapped in banana leaves, chicken stuffed lemon grass, Buffalo laap, Jeow salsa & sticky rice and a traditional Laos soup. The flavors were incredible and the presentation was impeccable. I have the cookbook and bought a mortal and pestle, so  get ready for a yummy Laos dinner when I get back!

9. Meeting Yev and Isaac, two fellow Americans (which is a rarity, because Americans don’t travel!). Again, traveling is more than just seeing the destination, it is about the people you meet along the way. Yev and Isaac also top the charts on being two of the most fascinating people I’ve met on this trip. Every conversation was stimulating, interesting and educational. I love learning and if this trip does anything at all, it has definitely made me thirst for knowledge.

10. Scaling the walls of a giant waterfall. Probably not the smartest idea, but adventurous indeed.

11. Using the waterfall’s rapid spray as a back massage. 1) it was free and 2) was better that a real massage. Now, how to get that set up in my backyard someday is the question…

12. Watching Yev run and slip-in-slide head first down a muddy trail. Absolutely epic.

13. Painting Yev, Issac, Joe and Suzanne’s faces with mud. It’s fun to be a warrior for a day!

14. Eating a Laos BBQ.  This is not a traditional BBQ, but rather more along the lines of fondue. There is a grill set up in the middle of the table where you put on your own meat (and cook to your personal tenderness)  as well as a bowling pot below the grill where you heat up broth for soup and cook veggies. Delish!

15. Being the instigator in setting up a 100 meter dash in the middle of the street, during pouring rain. Hey, if you’re already wet, might as well play in the rain!

16. Staying up til 5a.m. talking about politics, films, books, inventions, business, travelling and life in general. I can’t remember when I’ve had more interesting  and stimulating conversations than that night hanging out with Joe, Yev, Isaac, David, and Suzanne. It was like we were in university—where we had time to discuss, to be creative, to brainstorm and to share personal knowledge.

17. Riding an elephant through the jungle, over streams, down mud trails and eventually into a lake where I bathed the elephant and got splashed with water.

18. Trying a smorgasbord of food from the local food stalls. It’s so fun to try out all the different type of food. Point and pay is the name of the game.

19. Laotian Pineapple–the BEST pineapple that has ever touched my lips. Unless you’ve tried it, you don’t understand.

20. Relaxing on a boat while we made our way to a cave filled with hundreds of Buddha trinkets.

21. Shopping in the Laos market, one of the most stress-free and relaxing market shopping experiences in all of Southeast Asia.


Vietnam: Shopping in Ho’An July 30, 2008

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


Priorities January 27, 2008

Filed under: Round The World Trip — italicana kitchen @ 7:59 pm
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I don’t have a fairy godmother leaving me 100 bills under my pillow nor did I win the lotto (I wish!). To save up enough money to travel for seven straight months is simple. You set priorities on how you spend your money. Do you want that $400 purse or do you want a plane ticket to another country? Do you want that $4 latte every day or do you want a bungalow on a beach?

It is a simple concept but not always simple to do. America is a materialistic society. We want…want…want. We buy..buy…buy. I will be the first to admit it, I flirt with this mad game of consumption daily. However, in order to help overcome this fight, I give myself a few little rules of thumb to follow.

1. Limit unnecessary shopping. Does this item serve an actual purpose (like toothpaste) or is it unnecessary (like a new shirt)? If it is the latter, I don’t buy it. I don’t need new clothes, shoes or other fashion items. I won’t take it with me on my trip so what is the point of buying it now as it will be out of fashion when I get back?

2. Be a cook. Cooking is almost always going to be cheaper than going out to eat unless you plan to hit up a fast food restaurant every night. I cook almost every night and I always bring a lunch with me to work. I can not express how this in itself has saved me so much money. My only downfall is that I absolutely love to cook but I don’t like to cook cheap. If you are coming over for a dinner party you will find yourself enjoying a 5 course meal. But the cost for that one dinner alone is the cost of living in Asia for a week. So, this kind of cooking falls under “entertainment” and I only do it occasionally.

3. Limit entertainment. The key here is not to deny but to limit your favorite hobbies and past times. I love snowboarding and glorious powder. I adore getting dressed up and going out to dinner. I cherish the end of the day when I grab beers and happy hour with friends. I get excited to go to the movies, plays and concerts. However, traveling is also my hobby. So I have to pick and choose. Would I rather spend a day trekking in the jungle or day on the mountain?

These three simple rules have helped me think carefully about how I spend my money. It’s not that I really deny myself of anything, I just limit the number of times I do it. This has allowed me to balance living in the moment and planning for the future.

So, if you want to go on an around the world trip there is no,”I wish I could.” Rather, what you should be saying is, “I can”–then start prioritizing.