Hanoi, Vietnam – I find that one of the most exciting parts of traveling is the chance to meet new people. You never know who you might run into, what kind of experience(s) you will share, or for how long your paths will cross. Think about it, a life changing event or your future best friend could be out there somewhere, and all you have to do is get off the couch and start wandering until you find that person or experience.
by Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison
Printed in the NY Times on July 7, 2012, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/reclaiming-travel/
What compels us to leave home, to travel to other places? The great travel writer Bruce Chatwin described nomadism as an “inveterate impulse,” deeply rooted in our species. The relentless movement of the modern world bears this out: our relative prosperity has not turned us into a sedentary species. The World Tourism Organization, an agency of the United Nations, reported nearly a billion tourist arrivals in 2011. Some 200 million people are now living outside their country of birth.
Hanoi, Vietnam – In 1975 the ruthless communist dictator Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia, ushering in the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot’s vision was one of an agrarian society founded on equality and self sufficiency. To achieve his goal, Pol Pot exiled everyone from the cities, closed the country’s borders with land mines, disbanded modern institutions associated with education, medicine, free trade, and the media, and forced all people in Cambodia to move to collective farms (ie. work camps) throughout the Cambodian countryside. The mass migration from the cities tore families apart and forced people to leave all of their belongings behind, while the loss of all social institutions completely halted the Cambodian economy and led to great sickness and starvation.
Hanoi, Vietnam – Cambodia. The name conjures contrasting images and feelings – part sobering reality, part uplifting hope and humanity, and part organized chaos. Less than 20 years removed from their last coup d’etat, the country is going through massive change while continuing to heal from past wounds. At times it felt like I was in the Wild West – a place where anything goes – which can make traveling quite an adventure until you get used to the cadence of daily life. However, the people were very open and caring and helpful (and most spoke English very well) which made the adjustment as smooth and painless as possible – turning the uncomfortable into the thoroughly enjoyable.
Hanoi, Vietnam – Voluntourism. The word and the concept – to volunteer while on holiday abroad – has the world of travel abuzz and the world of non profits seething. Open any Lonely Planet travel guide, and you’ll probably come across at least a small section on how to volunteer while vacationing to gain a more “real” experience with the country’s culture and people. Go on a travel forum discussing voluntourism and you would think the world is coming to an end because some kid on his or her gap year wants to travel and volunteer. Considering I’ll be voluntouristing (not sure if that’s word, but I’m running with it) in Vietnam, I thought I would share my thoughts, viewpoint, and expectations on the eve of my start date and see how they change by the end of my time here.