Vietnam

Déjà vu in Ha Long Bay and a simple vacation in Luang Prabang

Déjà vu in Ha Long Bay and a simple vacation in Luang Prabang

It's been a long time since I landed in a new place and felt a strong connection. Luang Prabang was easy from the start, as we piled into a cheap bus from the airport to the most peaceful "populated" street I've ever witnessed. It felt like we entered the land without hassles. Especially juxtaposed with Vietnam, we were existing in a place with one face and no veneer.

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Journeys of a Lifetime in December

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Airboat in the Everglades: Get deep into the mangrove forests of Florida's backcountry where alligators seemingly get bigger as you go deeper; you may even catch the rare Florida panther if there's a blue moon out.

Lake Nicaragua: A freshwater lake surrounded by lush forest and volcanoes? Crocodile-like reptiles submerged below the jungle canals? Swordfish sport fishing in a mystic lagoon? Am I dreaming?

By Road

The Grand Trunk Road: Peshawar to Kolkata: a road some call "the great river of life." It's a highway beaded with historical and memorable cities that combine to make an incredible, South Asian road trip.

The Pan American Highway: It's pavement that spans continents, but taking a ride in Tierra del Fuego and reach the end of the world: Ushuaia. You'll see grazing grasslands and ominous, omni-present mountains. Pretty great, huh?

By Rail

El Chepe: Ride the rails through an unspoiled landscape four times larger than the Grand Canyon. Indigenous Indians of central Mexico line the way, giving you access to a brilliant Latino culture.

The TranzAlpine: Cross Arthur's Pass and witness a blizzard outside your train window on this mountainous journey through the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Sounds like it gets wild.

On Foot

The Headhunters' Trail: Stay in a longhouse with Iban villages. Wade through the tea-colored waters while admiring the limestone spires. Hope you still have your head upon the trip's completion.

The Levadas of Madeira: The levadas of Portugal are a network of watercourses that hydrate the paradiasical sugarcane fields. Apparently, moseying along these canals is a camera-friendly activity.

In Search of Culture

Colonial Virginia: Even if reenactments and period acting isn't to your fancy, Christmas just may be, and Williamsburg does this holiday justice.

Ancient Egypt: Show up for the peak Nile cruising season and enjoy the history museums to make sure your time in this ancient landscape is epic.

In Gourmet Heaven

Blue Mountain Coffee: It's the best coffee in the world. It's the best time to visit Jamaica. Those are two good reasons.

Vietnamese Cuisine: Imagine a leaf of cilantro floating on a sea of seasoned broth, handmade noodles sitting below the surface like a hundred Loch Ness monsters. Are you hungry for some pho yet?

Into the Action

Surfing in Hawai'i: You're going to need a wetsuit in that chilly water, but you're also going to catch some towering waves at hot spots like Waimea beach or the Banzai pipeline on O'ahu island.

Friesland's Eleven Cities' Tour: 16,000 ice skaters jump at the proclamation of the Elfstedentocht race, which only happens on the rare occasion in Holland when the ice is 5.9 cm thick. Await the call of the race anxiously and follow the races route along the footpath beside the frozen river.

Up and Away

Skyriding over St. Lucia: This Caribbean island will make you see colors. Real colors. Absolutely vibrant hues popping through the tropical air. Zipline around the canopies of the forest, and then save some time for some fresh product at a cocoa estate.

Angkor by Helicopter: Seeing the world's largest religious monument in a way that few experience, an enlightened view from above. See what can be done with incredible planning, gray stone and a herd of trained elephants for heavy lifting.

In Their Footsteps

Hemingway in Cuba: The Malecon was Hemingway's first view of Havana after sailing from America. Go and be moved by the same places this famous writer and Nobel Laureate frequented during his time on this vivacious island.

Alex Haley's Roots: See what Alex Haley found when visiting Gambia, a main topic of his Pulitzer winning book Roots. It would involve a boat ride and a village chief...and surely an incredible cultural quest.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in January for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Journeys of a Lifetime in October

journeys

I welcome you to a new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Every month I will pick out a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Yangtze River Trip to the The Three Gorges: A trip in early fall through some incredible, mountanous landscapes could coincide with October 3rd and the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival.

