Johannesburg, South Africa – While the trips and the cultural experiences were all great, my roommates and I still found many opportunities to get out of the house and experience Hanoi in our little way. Between the restaurants, bars, markets, and other similar venues and events, we had plenty of potions to choose from and plenty of shenanigans to get into.
Singapore – When you live like a local, work with locals, and hang out with locals you can expect to have what I like to call “cultural experiences”. The people of Vietnam were so warm and open – always smiling and laughing and willing to help – that you couldn’t help but be pulled into the country’s and the culture’s embrace. Vietnam will always hold a special place in my heart, not because of the trips I took or the volunteer work I did, but because of the people I met and the cultural experiences and exchanges I had with them. I may not have seen much of Vietnam besides Hanoi, but I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world.
Hanoi, Vietnam – Football is the world’s game, but that doesn’t mean it’s my game or my country’s game. Like many American kids I grew up playing baseball and watching American football and basketball, which means my natural instinct is to catch and throw a ball, not kick it. So, you can imagine my trepidation as I stood on a football field after entering the game as a sub on defense. My roommate and I had been invited to play by our office, and when they said it was just a friendly game I figured it would be fun to try my hand, er foot, at the game and see what made it so popular.
Hanoi, Vietnam – I arrived in Hanoi along with ten other volunteers from all walks of life and corners of the globe. To paraphrase a famous Latin saying: We came together, We saw together, We conquered together. As with most things in life, everything started at home. Possessing the same mindset helped us all get along, but not having TV, internet or other distractions the first couple days forced us to interact and get to know each other. Throw in the other four volunteers who were already here, and we had a very close knit group that only enhanced everyone’s experience in Vietnam. Not everything was perfect, or went according to plan, but we still had a ton of fun.
Hanoi, Vietnam – As much as I love Hanoi, sometimes I just need to get out of the city and away from the noise and congestion. The nice thing about living with 13 other people is that getting away doesn’t have to mean going it alone. So, on two separate weekends a group of us headed out of Hanoi on a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda and a weekend trip to Ha Long Bay. Both were excellent trips and nice escapes, but they were made better by the fact that you could share the experience with new found friends.
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.
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:
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.