Last last weekend, I escaped from the craziness of Hanoi for first weekend away and scootered into the tranquil woods of Ba Vi National Park. Although only for a day, it was a much needed break and also served as a small ride that would help break me into longer motorcycle trips around Vietnam. PSA: riding on a motorcycle in Vietnam is a terrifying, yet thrilling experience. Would NOT recommend it to first timers... but it really is one of the best ways to get around the country as it is the way of life for local Vietnamese.
Starting out from my apartment under Hoan Kiem lake and taking highway 32, the ride took around 2 hours overall. The first hour was bumper to bumper with other motorcyclists, but quickly became smooth sailing after I whizzed past the city limits.
*Would HIGHLY RECOMMEND you to wear long sleeves and long pants whenever riding for 30+ minutes under the scorching sun – I made the mistake of wearing shorts (with long sleeves at least), and returned to the office on Monday with a lovely awkward tan*
The roads eventually begin to empty out and you’ll eventually have the road to yourself – a lovely shock after riding in the city 😉
Under someone’s suggestion, I diverted entering the park straightaway and instead, took a left at the National Park’s entrance and rode 7 km further until I reached the entrance for Thien Son waterfalls.
While popular with local Vietnamese families during the weekends, it still didn’t feel over congested, and jumping into the cool waterfalls worked wonders on my lovely motorcycle sunburn.(Was also randomly adopted for 1/2 hour by these lovely Vietnamese girls – I thought they wanted their photo taken, but they actually wanted me in it lawlz)
Eventually hopped back onto the motorcycle and scootered up the winding roads of the mountain until I reached the Ho Chi Minh Temple parking lot. From there, it’s about a 20-30 min climb to the top, where a picturesque view over the surrounding valley greets you. Sadly, with only 2 benches (facing each other) at the lookout spots, I had to invade the privacy of a young irritated Vietnamese couple, whom I plopped down next to and began to happily munch on my asian pear. Hey – I didn’t mind.
When my friends left, I had just finished the middle chapter of ‘Boys in the Boat’ and had begun to munch on another random bit of food when I heard the light strumming of a ukulele coming from within the forest. I perked up and was met by the happy smiles of the ukulele players, who were just coming through the undergrowth. They asked me if I played and I told them that I could only play 3 songs – badly, nevertheless, they handed me the uke and I strummed out a couple chord of ‘riptide’ by Vance Joy, lightly singing along and laughing at my sad efforts.
We proceeded to full out jam to Jason Mraz – harmonies and all.
As they passed around the ukulele, I was perplexed as to how and why ALL of them could hit perfect pitches and play as though they were born with ukes in their hands. Turns out, most of them were in college and had all met in guitar club – which explains a lot.
We walked back down the mountain singing to random songs as each of them took turns strumming on the ukulele. I then somehow ran into a cloud of bees, got stung 3 times, and was frantically helped by my new band member, whom extracted a mysterious white paste from his backpack. Later learned that this mystery paste was TOOTHPASTE and my mind was blown – also, another reason to wear long pants.
As we scootered down the mountain, we popped in at an old crumbling church left behind by the French. Hauntingly beautiful sight – perfect for the opening scene of a horror movie eh?
The storm slowly emerged from the west in the form of small droplets, but quickly took no pity on us, and dumped torrential buckets. After a hour of riding through intense lightning, we escaped the storm and joined one of their friends at their house where I happily accepted their towels to pat down my soaked bag. We then prepped the baguettes, meat, and dipping sauce to throw on top of the BBQ, and happily ate to our hearts’ content.
It was my first day in Hanoi. I had landed at Nội Bài airport only 2 hours ago, weaved my way through the throngs of motorcyclists pressed up against my window, arrived at my apartment to met my new landlord, made certain that I wasn’t going to be taken – Liam Neeson style, happily signed the lease, and flung myself onto bed with a giant sigh of relief.
‘This is it! I’m here! In Vietnam! By myself! Ho mah gad!’ My thoughts ran in quick loops around my head and were accompanied by a slight pang of homesickness. Noting that the walls were much too bare for my liking, I quickly dug into my bag and began to tape photos to my wall.