The Mangoky River: Madagascar's baobabs and the "slowly-slowly" mentality of the land give me two reasons to desire floating in an inflatable raft across the tip of the big island. October is the last month of reasonable weather before the ghastly heat sets in.

By Road

The Fall in Vermont: Does my longing to going on a fall foliage drive make me an old lady? Either way, I don't care if it means I get to log miles around a beautiful chunk of America and potentially camp out in the cool nights between drives.

The Dolomites: Northeastern Italy gets great weather and less tourists than usual in October, which is perfect if one desires to see sky-splintering peaks, Alpine pastures, and still speak l'Italiano all the live-long day.

By Rail

The Reunification Express: After reading Catfish and Mandala, making the 1,000 mile jaunt across Vietnam seems like a trip worthy of filling numerous journals and marking off loads of "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences from the list. This train would make this trip possible, that is if you're not a crazy/cool cyclist relying on your two wheels.

Trans-Siberian Railroad: Fall colors, warm days, and cool nights - that's quite a list of benefits for traveling from Moscow to Beijing in October via a world famous train ride. The trip takes one week

On Foot

Greenwich Village: True, this area can be enjoyed any time of year, but the crispy atmosphere of fall makes pleasant a couple days of perusing galleries, visiting Edward Hopper's house, and eating at former speakeasies, like Chumley's. Maybe you'll get inspired to "keep moving" while taking in Figaro Cafe, a hang-out of the "beat generation".

The Inca Trail: Dry weather meets the hearty soul that wants to trek through the thin air of the Andes in October. Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, and loads of misty sights are calling you...

In Search of Culture

Treasures of Jordan: October is just as great a time as any to hire a car in Amman and hit up some ancient relics of the past in the Middle East. Fancy yourself an Indiana Jones as you bound around the ruddy sandstone of the Treasury of Petra.

India's Golden Triangle: I can attest to the fact that going on this trip in the heat of summer is just plain mean to your boiling spirits, but alas, the relief that comes in October! Agra's Taj Mahal at sunrise, Jaipur's Amber Fort and Rajasthani culture, and Delhi's urban jungle are real experiences to be photographed, reflected upon, and absorbed into the mind forever. Read my blogs from the Golden Triangle here.

In Gourmet Heaven

Bourbon Trail: Another prime opportunity to see good fall color while sipping some classic American spirits. Even though we Hoosiers are supposed to make fun of Kentucky, I've always been a fan of the horse farms and Appalacian foothill country, and I'd imagine pumping some whiskey into the equation wouldn't hurt it!

Central Valley Wine: Go from fall to spring, harvest to planting season, with a trip to Chile for some grape guzzling. The Andes are supposedly visible from every vineyard in this region, which has a unique climate sure to cause some exciting fermentation to occur. Go skiing, walk along the beach, and then go find some good wine in the hills.

Into the Action

Polar Bears in Canada: October marks the start of a great bear-watching season annually, and Churchill is known for their outsized bears. Not as elusive as the tiger, but apparently just as easily camouflaged into their surroundings; a couple days looking for polar bears sound like thrilling days well spent.

Sea Kayaking off Baja: I know I'm going to be taking full advantage of being around Baja in October by partaking in a gorgeous and exciting activity: sea kayaking. Rocky cliffs edging an ample marine world in the blue Pacific waters; it's the stuff of dreams. Check back for upcoming blogs on this very activity.

Up and Away

Flying High in Paradise: Take a heli for a spin (don't worry, you're not driving) around the volcanic islands of Hawai'i, where you'll be dumbfounded by how green and undulating the converging ridges appear. Great weather and better prices will please you in October. I've experienced this flight and loved it.

Fly the Coral Route: Tahiti, Rarotonga, Samoa, Fiji, Auckland, Dreamland - it sounds like purging your wallet for an aerial island-hopping experience in the South Pacific couldn't disappoint if it tried. And with October providing some drier conditions, you'll be able to see the blue silk in 360 degrees around you.

