Sunday, March 22, 2015

First Impressions: Cambodia

It is chill here. The streets are dusty and quiet. Tuk tuk drivers are napping in hammocks that they've hung in the back of their vehicles. Dogs snooze in the shade, unmoved by occasional fly pestering them. A tumbleweed rolling across town would not feel out of place. It's probably because we've arrived via a fairly remote border crossing, beneath the maze of the Mekong Delta, into the tiny riverside village of Kampot. I'm sure the more common arrival city of Phnom Penh is a chaotic mess of a place. But here, life is reeeeal slow.

The travelers here are cool. Way cooler than us. Their beards have seen more than we have in the 10 months since we left home. Ambling around town in their loose fitting layers, leaving a trail of hash smoke in their wake, they are the detached calm that most travelers merely pretend to be. But not in an obnoxious way. They exude good vibes, and we're meeting some great folks.

It's a little bit lawless. You get the sense you can do anything you want here, and no one will bat an eye. It feels both liberating, and a little dangerous. Bartenders openly rolling joints on the bar. Businesses opening and closing on a whim. The ability to borrow a motorbike from just about anybody. The lack of shoes on, well, anyone. Folks sleeping, well, everywhere. Do what you want, when you want, cause nobody cares.

The people are extraordinarily friendly. We thought the folks in Vietnam were nice. We'd been told they just get better and better as you make your way through Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar. And we can already see what they mean. Every person we pass greets us with a genuine smile. We are bombarded with enthusiastic hellos from every kid we see. People are warm and kind and we feel really welcome. They are happy to joke around with us, which is a rare thing when language and culture pose a barrier. 

So far, Cambodia gets a thumbs up. And we're curious to see how the rest of the country will shape our impression of it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Goodbye Vietnam!

When we arrived in Ha Tien, a small border town on the southern coast of Vietnam, I'd figured we'd stick around for a few days. But with not much to do, and Cambodia beckoning to us from just 7km away, we decided to spend just one night and be on our way. Suddenly I was filled with anxiety... Do we have the right currency? Were there any souvenirs we needed to buy?? Did we sample all of the foods we wanted to try??? Were we ready to bid farewell to Vietnam?!

When you're in a country for two months, it seems like you have all the time in the world. The to-do list in the back of our mind stays just there, without any real urgency to check anything off. Our last minute decision to leave caught me off guard and made me immediately miss a country we hadn't even yet said goodbye to.

It's an interesting thing I've noticed on this trip - I've begun to really mourn the loss of the places we leave behind. With so much of this world left to see, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever revisit a country we've already been to. So I find myself walking away thinking "This is the last time I'll see this place" or "I'll never walk down this street again". It's a heavy feeling and I don't know why it brings me sadness - rather I should just be happy and grateful that I ever got to visit here at all. And I am! More than any other feeling, I am.

I think that perhaps for all the incredible gifts each country gives me, there is also a tiny part of me that I leave behind. A part that I'll never be reunited with, as the rest of the world calls. I remember being young and first hearing the quote "You can never step in the same river twice." You can return to a place you love, but the seasons will have changed, the river will have continued to flow. And even in the exact spot, nothing will still be as it once was. Traveling is the same. Even if we did make it back to Vietnam, the country would be different. The people, not the same. We, too, will have changed.

So with that, we bid a forever farewell to Vietnam. Thanks for the amazing two months.

Ha Tien, Vietnam

Shellfish. Trannies. Karaoke. Warm beers. New friends. A million birds.

This is Ha Tien.


For photos of our final stop before departing Vietnam, click HERE!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Who Needs Tonight?

*written a month prior to when we went ahead and booked all of our onward travel ;-)

The five days we meant to stay in Nha Trang turned into two weeks. Our two-day stopover in Mui Ne lasted eight. And the three nights we meant to spend in Saigon resulted in nine. I’m starting to notice a trend here. We are SLOW.

Between the people we’ve met, our always-exceeded expectations of places, and the few freelance gigs Reece has gotten, our stride has dropped considerably. Days are broken up with work. Social engagements keep us sticking around. Researching our next destination and onward travel logistics falls further on our priority list each day. On the one hand we feel like we’ve lost our travel momentum. On the other, we feel exceedingly comfortable in this relaxed pace. It feels less and less like a “trip” and more like, well, just “life”. A nomadic one. That costs a whole lot less than living at home.

It’s an interesting notion not having a general schedule to adhere to. When time is no longer a finite currency to be prioritized on one place over another, the pressure to squeeze it all in is eliminated. My favorite of Reece’s misquoted song lyrics - “Who needs tonight, we’ve got tomorrow” – has jokingly become our new motto. It makes the question of when we’ll end this particular journey increasingly difficult to answer (especially if the work keeps coming in). And it’s allowing us to get to know people and places and cultures in a way we have never been able to before.

We don’t know where we will head after Cambodia. We’ve heard amazing things about Laos. We’d love to revisit Thailand. We’re dying to go to Myanmar. We’ve got some pretty exciting and compelling reasons to head back to the US, too. On the way home, should we stop in Japan? Australia?? The Philippines??? When I think about it too much I start to panic and want to pack my bag up and get this train moving. But probably not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

First Stop Last Stop

Saigon is an interesting place for a traveler. Cause it's where everybody either starts or ends their visit to Vietnam. The majority of folks in the Southeast Asia circuit either fly into Hanoi (up north) and work their way to Saigon (down south), or vice versa. We didn't notice it when we arrived, fresh-faced, in Hanoi. But now that we've been getting to know this country for two months, we can easily spot the people who've just arrived, and those who are getting ready to leave.

Thus one of our favorite games was born: First Stop Last Stop. The rules are: You must sit on a tiny stool at a grubby sidewalk bar. You must have a beer in your hand. You must guess if this is the first or last stop in Vietnam for the travelers passing by. And, most importantly, you must explain why.

The biggest giveaway is in the walk. When you first arrive in Vietnam, you are convinced you WILL get run over. And you're probably right. You walk down the street the anxious urgency, hopping over puddles and teetering on the edge of sidewalks and jumping every time a motor vehicle misses you by a whisper. After being here a while, you stroll through town with the confidence of a high school senior on the last day of class. You've navigated enough crosswalk-less highways to have faith in the "going with the flow" survival tactic. Cause usually, it works.

Other dead giveaways include how much one is carrying to a bar (a fistful of cash vs a backpack of supplies), how dirty one's shirt and/or shoes are (pit stains darker than their 10 o'clock shadow), the presence of a camera around one's neck, the amount of make-up and/or jewelry on, the telltale flowy pants sold in every shop here, and the girth of one's man bun.

We've completed our transformation into the confident, dirty, un-accesorized, flowing, man-bunned Last Stoppers. Just in time to begin our First Stop in a new country!