Whenever I move into a new place, I immediately put up photos. It doesn’t matter where in the world I am – Portland, Michigan, Orcas Island, Bangkok or Chiang Mai, my photos go up before my clothes or toothbrush are unloaded. When I cover the naked white walls with my friends’ and families’ smiling faces, it pulls them a little bit closer to my corner of the world. They remind me that one day, I’ll be sticking up photos from my time in Vietnam on the bare walls of my future room, and that even though – like any solo traveler, I’ll get homesick from time to time, this is the time of my life to do it, and better yet, to enjoy it.
With the photos up, it already felt a little more like home. In the excitement of arriving, I had neglected my stomach – something extremely uncommon if you know me well, and the hunger came pulsating back in giant waves.
As I debated between simply roaming the streets or using my second hand Lonely Planet guide, I remembered my driver excitedly telling me “bun cha Obama, number 1! Must go, must go!” To catch you up, in case you took a respite from social media last month, Obama visited Hanoi and casually ate out with Anthony Bourdain at a local Bun Cha street stall. Needless to say, the web blew up and so has the popularity of this restaurant. So I left my apartment, ready to take on the first challenge of living in Hanoi – crossing the street. Luckily, a little old lady with a pineapple cart happened to be moving at a snail’s pace against the traffic, so I stuck with her as motorcyclists danced around us. Blessing her soul in my head, she broadly grinned at me, but I knew better – ‘you wimp’, she was really thinking.
I navigated my way through the winding streets, the chaos and frenzy of hawker stalls and zooming motorcyclists nostalgically reminding me of Bangkok’s Chinatown. But after a couple of minutes, I quickly realised that I was lost. None of the restaurants surrounding me matched the names on my iPhone screen.
At this point, I was so overwhelmed by hunger, the enticing smells coming from a nearby vender not doing much to help, that I decided to suspend my bun cha Obama search, and instead, follow my nose. Moseying my way to the nearby cart, I caught the eye of a bored-looking waiter and pointed at whatever occupied the glass case of food. It was only after I had plopped myself down on a neon pink plastic stool that I looked up and locked eyes with the sign directly across the road – “Bun Cha” it read. Of course. Regardless, I spent little to no time brooding over my subpar sense of direction once I took my first bite.
Over the past two weeks, most of my trips and outings haven’t gone exactly the way I thought they would. Instead of going straight from A –> B, I’d meet random people in coffee shops or lose myself down another alley, to end up making a new friend or finding the best dish of Bun Bo Nam Bo. Not to say that plans aren’t plans for a reason, but I still appreciate that I can bend them however I want when traveling alone.
As long as I don’t end up eating (or becoming) mystery meat or Dingo’s cousin, it’s okay when your plans don’t end up the way you had expected them to. Occasionally, it leads to a less than pleasant situation, but most times, or in my case, it’ll lead to a new-found appreciation for a soup, that I later learned, is called Bun Rieu.
– – –
I like to ramble and allow my stream of consciousness to run for miles, so I’ll frequently post on here with photos and all that jazz *jazz hands* Will also hopefully get out of Hanoi every weekend – so stay tuned for more stories about me getting lost *intense jazz hands*
Pro tip: Don’t carry 12 rolls of tissue with you in a sudden downpour/monsoon
OLD QUARTER NIGHT MARKET
Snazzy eh? ^^ 😉
I, was obviously not there for the meetings, but rather, to shoot interviews and footage for their internal Responsible Travel Tourism video that’ll be shown to update all employees on the coming environmental and social changes within the company. What’s unique about Buffalo Tours is that their employees REALLY DO care about making a difference. They’re all passionate individuals who enjoy what they do, love where they are and simply wish for others to enjoy South East Asia. (I promise that they didn’t tell me to say this). So, if you’re not from the area and are looking for a tour within Asia, look no further.
old town phuket
A big thank you (once again) to Buffalo Tours for taking amazing care of me on not one but three occasions. The video will be out soon and I can’t wait to work with all of you again in the near future! 🙂
Last week in CM before back to BKK – T – 20 days till Europe!
After a week in Cambodia and a few days catching up in BKK, I’m back in Chiang Mai!
I’ve split up my travels into two blog posts as there’s too much content to put into one. This one documents my first 4 days in Cambodia in Siem Reap (Angor Wat, visiting the markets, etc.) and the next will be of the second half of the trip (in the village).