In Their Footsteps

On The Road after Kerouac: Though my opinion on Kerouac's instant classic novel is still unformed, I can't deny the pulsing urge inside me to hop in a car and take I-80 as far as it will take me. Maybe that makes his work a success in that it instills the desire to move for the sake of moving. From New York to San Francisco, such a road trip would be quite a thrill to take while reading the novel and hitting up Denver and Chicago along the way, not to mention the great weather October would bring across the entire stretch.

The Silk Road: Avoid the extreme weather conditions by traveling in October through western China to Turkey and some of the world's oldest inhabited cities. The spanning cultures are sensory-linked with landscapes that could slap a yak with amazement.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in November for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

As this is a new series, I'd love to hear your feedback on the effectiveness of this concept. Leave a comment and be my new friend.

The Terror of the Tung: Day 73

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

I left off last in my adventures listening to Led Zeppelin with one headphone in my left and the other in the right of the toothless old man next to me (read the lead-up to this story in Flashbacks of Nam). After convincing all the men on board that my iPod was not for sale, the guy hanging out the window, picking up hitchhikers, motioned for me to run up and jump out of the moving bus. I stood at a T in the road, my backpack in tow, with a cloud of dust blowing up from around my feet. My new bus friends pointed in one direction as they sped off into the hills, and I started my trek down a long dreary street.

An hour later, I found a little beach town, met a man who owned a hotel and scheduled a bay trip for the following night. A little wandering got me a long way in this town. I found some excellent vegetable dishes at a seaside restaurant, a fantastic night market, and wandered a smelly yet scenic beach in beautiful solitude. I let sleep come peacefully to me that night, since the questionable stains on the wall could have kept my mind racing all night.

I awoke early to take in the morning activity only to fall asleep on a beach chair on the next day. After some errand running, I hopped on another motorbike to the waterfront where I boarded a three story wooden boat in the most chaotic and destructive marina environment I've ever seen. Vietnamese boat captains believe bumper boats don't just exist in the amusement parks.

Floating alongside the humongous grottoes that rocketed out of the teal waters was a sight my camera couldn't capture accurately. The hazy day created an eerie tone for our afternoon cruise, and the visit to a monstrous and dramatically lit cave only amped up the mystery evoked by this natural wonder. Young girls from a nearby floating fishing village came by offering different fruits insistently, and I had to partake in eating the swirling pineapples I had seen by the roadside stands.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Our captains and "guides" appeared to be bilingual, but they definitely took advantage of the language barrier and left the majority of us extremely confused with the facts of our situation. Apparently, there was a government problem, and everyone could not stay on the ship as they paid to do. Everyone piled off the ship at a nearby island to stay in a hotel, but at the last second, the captain grabbed my arm and told me to stay on the boat. I sat with my backpack strapped on, alone on a pirate ship, watching my new friends walk away and became terrified for my own safety.

Eventually a whole new group filed on and the night proceeded as it was intended to. Hours of talking to experienced travelers and listening to conversations in German later, I fell asleep on the rocking boat, a task at which I am very skilled; however, one thing I am not accustomed to is hearing the rustling, pattering, and squeaking of little mice under me. This fun encounter led me to steal a seat cushion from the dining floor and sleep with the limestone islands outside.

The rest of the day centered around introspection...floating through the grottoes with a soft breeze, riding in a bus back to Hanoi, a dinner of crackers and soy milk in a nearby city park, and a flight across a country that would leave me mystified for years to come. I was ready to leap back to the ship and prepare for one last day of sight-seeing and inexpensive shopping sprees. And that I did, but not without more crazy episodes of crazy motorbike rides, yelling at scamming taxi drivers, and deep-fried scorpion antics in the cabin…thanks to a one Miss Alexis Reller. She truly made my worst nightmares come true.

I parted Vietnam with a smile, knowing this beautiful country witnessed my first true instance of lone traveling in the Third World, and luckily it was a success.

