Good Morning, Vietnam

Ok, in full disclosure, I haven’t actually watched Good Morning, Vietnam yet…but know that as I type this, I’m also downloading it, so I should be watching it in the next few days.

You can currently find me on Cat Ba Island, but yesterday, and the three days before that, were all spent in Hanoi. Chandler and I have decided to take it even easier (three weeks in and we’re already getting lazy), but we’re still seeing so many incredible things.

We spent our time in Hanoi around Old Quarter, just wandering about. We saw countless women on bicycles, selling everything from vibrant flowers to meter-long cucumbers to fruit we didn’t have names for (now we know we prefer longans to rhambutans – they’re easier to eat!). We passed by St. Joseph’s Cathedral, wet markets and dry, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. We even found 25-cent beers, which did more for Chandler than it did for me (mixed drinks still cost anywhere from $2-4).

Flower CartSt. Joseph's CathedralHanoi Market25 Cent Beer Continue reading

À bientôt Bangkok

We’re sad to say goodbye to Thailand, but definitely excited to move on to Vietnam. We’ve loved our time here, but it feels like the real adventure lies ahead of us. We also have to say goodbye to Zach and Yata and strike out on our own. But before we begin those new experiences, I figured I should share a little of what we’ve been up to since Koh Tao…

We returned to Bangkok August 18th and jumped right into exploring the city. We decided to do everything on our own (aka no tour groups) and subsequently got a little mixed up on our starting location. For those of you doing this in the future, start at the Grand Palace. Apparently you can buy this super ticket to all the sites – we didn’t have it and ended up paying for everything individually (still not expensive).

We began our sight seeing with the Ananta Samakhon Throne Hall…or at least we tried to. We wandered around the entire complex, looking for an entrance, and when we finally did make our way inside, we got hustled. Well, not literally, but we clearly weren’t paying attention, and ended up buying tickets to Vinanmek (the world’s largest golden teakwood mansion – pretty specific, right?).

Well, we shuffled through that pretty quickly before making our way to the Throne Hall, which was another 150 baht on top of the 100 we paid for the teakwood mansion (only the Throne Hall was definitely worth it!). The Ananta Samakhon Throne Hall was incredibly well done – remote controls with English descriptions, well lit, spacious – and the pieces inside were extraordinary. Especially the Wood-Carved Screen with Scenes from “Sangthong” and “Himavan Forest.”

Ananta Samakhon Throne Hall

The following day we decided on an overnight trip to Kanchanaburi. Luckily, we were able to leave our big duffels with the hotel, since we’d be returning the next day, and we made our way to the train station feeling lighter than air.

We arrived at the train station over an hour early just because we weren’t sure what to expect – that proved wildly unnecessary, as we got our tickets in minutes and then found ourselves waiting around. That said, just hanging out there was a wonderful experience. I love Bangkok, but it’s pretty filled with tourist (especially in August) and it was nice to get away from it all. By the time the train left the station, there were maybe 10 other foreigners on it, but everyone else was local.

The train ride might possibly be my favourite part about Kanchanaburi – it was so relaxing. All the windows rolled down, fans on, so the temp was wonderful and the scenery could be viewed with full enjoyment. Definitely a change from the over-crowded minibuses with closed windows in Ethiopia!

We pulled into the Kanchanaburi station around 10:30 and made our way to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre – just a three-minute walk away. The center was built by the Dutch and gives an incredible amount of information about the railway and the POWs who were forced to work on it. The images, replicas, and memorabilia really made the tragedy sink in and we were glad to have gone through the center before making our way to the actual bridge.

The center also let us know that we had missed Collin Firth and Nicole Kidman by a mere two years (haha), as they were in town in 2012 filming The Railway Man – we made a side note to watch the film when we got back to Bangkok.

After a quick rest and dropping our stuff off at the hotel – essentially a floating dock with rooms (on the River Kwai) – we began our walk to the bridge. It took about 20 minutes, but was a great way to see the city…and pick a place for dinner! When we arrived at the Death Railway Bridge (Bridge on the River Kwai), we were taken aback by how powerful it felt, but also disappointed with the number of tourists we saw (mostly older men and families). But the crowds thinned out as we walked across the bridge and by the time we got across, there was only one other couple in site. Making us believe early evening is the best time to go, but maybe that day was just a fluke.

Death Railway Bridge 1

Death Railway Bridge 2Death Railway Bridge 3 Continue reading

Island hopping in Thailand

An hour waiting in line, two more on a boat, and a final eight on a bus, and I’m finally back in Bangkok. Hard to believe we’re already done with Koh Samui and Koh Tao. Koh Sam (as I keep calling it) was definitely my favourite (hilarious since we initially planned only one night there), but Koh Tao definitely had it’s perks.

We stayed at Coral View Dive Resort, which is on the quieter side of the island. And while the staff was a bit prickly, we couldn’t argue with the beauty of our surroundings. The rooms were 900 baht a night, but worth it for the privacy.

1 - Bungalow

The bungalow next to us housed two more RPCVs (Yata and Zach), who decided to join us for some fun in the sun : ) We spent the first few days relaxing by the water and enjoying the views – and making a run into town for supplies. We were even more secluded than we had imagined and had very little access to anything! The food at the resort was decent, but pricey, so being the cheapskates we all are, we bought cereal and fresh fruit for our breakfasts. Ah, the joys of having 7-Elevens (and fresh markets) around!