Buffalo Tours graciously flew me to Siem Reap 2 days before the school group arrived so I was able to explore the city with staff from the Cambodian office who kindly acted as my personal tour guides. One of these wonderful people was Vet or ‘Rock’ to his closest friends. Vet was the first person to greet me the moment I touched down at Siem Reap International Airport and was by my side for the entirety of my stay. He took me to the best local eateries, invited me along on a biking trip with his friends and even laughed at my jokes – basically, he was the perfect host.
Huge thank you to Buffalo Tours and American Pacific International School – the students, teachers and tour guides!
Here are some snippets of my Siem Reap. Video to come soon!
COUNTDOWN TO EURO TRIP: ONE MONTH (just booked our first hostel eeekkkk!)
To read more about the project: http://www.giantpuppetproject.com/
I’m currently sitting in the Bangkok Airways lounge, watching the rain drip down the glass walls of the Suvarnabhumi airport as Roo Panes croons through my headphones. After having just polished off half of the free food in this wonderful lounge, I’ll now attempt to blog about the past three weeks rather than continue to absentmindedly stare at the rain outside. (Yes, indie music always has that effect and yes, I’ll also explain why I’m in Bangkok and not in Chiang Mai.)
At Documentary Arts Asia, we put on two separate, yet intertwined photo documentary festivals in February.
Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival – only the first week of Feb., many events in the space of a week, movie screenings every night, more ‘intense’ festival for photographers/artists, distinguished guests, etc.
F/28 Month of Photography – The whole month of Feb., events are more (physically and time wise) more spread out in Chiang Mai, try to engage wider CM community rather than only prof. photogs., (ex: Instagram photo of the day challenge)
Might I also add that DAA completely relies on volunteer/intern support… meaning that we managed to put on a pretty stellar festival without any funding! And while there were definitely moments of frustration, it was still impressive that we pulled off a legit festival without any $$ large backing $$.
As all the interns have different roles and responsibilities, my ‘official title’ for the festival was ‘Media Coordinator’ – which basically describes the person who captures photo/video content from all events, manages and uploads this material, promotes it to no end on different social media platforms and also runs different social media accounts (insta., fb). Luckily in my position, I was able to use my creativity to find various ways to promote the festival and engage the general public. One of the ways I did so was by creating a summary video for every single day of CDAF (one week). This forced me to take decent footage everyday as well as organise and use it that VERY DAY. By challenging myself, I not only engaged and promoted the festival, but also improved my own time management and ability to work under pressure (videos down below) (Y)
If you take a look at the photos below, you’ll have a glimpse of everything that happened in a month.. which was quite a lot. There were amazing opportunities to learn and see incredible work as well as meet a range of world renowned and aspiring photographers, so thank you to everyone who participated!
Chiang Mai Documentary arts festival
(month of feb.)
Well, turns out that the educational travel tour company that I traveled to Om Goi for really liked the work I produced, so they asked me to travel with them again but this time to Cambodia 🙂 I’ll be in Siem Reap and the surrounding countryside for a week, stopping in BKK for 2 days and then back to Chiang Mai. Very very thankful and happy to be able to travel, photograph and create new adventures without breaking the bank :3
Alright, probably shouldn’t miss this flight. Thanks for reading!
Seeing as Chang Waeng is only a hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, the plan was to jump on a song taew early in the morn to pass the first wave of tourists. Great plan! Unfortunately, a 100 other Thai tourists conceived the exact same brilliant idea.
Getting there was A-okay, no problem. Unless of course, you’re terrified of speed driving up steep hill faces and in that case just skip the whole trip. Luckily, I had to acclimate to steep speed driving during my family’s perilous drive to Sikkim, India, where we endured two 6 hour drives (within 48 hours) on a incredibly rocky, cliff dangling, one lane road… yup, still figuring out how we survived that one.
The trees were in full bloom and the landscape was undoubtedly beautiful, but what ruined it for me was us – the people. And by people, I mean the masses of (I hate to generalize, but it’s true) selfie-stick wielding tourists attempting to take new FB profile pics. Half the time, everyone was on their phones, uploading photos or texting, and not actually paying attention to the natural beauty that immediately surrounded them. This might just be me… but why would you spend the energy and money to travel somewhere wonderful if you just end up on your phone the whole time?
