Vietnam: I don’t think I’m in Kansas Anymore

Hanoi, Vietnam – Within about 5 minutes of stepping outside the airport in Hanoi, I realized I was in a place much different than anywhere I had ever been before. There were no signs in English, or any other languages besides Vietnamese. There were no other languages spoken except Vietnamese. Although not as bad as China, the smell of smog and pollution instantly assaulted my nostrils and lungs. There was absolutely no escaping the fact that, for better or for worse, I was in Vietnam.

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Faces Along the Way: Thailand and Cambodia

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.

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The Killing Fields

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.

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Cambodia: Welcome to the Jungle

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.

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What I’m Looking Forward To

The trip is planned. Almost everything is booked. All that’s left is packing and tying up loose ends. Considering I have some time on my hands, I thought I might take a moment and reflect on the things I’m most looking forward to most over the next five months. Here’s what I consider my top ten:

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Around the World in 5 Months

On June 17, 2012 I leave for a 5 month trip around the world. Here’s the itinerary, which I think is insanely awesome. Since the question has already come up, I planned the whole trip myself and I’m using airline miles and hotel points wherever I can to cut down on cost (shameless plug: You can check out my travel resources page to see what sources I used to book everything). As for selecting the locations, it was a combination of where the volunteer programs are located, different small group trips I’ve wanted to take for awhile, and filling in the blanks with other locations and things I’ve always wanted to visit. My goal is write 2-3 blog posts per week to keep everyone updated on life on the road – and to let me parents know that I’m still alive. If anyone has suggestions on things to see and do along the way, feel free to share in the comments below.

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Where I’ve Been

I thought I would put this post out there to help you and me. It seems like every time someone asks me what countries I’ve been to I struggle to name the last few. Invariably my stare becomes more blank as I struggle to remember some random country in Europe, the person loses interest, and I spend the rest of the evening with the same blank stare on my face. Maybe it’s the alcohol or the creep of age, but I thought putting everything into one place with a handy little map would be the best solution for avoiding the blank stare. I’ll keep updating the list as the number of countries continues to expand.

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