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Simple Twist Of Fate

After a few whirlwind days in Bangkok, we boarded a bus headed to Chumporn Pier. God only knows why we thought a night bus was a good idea – we had only had one solid night’s rest all week. Luckily, Lomprayah does a great job. The bus was giant and super comfy and had an added bonus of a toilet onboard. I joked with Chandler that the urinal was positioned practically in my face, but really, I was just marveling at the convenience – no bus in Ethiopia has a toilet. And the nice ones – Sky and Selam stop once in the middle of nowhere to let you relieve yourself.

But you don’t read this to hear about my bathroom situations…at 4:30 am we arrived at the pier and spent the morning chatting with some Canadian friends we had met the night before during check-in. The pier didn’t officially open until 6, so we had some time to kill.

Before

Slowly, slowly, slowly, we began boarding the boats. Ours had stops on a snorkeling island, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan before finally dropping us off at Koh Samui. But really, we didn’t mind the wait, we had gotten our first view of the Gulf of Thailand.

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A day in Doha

Chandler said our first day of vacation was a success – we visited everywhere we wanted to. I had more mixed feelings…

Doha is hot. 109 degrees Fahrenheit hot. And I don’t do well with heat (understatement). We tried to take the city bus (20 QAR for a day of unlimited rides), but during our whole time waiting, only one passed. And it didn’t stop. Which wouldn’t have been such an issue, but we were trying to get to Souq Waqif, which closes at noon (and it was already 10:30) and doesn’t reopen until four. So we gave up and headed for the taxis (costing considerably more at 41.50 QAR one-way). And then, just a few minutes later, we got rear-ended.

The heat was miserable as we wandered around Souq Waqif and Gold Souq, but all our window shopping made it bearable. I’ve promised myself I’m only going to buy something if I can’t fathom life without it, we’ll see how long that lasts – but today, it was a success. A lot of the fabrics were beautiful, but I don’t want to lug those around for the rest of this trip! And we found tons of antique compasses, but again, it’s too soon for souvenirs.

Gold Souq Continue reading

“Don’t Kick the Chair”

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

This verse got me through a lot of moments in Ethiopia. Never before have I had such a trying experience. Never before have I been adored or hated, based solely on the colour of my skin. Never before have I craved anonymity. Never before have I felt such a need to make a difference.

My time is up; I’ve said my goodbyes. And now I can’t help but contemplate all the things Ethiopia has put me through. The days I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter life outside my walls. I look back, assuming I’ll be full of rage, but I’m not. Odd as it may sound, I’m actually glad I went through this. I was tested and learned just how strong I am.

A while back, another volunteer told me that once I leave Ethiopia, the bad things will start to disappear and I’ll only be able to see the positives. Instead, I’m focusing on the positives that came from the bad things.

Never before have I appreciated my friendships as much as I do now – probably because true friendship has been hard to come by here. It’s difficult to have an open and honest relationship with someone when in the back of your mind, you’re dreading the moment when they ask you for something, reveal their true intentions. And while that happened more times than I can count, I am incredibly grateful for the number of true friends I made here, both Peace Corps Volunteers and Ethiopians.

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SE Asia Itinerary

Because my boyfriend and I don’t know how not to plan…and because I knew everyone who reads my blog was dying to know…here’s our SE Asia itinerary. The real itinerary took months to plan…I’ll give you the highlights : )

Qatar:

  • Doha – Al-Corniche, Souq Waqif, and the Museum of Islamic Art

Museum of Islamic Art

Thailand:

  • Bangkok – Banglamphu neighborhood, Siam Ocean World (I’m dating a guy obsessed with aquariums – who knew?), and SHOPPING…hey, I’ve spent the last two years in Ethiopia
  • Koh Tao – Scuba certification and beaches!
  • Phetchaburi – Tham Khao Luang Cave and Tham Khao Bandai-It Monastery aka bats, bats, and more bats
  • Kanchanburi – Death Railway Bridge aka Bridge Over the River Kwai (which we all pronounce incorrectly, thanks to Hollywood)
  • Bangkok (again) – Ko Ratanakosin and Thonburi neighborhoods for the Grand Palace, National Museum, the Amulet Market, and countless stunning wats (temples)

Koh Tao, ThailandWat Arun, Bangkok

Vietnam:

  • Hanoi – Water puppets (can’t wait to find out what exactly this is), Women’s Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake & Temple, Temple of Literature (because how could two people as nerdy as me and Chandler not go?), Old Quarter, and the Perfume Pagoda
  • Halong Bay – Kayaking, rock climbing, and island exploration, especially Hang Trong (aka Drum Grotto) and Dao Titop
  • Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park – Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail (wanted to see Hang Son Doong, the world’s biggest cave, but it costs about $3,000 and only 200 people can enter each year)
  • Hue – Imperial Enclosure and the Royal Tombs
  • Hoi An – Historical Old Town
  • Nha Trang – Louisiane Brewhouse and the Oceanographic Museum. Can you tell which of us chose this town? : )
  • Mui Ne – This stop was all me though, motorbiking through sand dunes
  • HCMC – Jade Emperor Pagoda, Fine Arts Museum, and the Tao Dan Park
  • Can Tho – Phong Dien Floating Market

Halong Bay, VietnamPhong Nha Cave, Vietname Continue reading