What do you think about my first solo female trip? Was Ha Long Bay more beautiful than you imagined? Comment below!

Flashbacks of Nam: Day 71

Nam 013

Tears dropped with the rain this morning as the words "Port of Kobe" came into clear focus. A brass band resonated off our approaching ship from the dock, and the faculty found some early morning giggles by marching to the beat. I, on the other hand, felt static and confused with the impending implications of a last foreign port. I have yet to discuss so many things, complete multitudes of homework, meet 600 more people, and understand what this trip is all about. Twenty days remain, and in order to accept the future, I need to reflect on the past. After watching too many Vietnam War films at sea, I became overly excited for this new country of wonder and history. Wading up the Saigon River lacked the usual color and vigor of a port sunrise, but today, little fishing boats approached us from all sides, curious as to who was on board and what the ship was like. I tried to let this moment sink into my memory; however, I was preoccupied by the inevitable conversation with Garrett…that he wasn't going to join me for Ha Long Bay.

After the predicted blow, I spent my morning shower in tears, trying to comprehend how I could still enjoy this port for which I was so enthused. Hours of contemplating later, I decided to make my own dreams come true, so I went. Ho Chi Minh City buzzed with motorbikes, but I paid no mind to the rickshaws that were following me down the street. Instead, I enjoyed the little shops and the conical hats that littered the heads of many.

Nam 014

Alexis, a few other girls, and I took a service trip to nearby schools for the deaf and an orphanage that housed children who suffered physical and mental handicaps. I exercised my artistic skills and drew pictures of Mickey Mouse and caricatures of Alexis for the little girls who loved the humor and signed their appreciation to each other and to us. A short night of market shopping, incredible bargains, and leisurely walking concluded with intense packing for a trip that would mark my memory forever.

I awoke at 4:30am, hitched a ride with four other random kids, waited in six different lines for airline tickets, and flew off to Hanoi by my lonesome. I couldn't help but hear the sounds of my parents' voices echoing in my ear, "Please promise me you will NEVER travel alone." I felt incredibly torn between keeping my family at ease and following my own path that I would surely regret forever not taking. The answer was obvious.

Upon arrival in Hanoi, aimless wandering got me to the city bus station, where about ten motorbike drivers helped me get onto the right route. I gave the astounded bus fare collector a dollar bill, hoping he wouldn't kick me off from lack of Dong. Instead, he charged me more, kept the dollar for himself, and I remained on the bus next to a woman squatting and hurling on the floor. Pleasant.

The next bus ride made history in my own timeline, a roller coaster literally and mentally. A man approached me off the city bus and shouted "HA LONG BAY?" about three inches from my face. It seemed he knew what he was doing, so I followed him to a ticket office, paid three dollars, and climbed onto a mini bus where I was forced to sit in the back. The song "Rosa Parks" stuck in my head for the remainder of the trip.

Once I was an official passenger, the driver pulled out of the station, as though all he needed was one real ticket holder to validate his transportation services. About three minutes later, ten of the driver's "boys" piled onto the bus in a frenzy, and I thought I was surely done for. I masked my all-consuming worry by listening to my iPod, but that only spurred on the interest of multiple guys to come check out my electronics.

Just before I let myself get comfortable in my seat, a man rolled next to the bus with the oldest rickshaw known to Vietnam, and on this rickshaw sat a large metal apparatus that I can only imagine was a land mine (or rather, an engine). And as was expected, on this magical mystery tour to Ha Long Bay, the men grabbed the explosive/mechanical device and hauled it onto the bus. I laughed, thinking this trip couldn't get any more eventful…keep in mind we had yet to even leave the sidewalk outside the station.

I flew from one side of the bus to the other as the driver weaved through cars and traffic, laying on his horn to notify the city he was passing. One man always kept his head out the door and yelled at people on the side of the road, some of whom waved us down and hopped on for a few miles. At one point, I had four old men watching Family Guy on my video iPod and wanting to exchange their cell phones for my hi-tech contraption.

What do you think of my first solo journey thus far? Continue reading The Terror of the Tung, and/or comment below!