Lesson learned – if you’re looking to photograph a place, especially landscape photography, put extra time into going somewhere more secluded…. or just be really really really patient.
doi Pui hill tribe village
Pit stop at doi suthep on the way back
Family reunions always begin a bit awkwardly. A car will throttle through the campground driveway, churning up clouds of dirt, and out will spill 4-5-6 smiling mid-western aunts and uncles who all immediately hug and slap the backs of older relatives running to them with extended arms. A couple of seconds later, the youngins will clamber out of the car, futilely kicking back empty bags of Doritos and other debris from the long road trip before being bombarded with hugs, cookies and questions about college and majors that they don’t know the answers to. All the while, you’re genuinely smiling and laughing, but you’re also scraping the back of your memory for clues. Hopefully they’ll drop hints on how you’re related before you must attempt to recall their name and whose kids they are (or what kids they have) or else it gets even more awkward. Who goes with which Facebook profile picture again? And who’s the aunt that tends to over share on Facebook and where’s second cousin that leaves the most bewildering comments on all of your photos?
When utterly lost, I just keep smiling and waving.
It seems to work.
We aren’t a small family. With my dad’s 6 brothers and 1 sister, I have a total of 19 first cousins. Overall with all of the extended family, there were at least 35+ of us streaming through the camp park. With so many of us, everyone openly jokes how it’s near to impossible to remember all of our family ties. I suggested creating a Games of Thrones inspired family tree that we could refer to. Another relative suggested flashcards that would include summaries and pictures from the past several years of each family member that would be sent out in batch emails for pre-reunion required reading. But perhaps that’s overkill. Next reunion?
It’s noon and everyone’s gathered for lunch. (It took a total of 10 minutes for the ice to be broken and for everyone to remember who everyone is again). Glancing around our campsite that’s dotted with tents, lunch tables and haphazardly parked cars, our set up looks similar to the middle school camping trips I used to take around Thailand’s national parks with my eco club (minus the mosquitoes, elephants and tigers). Everyone’s mingling and chowing down on all-Americana food, either lounging out on foldable lawn chairs or perching on small logs around the campfire. A pile of volleyballs and Frisbees has been casted off to the side for later on. Like all families do, we have our quirks. For one, the coffee stand was the first thing to be unpacked out of the van and set up on the first day and the last piece to be packed away on our final day. Secondly, we all share a common sweet tooth – originating from my grumps, or grandpa, who properly stocks his freezer with 4 gallons of ice cream at a time, puts butter on everything – by everything, I mean EVERYTHING, and is capable of eating up to 3 bags of popcorn on a nightly basis – with butter of course. Lastly, when packing up the early morning of our final day, my aunt nonchalantly brought out and played her bagpipes to entertain us while we broke down our tents. But rather then upset our camping neighbors, she actually attracted a small following who gathered to take videos and began to protest when she had paused to rest.
During the summertime in Michigan, everyone goes ‘up north’. It’s a Michigander concept that you probably won’t grasp but one that everyone in my family relates to. Basically, it didn’t truly feel like summer until two weeks ago when I was standing out on the front porch of my grandparents’ cabin, basking in the cool breeze coming fresh off the lake. The past 18 summers of my life were all spent with the rest of my 20+ family on the Northern shores of lake Huron and this summer was the first I had ever been away. So when I was able to snag 4 days away from my job in Washington State for our family reunion, I leapt at the opportunity despite having to travel half that time. My golden childhood summers were painted memories of dipping in the lake at sunset, roasting s’mores by the fire, catching minnows and fireflies at dusk, swimming out to ‘Fiji’ or ‘Milan Island’, sailing on sunny days, and happily licking ice cream on the docks. Our time together came and went just as expectedly as the seasons did – we always knew what to expect and never thought past them. But inevitably, time flies by, loved ones pass away, we grow up, and suddenly – holy cow I need to make money, find internships, travel the world and stake my own flag of independence! With a bittersweet realization, I eventually acknowledged, just like all my older cousins did before me, that our flags couldn’t always flutter on the shores of lake Huron where the winds have already been tried and tested. It’s become time to venture out and challenge stronger winds. And however bittersweet it is to already refer to our time in the Upper Peninsula more as memories than present reality, our heartstrings innately pull towards the North and I know that we’ll all reunite again – sooner than later.
If you’re with your family tonight, hug them tighter for me. If you’re only your pets, still do the same. I really miss my dog.
ALSO MORE REASON TO CELEBRATE – THE CONVICTION OF NEIL AND FERDI HAS BEEN OVERTURNED AND THEY’RE NOW REUNITED WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS! Finally.